It’s 2003 all over again, DRMs are back! This time, Philips has released an update to its bridge software to block third-party light bulbs. The company cites interoperability issues with third-party bulbs.
As a reminder, Philips uses a ZigBee wireless bridge to control light bulbs. Many companies manufacture ZigBee bulbs, such as Philips, GE, Cree and more. Until today, you could buy a Philips Hue starter kit and cheaper GE bulbs to extend your network. Third-party bulbs would work in the Hue apps and Hue-compatible apps.
But it looks like Philips is realizing that some bulbs don’t work as well as official Philips bulbs, not turning off properly for example. So instead of fixing these bugs, Philips is removing third-party bulb support altogether for now. Untested bulbs can’t join a bridge anymore.
So what happens now? You can submit your bulbs to Philips to join the “Friends of Hue” program. These bulbs are supposed to work with the Hue bridge and scene API. In many ways, “Friends of Hue” works like Apple’s “Made for iPhone” program.
It’s unclear whether Philips will copy Apple and get a license fee from third-party “Friends of Hue” accessory makers. When it comes to other smart home device manufacturers, Nest has also recently launched a “Works with Nest” program.
Philips built a nice open platform with its Philips Hue bridge system. But the company is switching to a walled garden model with its restricted ecosystem of third-party partners.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the company has been very successful with its connected bulbs. Many companies, starting with web services, have had an open approach for the first few years before switching to a closed model.
Examples include Twitter restricting its API uses, Google becoming less open with Android, keeping Google Mobile Services proprietary, Facebook shutting down its friends’ data API, Spotify removing third-party apps from the desktop player, etc.
Philips could have waited a bit before shutting down third-party light bulb support in order to test the “Friends of Hue” program first. Let’s hope that most connected bulb manufacturers will join the program so that users planning on buying other bulbs won’t be disappointed by this decision.