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Philips reverses decision to close the Hue Platform (meethue.com)
441 points by alaaf on Dec 16, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 164 comments

A point brought up in the replies to their forum post warrants repeating: They claim that they were concerned about the quality of their brand being eroded by third-party bulbs that didn't reproduce the same quality experience that first-party/certified bulbs did.

They had the solution available to them from day one. Since they can clearly identify third-party bulbs, they could have simply presented a warning along the lines of "We've detected you're using bulbs that are not certified by Philips. For best results, we recommend using only certified bulbs (link to purchase here) and cannot guarantee a quality experience with the bulbs you've purchased. Click "OK" to continue."

I don't think this would accomplish anything vis-a-vis brand protection, since consumers have been conditioned to just click "OK" at every dialog box that doesn't look like it will explode a mine. Six months down the line, nobody would remember the warning -- they'd still get mad at Philips when a third-party bulb breaks.

> they'd still get mad at Philips when a third-party bulb breaks.

Would they? Wouldn't they blame their bulb first? It's like complaining to your PC manufacturer that a program you downloaded doesn't work. Most people would blame the program and look for another one. I'm sure there are some who have it backwards, and they probably will be calling support, but I can't imagine there's enough of them for a company to actually care about damage to the brand those people may be doing.

I've worked in tech support for many years, and the vast majority of people would blame the PC manufacturer or the operating system for the problems. I spent many years on the Genius Bar (back in the PowerPC and early Intel days) and, in almost, every interaction, the device was to blame - as far as the customer was concerned. In some cases, they were right, in others it was due to outdated software, buggy third-party drivers or just something they bought that was not Mac compatible. But as far as the customer was concerned, it didn't work so therefore it was a problem with their computer.

What has to be remembered is that the types of people who read Hacker News would understand, in more detail, what might be causing the issue and know troubleshooting is all part of the process. I bet printer companies get many calls a day from people who bought third-party cartridges (sometimes without realising) and complaining that their stupid printer isn't working and that it must be the printer's fault.

The vast majority of consumers who would walk into an Apple Store or Best Buy to purchase something like this, they just think of it as one big ecosystem. If it doesn't work with a bulb they bought off the internet, they will simply assume the product, as a whole, is terrible.

On the printer point, I once bought a 3rd-party cartridge for a Dell laser printer that not only didn't work but actually broke the printer (it stopped recognising all cartridges in that slot).

The first question they asked on the phone was whether I'd used a 3rd-party cartridge. I said yes.

The second question was where I'd like the free replacement printer delivered (now with added WiFi, and a full set of cartridges). Painful for Dell, but I'll buy from them again.

Your post makes we wonder if the printer broke on purpose with that 3rd party cartridge, and that's why they sent you a new one.

Honestly, so what?! We've survived through 30 years of computing with this and somehow the big brands didn't implode. Why do we start compromising future technology due to some minority refusing to understand the basics of how their stuff works?

People calling tech support are a minority of users and do not represent the full market. It's really strange that smart people here are actually proposing making the product worse due to some loud incompetent individuals.

its simply a post hoc justification, nothing more

> I spent many years on the Genius Bar (back in the PowerPC and early Intel days) and, in almost, every interaction, the device was to blame - as far as the customer was concerned.

Selection bias. The people coming to the genius bar obviously think there's something wrong with the computer.

yes, selection bias but the fact that he had a constant stream of people thinking that proves the point that many folks just don't have a freaking clue about how computers work or what's responsible for what.

No one is disputing that there are many people like that; the question is, how many in relation to more savvy customers, and whether this amount is in any way significant for the company.

To build on and adjust that: you actually want to compare how vocal the people like that are.

Since tech-savvy folks tend not to contact support, I'd wager this would've been viewed as significant.

Yup, I worked tech support at an ISP back when NIC drivers could be a PITA.

There was a phenomenon I called 'first blamer advantage', whoever the customer called first whether it be the NIC maker, Microsoft, their ISP would blame their problems on someone else and the customer would think whoever was blamed was at fault.

Usually we'd blame the NIC company, and then offer to send a tech out to fix the problem we blamed on them as a courtesy which made the customers accept the ridiculously long time it took to get a tech out.

It's true, but wouldn't you receive extraordinary amount of misplaced calls anyway?

I remember discussing with a website support guy who would get calls about printers not working, screen flickering and claims about some other unrelated websites that he didn't even know existed.

There is of course tweaks that can be made to a product to reduce the amount of support calls, but misplaced blame should be par for the course whatever you do.

True, but limiting their system to first-party bulbs will likely mean a higher resolution rate and avoids the dreaded "sorry, you're going to have to speak to the bulb manufacturer". There's nothing more toxic to a customer support experience than two separate companies saying the other is to blame.

Well, I think this was the point of all the complaints yesterday: people couldn't connect a 3rd party bulb to Philips' hub and assumed that the product (the hub) is terrible.

Speak with tech support for other vendors enough, and the same picture emerges. As computers and software take on a greater utility role with more users, this is likely to be expected.

Steve Jobs' early instinct to deliver a walled garden experience to consumers was correct. My guess is we'll see a widening bifurcation of the market, where consumers go ever-deeper into a walled garden, while professionals/commercial purchasers pay much higher price points for more accessible, manipulable gear. Once the complexity of some commercial gear reaches a certain threshold of support costs however, I expect that gear will head towards black box, closed designs. Maturing the software we write so it tames the complexity and makes managing it fun/ego-engaging in some manner could go a long ways towards pushing back that trend (if it emerges in the way I think it will).

The reverse seems to be true now with the closed gear commanding outsized prices I see no particular reason why this should be reversed.

Factually I think we should forbid selling devices we are forbidden to touch and avoid the whole issue.

I hope you are right, and I'm wrong. I suspect this is a temporary, happy circumstance that we enjoy today, due to the segment of history we inhabit, but am concerned it will be reversed due to physics, further market segmentation, and an ongoing miniaturization mania.

As semiconductor fabrication processes get smaller, die sizes larger, and operating frequencies higher, I think we will see the hardware become more opaque. Already the test equipment to hack on cutting edge workstation- and server-class processors is spendy; just a 2GHz 10GS/s oscilloscope is 5 figures USD $ even used and just-calibrated. As manufacturers head towards greater integration on the die to differentiate themselves in a furiously- and constantly-commoditizing industry, we'll likely see more binary blobs at first, then market segmentation hits those of us who want open/powerful gear with a double-whammy. We enjoy the fruits of commodified hardware components now, but I'm not sanguine that state of affairs will last indefinitely due to the aforementioned integration trends.

As everyone noticed that personalized gear enjoys outsized margins, we're seeing ever-increased pressure to further integrate and miniaturize into smaller packaging; repairability and accessibility to the hardware not invited at all to the design party. I really wish this specific trend would reverse.

I suspect that the PC as we know it will morph into a greater walled-garden device in the next several decades, and if we want open/powerful gear we will find ourselves in a tiny market segment. At best, paying very high prices for the small volumes catered to, and at worst, in a technology ghetto.

For now, I agree with you, but the long-term constraints are not promising to me further openness of the hardware.

Well, the printers part is kind of wrong - of course it is a printers fault - if it sabotages the cartridges

Actually, this statement is kind of wrong - it's only the printers fault if it sabotages the cartridges. What if it doesn't? It could be the case that the cartridge was faulty, I wouldn't assume all printers sabotage cartridges (I use third-party epson ones all the time, have had the occasional faulty one).

Not disputing that some printers just refuse to work with third-party carts, but it's not the case with most printers I've used.

The vast majority of who? If you mean a vast majority of your customers calling into a support center, I'd argue that is a very small amount. I'd venture to say very few of peers in my circles call into support outside of account level tasks.

That's exactly my point, the majority of people who do contact support are just average consumers. If removing third-party bulb support means a better experience for everyone and reduces the burden of support overall (both for users having to contact support and the support load itself), I completely understand their decision.

We tech-savvy people have a better understanding of things like compatibility, the drawbacks of third-party/unofficial accessories etc. But try explaining that to someone who has no interest or experience in this, and they'll just not understand - or care.

If Philips had stuck to their decision, it would've meant that, for anyone contact support, they could handle the entirety of the problem. This avoids the boomeranging of "well it might be your bulb, go speak to the people who made it".

I don't know many people who use home automation, lighting systems like this, but of those that do - all but one is not someone I'd consider tech-savvy.

I have no strong feelings one way or the other about this decision. Honestly, if I ever used this, I'd probably stick to first party products. As I get older, I find that I just don't care or want to spend the time fiddling with compatibility issues. If I'm in the market for automated light bulbs, chances are I'll have no problem stretching my budget to first party bulbs.

If Windows crashes because of an badly coded third-party driver, do you think people will blame Windows or the driver manufacturer? Most people will not internalize the workings of the system and just blame the system as a whole, which in this case has the brand name Philips on it.

I think it's a smart move and reasonable compromise, similar to Microsofts WHQL program.

Badly coded driver is a special case, because it often crashes the system in a way seemingly unrelated to the installation itself (or software it came with), showing you a nasty blue screen (which is known generally as "the Windows problem"). I know most people get confused about cases like these (and had more than enough experience with fixing them for such people).

But I used a different analogy on purpose. You bought a Hue Bridge - presumably, with at least one Hue bulb (do they even sell Bridges separately?). So you know it works. Then you buy a noname cheap bulb, plug it in, and it - the cheap bulb - doesn't work. The Bridge still works, the Hue bulb also works, it's just the new, different one that doesn't. I find it hard to believe there are many people who can't connect the dots.

> I find it hard to believe there are many people who can't connect the dots.

lol, bro ... have you worked with humans like, ever?

>I find it hard to believe there are many people who can't connect the dots.

It doesn't surprise me at all. The key to remember is that people are not rational creatures. They work off of emotions and then apply logic to try to rationalize their emotions.

The most popular alternative bulb is the GE Link bulb. Roughly the same price as the hue lux bulbs but brighter, and available in more stores (in my experience.)

And to spare some people the search:

Usually $20 for the Philips vs $15 for the GE Link at 800 vs 750 Lumen :)

I only have the colored Hue lights and the white GE Link so far. I might buy a Lux just to see how it works.

Fuck tell me about it, I had some servers flaking out on 2K3, it took months of windbg to find out it was the SCSI controller driver borking the whole thing.

It took especially long since I had rewritten most of System.IO to support 32K paths in .NET so I assumed that I had subtly fucked something up, it was only when the SQL Server started crashing that I even considered drivers.

Have you seen any Linux forum/fan ever, who talks about Windows and BSOD?

That's what I would call analogy madness.

> It's like complaining to your PC manufacturer that a program you downloaded doesn't work.

This happens far, far more often than you would think. That line from Men in Black -- "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky animals." -- rings more true every time I work with a client who handles front-line tech support.

I do have to wonder how much of a difference it would make right now, though. Hue is presumably still in the early adopter stage (especially if we're talking about people who are adding non-Hue Zigbee devices to the setup), where you'd hope this kind of confusion would be less common.

Edit: this is one of the primary reasons Apple exercises so much control over third party integration on iOS. They get the blame for everything.

My SO worked way too long answering customer phone calls; I had a healthy fit of horror stories every week. But what I learned from them is that it's all selection bias - savvy, smart customers generally don't call. They solve things themselves, they find solutions themselves, they trust the established procedures (e.g. of returning the merchandise), but above all, they don't call with stupid requests or to bitch about how bad the company is. They only call if you fucked up big.

What remains is a mix of "dumb, panicky animals" and people for whom calling is the best option (they may be in a hurry; or for many older people, phone call is the method they're used to and one they trust). It's something you have to deal with, it's for them that you have support in the first place. But for a company like Philips, I can't imagine those support calls make any difference brand-wise. Most companies I know could drop their private-customer help lines altogether, having them respond with busy tone all the time, and nobody would likely notice.

Here is the scenario I'm imagining:

You are a typical consumer. You buy a HUE system because it has the best reviews. Then you realize you need lightbulbs as well. You go on amazon, look at your options. You can get the Phillips ones, but they're too expensive, so you buy the other ones.

You pair the bulbs. It's complicated, but you just follow a guide on the internet word-for-word to get through it.

A few months later, your system starts acting wonky. Regardless of what's actually causing the problem, the reality is that you now have to go to the trouble of figuring out what is wrong with your system and then fixing it.

Your experience with the Phillips Hue has been soured.

So, given that it seems that neither you nor I have used these things, lemmy float you a hypothetical:

> A few months later, your system starts acting wonky.

What if "your system starts acting wonky" means "Only the non-Phillips bulbs stop behaving correctly."?

Growing up, I knew of many, many people who would only stick with brand-name things because of quality or compatibility concerns. I would expect that many affected users would be able to recognize that their non-Phillips bulbs were acting up and their Phillips bulbs were not.

> It's like complaining to your PC manufacturer that a program you downloaded doesn't work. Most people would blame the program and look for another one.

Have you met "most people"? They would blame PC manufacturer indeed.

Just remember Vista and how suddenly all kinds of software stopped working. Surprise: most of the time, this software used undocumented features and sometimes even bugs present in previous Windows systems.

I did. I spent a lot of time fixing "computer stuff" for those people.

I remember Vista (ironically, I'm probably the only person I know who didn't have a problem with it and, besides the slow file copying, geneally liked it) - but there, in a way, some blame towards MS was justified. They were releasing a next iteration of their operating system to the already mature software market that's built on interoperability. Microsoft itself had a strong tradition of caring about backward compatibility. With Vista, they failed to provide an OS compatibile with existing application ecosystem, even if it's third party developers who didn't follow the specs.

Here, on the other hand, the "bulb" ecosystem is only starting, and Hue is the reference platform.

It's about time Windows actually stops dragging the concrete boots around (riddiculous backwards compatibility) - it's infuriating how broken stuff in Windows is, and some of the brokeness has been around for YEARS.

Just do an XP fork for VM to run all the legacy stuff on and start fixing stuff already, damn!

MSFT would have to provide that. I tried to reinstall XP on one of my Parallels VMs the other month and it failed because the license couldn't be validated. Support has ended, so the Microsoft licensing service no longer allows new installs, even for developers.

> Just do an XP fork for VM to run all the legacy stuff on and start fixing stuff already, damn!

Oh yeah. I can just see "most people" powering up VMs to run their outdated broken software that they depend on.

Why I'm sarcastic? Because the situation is completely broken, there's no right solution. All that's left is to ridicule all sides of the argument, because everyone who thinks that there is a way to make it right is wrong.

The point is that the xp vm would be transparent. Microsoft has done various compatibility layers before - see windows on windows and windows on windows 64.

The core question is how much isolation optimizes future development while maintaining the ability to run older applications.

That even already exists. You can run a built-in XP virtual machine on some newer editions of Windows, and I think it even has seamless windows.

> It's like complaining to your PC manufacturer that a program you downloaded doesn't work.

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say "This _____ing computer!" every time a program crashed...

Reminds me of the joke:

"If Bill Gates had a nickel for every time Windows crashed... wait a second, he does!"

People install all kinds of crap on their computer, forget about it, and later on don't make the connection that the outdated kernel extension they installed is crashing their machine.

(I speak from experience. I was able to track a surprising number of bug reports in my apps to internet filters, kernel extensions, etc. It's so common that it's the one of the first questions I ask customers when they report a bug. And it's why sandobexed apps are so successful -- all of the sudden you can install apps without worrying that they'll break your computer)

>Would they? Wouldn't they blame their bulb first?

Considering how many people get mad at individuals who are named Isis, as if they have any relation to the IS, I wouldn't doubt some of them blaming Philips.

> It's like complaining to your PC manufacturer that a program you downloaded doesn't work. Most people would blame the program and look for another one.

I gotta disagree. I tend to find "normal" people will blame the manufacturer or microsoft whenever anything goes wrong regardless of the actual cause.

I think you're overestimating the technical savvy of most people.

From my observation, people are generally smart enough that if they bought expensive product A that works and is of a well-known brand, and then later they bought some unknown noname-brand cheap product B which doesn't wok with A, they'll blame the product B, not product A.

You are asserting that the major brand doesn't need to defend its brand image because people have a strong recognition of the brand image...

I'm asserting that avoiding support calls by the minority who can't reason about technology at all is not worth the tarnishing of the brand Philips did to itself when trying to get rid of those calls.

I think you're underestimating the technical savvy of most people. The tech support calls are pretty much a minority of users for a product.

Tech support calls perhaps, but there's more that can damage a brand's reputation than that. I'm not for blocking third party hardware as they originally did, but I understand their position as a company as well.

However since I can't back up my original claim I'll leave it at that.

>Would they?


>Wouldn't they blame their bulb first?


>It's like complaining to your PC manufacturer that a program you downloaded doesn't work.

Yes, and people do that all the time.

>Most people would blame the program and look for another one.

Bro, do you even tech support?

I'm not sure what the interface looks like, but if it's a GUI with icons representing each bulb, and users see it every day or at least any time they want to troubleshoot, they could put a little yellow warning mini-icon inside each non-hue and non-friend bulb icon. It could have a tooltip or something with the "learn more" that reminds the user.

they'd still get mad at Philips when a third-party bulb breaks

I don't disagree with you -- a subset of customers are going to be angry regardless of warnings, they only go so far. But the issue at hand is how best to deal with the problem they have publicly stated was the reason for this decision: Some subset of third-party bulbs do not work ideally in their ecosystem. Option #1 was to warn customers of this problem and let them decide. There are several other options that were available to them. The farthest down that list, and worst option they had was to disable the bulbs. I would expect that last option to be used only for bulbs that caused fires or other safety issues. That wasn't the case (or I would have expected them to have stated that directly since it would have been something a lot of people would have understood). I don't think Philips realized how major of a feature this is, particularly to early adopters.

The proposed text sends the wrong message at the wrong time. It's in the way when someone just wants to turn on a light but the bulb was bad. Instead, why not offer a helpful and fair priced mechanism for selling bulbs when one needs replacement? If the company gets a cut of the sale, it doesn't even matter very much what brand is chosen.

If the software remembered that there was an off-brand bulb in the socket that went out, it could do a nicely worded "I told you so" to remind the consumer. The hub (I'm assuming this system has a hub or something) could keep track of the # of hours the bulbs have been in use, and report that the off-brand bulb only lasted 1/2x as long. Of course, if the off-brand bulbs were lasting 2x longer, then perhaps the hub should just keep it's mouth shut... :)

They could just add a settings option "Enable display of 3rd party lights." Non tech minority is thus protected inside the walled garden from the big bad world out there by default while tech savvy users can still use their technology to full extent.

We really need to stop compromising our tech just because some loud minority refuses to understand how things work.

They could make the dialog look like it will explode a mine. I'm not sure if the software can know when something isn't working but if it does and the last know bulb was a third-party bulb it could then remind you about it.

A lot of us are in software here and have seen how users use things. I'm not sure I believe that users would read that messaging at all. Even if they did, I doubt it would have much of an effect on users complaining to Phillips later.

Here's how Hue app apparently looks like (I don't have it myself):


See those warning marks on the middle screen? I'm not sure what they do, but this is where I'd put them, along with a small text "this bulb is not supported by Philips and may not work properly", and people wouldn't miss it. It would be a constant reminder for them that if something breaks with one of those bulbs, it's their fault.

That warning means the hue is having trouble talking to that bulb. It may be turned off at the switch, out of range, or removed from service.

FWIW the "third party integration support" is the biggest problem with smart home products today. Wink, Iris, Hue, SmartThings are all plagued by numbers of low quality integrations and as a result it's up to those companies to handle support for other peoples crappy products, API's or Apps. (edit: to drive the point home, search for "philips hue" or "lifx" in the app store)

It's awful and frankly its why my company -- Twist -- is not offering any third party integration support.

Until the industry can focus on quality over number of integrations and interoperability, the only customers buying these products will be DIY'ers and professional installers.

Integration is the biggest blocker I see to having the smart homes we fantasized about 60 years ago. Right now, it's a big mess, and another company doing lock-in isn't likely to fix it. I'd love to see more companies commit to implementing and improving the standards so everything can play together.

That's such a weak excuse some marketing person has come up with to cover his or her ass.

I can argue that the value of their brand is being eroded when the company is openly hostile to interoperability with other products, and of course customers will have shitty experience because this systems is stand-alone and can't be connected to anything or used in any way except for one specific case.

That's exactly the solution used by Apple, so you can still use DIY HomeKit accessory.


That's definitely not a solution.

The Philips Hue line is pretty clearly a premium product. What they're selling is a high-quality experience.

Warning boxes are easily clicked and forgotten. Or if they're clicked by somebody you've hired to install a system, you'll never even know. If people have irregular, unsatisfying experiences, they will associate it with the Philips-branded interface they're clicking on, not the off-brand lightbulbs whose labels are tucked away in ceiling fixtures.

Personally, I congratulate them for starting their system open. The most brand-friendly and wallet-friendly solution they could have chosen was to close it from day 1. But they started open and stayed open until it became a problem for them. Closing it suddenly and cutting people off was a mistake, but a certification program seems like a reasonable outcome.

Will that stop people complaining to Philips support when it doesn't work well?

The only real solution to this is to go Google way and just refuse to have any support altogether. Otherwise you can't really stop people calling in with absurd requests. It's a general rule in all consumer sales - the smarter / more savvy a customer is, the less likely is that he'll be calling.

I don't know that this model will work for consumer hardware. Hue isn't marketed as a "dumb" lightbulb, and people aren't going to appreciate paying more for less service than they get with a 100w incandescent.

The average consumer would blame philips for even allowing the bulbs... people on HN or various other tech circles know better. But do you know who leaves reviews on Amazon and calls their customer support line? The average consumer.

And most companies usually pay per call/minute to their customer care contractors.

If by average consumer you are referring to "average purchaser of light bulbs", you are referring to a market that the Philips Hue products are not yet in.

The average Philips Hue customer is an early adopter who was willing to spend a large amount of money on a next-generation lighting system. This customer is an early adopter.

The question is not whether they should allow third-party bulbs, they already allowed third-party bulbs. The question is whether, after reaping the benefits of creating a product with compatibility built in, if it is a good business move to remove that feature via a software update.

People flipped out when their paid-for Kindle copy of 1984 was removed from their e-reader due to legal issues that were out of Amazon's control. And those customers were refunded. They chose to break the lighting of their customers due to user experience issues.

Reminds me of the time Sony removed the "other OS" option from the PS3 that let you load Linux. A feature that had in use for years, and was a selling point for the more hardcore computer nerd. The stated reason they removed it was to prevent "evil hackers" from using it to remove DRM from their games. So three years after release, away it goes.

That move got the hardware hackers attention, and the PS3 copy protection was cracked in 3 weeks.

Hubris, meet Nemisis.

It's something of a tangent, but Amazon was not legally required to literally go out and delete books off of users' devices - or at least if they were, due to some contract they signed with publishers, that was their own fault. Indeed, after that event Amazon said they would no longer do so.

This point can't be overemphasized. People who are installing smart lighting in their homes are probably not idiots who are incapable of reading or understanding a simple compatibility warning. They are not going to blame Dell or Microsoft or Comcast or whoever Grandma calls when something doesn't work. They are well-off technically literate early adopters -- literally the last people in the world that Philips can afford to alienate if they want to be in this business.

Every single comment that conflates Philips Hue users with the average barely-literate technophobe who blames random companies for everything that goes wrong with their computer is completely wrong.

And in their mind it might be a 'rip off the bandaid' move as it becomes more mainstream... these things are starting to be on endcaps in Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.

The useful solution from a customer [1] standpoint is to create value at the level of the interface by just making it work with whatever is hooked up...e.g. decoupling the service from other services. Imagine if Google search only worked for Android device owners. Making each part of a system excellent in it's own right is just better...here it would drive the bulb making team to make bulbs capable of frolicking outside a walled garden.

[1] Customers are people with an important relationship. Consumers are things with a behavior, e.g. my toaster consumes electric power. When people are seen as consumers companies do dumb things...like communicate with utter bullshit.

Google services routinely work better via Chrome. So, I think we can imagine it.

Turns out people don't care that much.

Excellent example! Customers figure out what works for them as individuals all on their own. Chrome works best for one person due to superior integration with Google's services. Another person trades that integration for the convenience of Firemacs. A third person finds the identity management of the Chromium Browser advantageous.

And all can search with Google!

The process of pairing non-Hue devices with the bridge is convoluted enough that it should be pretty clear to anyone involved that it isn't supported. You need either a third party Java application downloaded from an amateur looking site, or to telnet into your bridge and give it the right commands.

I just plugged the bulbs in, flipped the light switch on and off 3-5x and then added them from the app. I'm not even sure if I had to reset the bulbs by flipping them off/on but I did just to be sure.

You overestimate humanity in general. Consumers will jump thru excessively convoluted hoops in order to get something working that was never really meant to work. Then they complain. Happens all the time.

I'm glad to see they've reversed the decision. It was the only reasonable choice they had with such an immature market that could have them dethroned as the leader very quickly. Their reasons for lock-in made no sense. For a product like this compatibility is a feature and many people chose the Philips products because of the ecosystem of compatible products available, the ZigBee protocol and third-party light bulbs.

I'm sure that third-party products were causing problems, however, wholesale blocking of them via software update is a terrible solution. They, literally, turned out the lights on their customers. Meanwhile, I'd be willing to bet support costs immediately spiked -- people call support when things don't work and they just pushed out a solution that increased rather than decreased that.

Unfortunately, I think they've bruised their reputation quite a bit with this move. It's now delayed my purchase of such a product until I am convinced that they have a solid third-party certification program in place (with very low licensing fees) or (even better) a guarantee with the product that they won't try this again when the market is more mature and they have the option of ignoring complaining customers.

Their competitors could see a rise in sales by taking advantage of this blunder and committing to open protocols. I haven't looked at the landscape in this category, yet, and had just assumed I'd be buying the Philips Hue eventually, but they've motivated me to do more research.

Their move concerned me, because now I don't know if this is "we won't close our ecosystem" or "we won't close our ecosystem YET". I don't feel like waking up and discovering that they've decided that they now have enough market share to be abusive and controlling. Most of my existing ZigBee stuff isn't as slick as the Hue stuff, but I know it won't get turned off.

I get that people make mistakes, but their original move showed that Philips has essentially NO understanding of their market, and that they are willing to casually engage in extraordinary hostility towards their customers. This isn't a winning combination.

Wow. Most companies are deaf to user outrage. The original decision wasn't fantastic, but I understand the whole "Friends of..." certification route.

At least in the future they'll be able to stick to "if it's not certified by us..." for customer support, which was likely the original impetus (along with a desire to cut off cheap alternatives to their devices).

I'm not mad at this at all.

Good move on their part. At the end of the day, it seems like a win-win. I've never even considered buying a Hue, and didn't know it was even possible to integrate with 3rd-party stuff. Now I do, and I have the perception that Philips is responsive to customer opinion!

I'm not mad at this at all.

I am. Because it is a way to extort money out of other ZigBee participants.

Sure, that's fair. But from their standpoint it's a bit "damned if you do, damned if you don't." This is conjecture, but I imagine supporting cheaper third-party devices is becoming a headache. In the last thread about this, a former ZigBee developer noted how difficult it was to code to the platform. It may not all be evil.

But from their standpoint it's a bit "damned if you do, damned if you don't."

No, it is not. They have two options - have their own standard or support other ZigBee devices. This has not been a problem with another similar standards like KNX.

but I imagine supporting cheaper third-party devices is becoming a headache

It is not about supporting some cheap third-party devices but other ZigBee devices that Philips claims to support.

It's not extorting. It's making sure your house doesn't burn down because you bought the el cheapo bulb from knockoff brand C.

It's making sure that you're not liable for someone's house burning down because they bought the el cheapo bulb from knockoff brand C. This is standard protective legal boilerplate to protect philips in the unlikely event.

Also, want to point out that philips is not "extorting money" from other companies - they can choose to enter the "friends of" program to make the general consumer feel better, or choose not to, at their discretion.

The class of user that realizes any zigbee bulb will work with a hue hub is already technically proficient, and will more often than not be willing to take on any associated "risks."

You maybe want to look at http://www.developers.meethue.com/documentation/how-hue-work... to reconsider your position: They [the lights] are connected to the bridge via an open standards protocol called ZigBee Light Link.

If you want an analogy, then it is similar to the case where MS Office would refuse to open ODF documents from another office suites and then after uproar would only support documents from friends of Microsoft.

Pray tell how does a LED Lamp can burn your house down

Oh wait it can't (if it can because your wiring is crap and the protection devices are not working you have much bigger problems)

A LED bulb converts your 230V AC (or 110V in the US) power source into 12V DC (in case of Hue itself). This converter part can, if poorly made, create a fire hazard. And a bulb is usually mounted inside a lamp, many of which are flammable and have the shape that will accumulate heat inside instead of dissipating it.

Yes, but that applies to china mobile chargers and a lot of other devices that nobody worries about (and also to CFDs and any led lamp that might be today in your house)

And of course it's not a software issue

> And of course it's not a software issue

Of course it's not. You weren't talking about one, you asked how a LED lamp can burn your house down. It can.

Personally, I can't see how someone could legitimately blame Philips for a Hue-connected-but-unsupported third-party bulb starting a fire, but I don't doubt some will try.

> And of course it's not a software issue

Funny thing though, but that AC/DC converter is manipulated by firmware activated by a wifi protocol. If the fire only starts when the converter is activated into its highest conversion rate in a particular sequence by certain commands sent across that wifi protocol and those commands are being chosen by a user of an app on a mobile device two rooms away, is that a software issue? It's certainly a gray area.

If your DC/DC converter has a duty-cycle of 100% most likely the controlling FET will burn out and stop working

.. but that's not a software issue.

I know, but 'raverbashing wasn't talking about one. He asked how a LED lamp could burn your house down.

Compare this with Ethernet. You plug it in - and it just works. No 3com/Realtek/Intel certification required. As a user I may be shielded, but I believe there are no interoperability issues between Cisco/Juniper/Brocade switchgear either.

With this as the background, it's surprising to see a large crowd defending the equivalent of Ford-branded gasoline.

Or you can have your Ethernet equipment certified as Carrier Ethernet


At the ethernet layer sure, but have fun trying to run spanning tree on a mixed Cisco/Juniper/Brocade network.

Switch vendors are also notorious for locking out SFP modules from other manufacturers for no reason, which is particularly annoying because there are so many different types applicable to specific situations (e.g. DWDM) and your switch manufacturer doesn't even necessarily make the ones you need.

(Disclaimer: I've been out of the networking game for 4 years)

Networking has also been around for a looong time and ran through those issues back in the day. Some open-standard will end up winning, but it'll take a while for the dust to settle.

Apples and oranges.

Pure hardware is a lot easier to make compatible consistently than hardware+software.

Huh? There's a lot of software involved in wired networking. Way more than for lightbulbs, I'd suspect. And yet they all interoperate via open standards, and any vendor that tried to sell equipment that only worked with their own equipment would be laughed at of the market.

Welcome to the new normal, where everything is a walled garden and a 'platform'. Pushed publicly for bullshit and spurious reasons, but privately is all about profit and control.

An ethernet cable does not contain any software. A smart lightbulb does.

But now you've drawn an irrelevant comparison. The power line and socket that the smart lightbulb is connected to don't contain any software. Those are the parts that are analogous to a simple Ethernet wire (which is really just eight separate leads instead of three). The smart lightbulb itself is analogous to a router.

The thing is, to me, the fact that they ever decided to do this in the first place means I will never buy Philips smart home products ever.

They have proven they can't be trusted with this sort of power, and that is a one way trip. You don't come back from that, you don't get back off my list.

Either A) You don't trust any large, publically traded company. B) You don't understand how large, publically traded companies work.

This decision was made by someone in marketing. Phillips engineers (in this division) were ambivalent because it meant less verification and testing (yea!) but also means they have a less capable product. It got approved because someone (likely a director somewhere) put together a market strategy that showed they could make x dollars in the next 2 years doing this.

Public backlash was bigger than expected. VP gets involved. Decision is changed.

The decision to only support Philips products came most likely from the engineering division themselves. Marketing probably had a shit-fit because losing a marketable feature is a giant regression to your general user.

People in Marketing and Product tend to be way more in-tune with customers and don't make boneheaded decisions like this. Another easy tell: the company was shocked by the reaction of users. That meant the company wasn't aware of user impressions of the decision. That also meant Product/Marketing teams weren't involved in the decision.

When the "what does it cost us to test this compatibility" calculus comes out as more expensive than "what is the cost of the backlash to our company," you realize that Engineering divisions without enough resources are driving this type of decision, 99 times out of 100.

> People in Marketing and Product tend to be way more in-tune with customers and don't make boneheaded decisions like this. Another easy tell: the company was shocked by the reaction of users. That meant the company wasn't aware of user impressions of the decision. That also meant Product/Marketing teams weren't involved in the decision.

I disagree. Almost every shitty (customer-wise) decision I've seen a company doing was made by Marketing / Sales people. It's them who figure out that they can get more money by doing something repulsive.

This here seems to me like someone was calculating how much more they can earn by pushing manufacturers down the "Friends of Hue" line, but underestimated just how many people use non-FoH bulbs (or just how much nerds care about interoperability). Probably not someone from marketing, definitely not someone from engineering.

> When the "what does it cost us to test this compatibility" calculus comes out as more expensive than "what is the cost of the backlash to our company," you realize that Engineering divisions without enough resources are driving this type of decision, 99 times out of 100.

Why would they care? They're not testing compatibility with Chinese knockoffs anyway, that's why they use ZigBee, and that's why they have a "Friends of Hue" program.

> The decision to only support Philips products came most likely from the engineering division themselves.

I disagree. I don't see engineers coming up with or getting on-board with such a clearly anti-open-standards decision. Much more likely, what I think happened is that this decision was forced on engineering from above, morale hit all-time lows, there was much grumbling and consternation as they implemented this anti-feature that they clearly didn't believe in, then they rejoiced at the huge public outcry when the change was pushed, and are now celebrating that those assholes up in management had to reverse course with a heavy dose of "I told you so".

Source: I am an engineer at a big company and have seen this scenario play out many times internally.

Read the comments here, many engineering types are falling all over each other to excuse phillips. There is a massive anti-sentiment towards open platforms there days it seems, likely driven by apple's success and the startup "industry".

Because a practicing engineer and an anonymous person on the internet that seems like the "engineering type" is the same thing?

There is zero reason for an engineer to have "anti-sentiment" to an open platform because it's moot. Most likely, an engineer would be completely indifferent to a decision like this.

I don't think you've invalidated his point at all. It's not about why this happened, it's that it happened at all. Apathetic, poor decision making can be just as bad as greedy, poor decision making. Sometimes people need a reminder that corporations are not your friends and investing too much trust is a risky choice.

My goal wasn't to invalidate. It was to say that the grandparent must not trust any large, publicly traded company. Which is exactly your final sentence.

However, I would say that a company (big or small) that actually changes their strategic marketing decision based on a user complaints _is_ rare. And this shows that Phillips has some good mechanisms in place to respond. To me, they come out a bit ahead at the end of this.

I don't understand this reasoning. I believe Philips started the friends of Hue program to make sure third party products "just work" with Hue, the same as Philips products. They want to give consumers an "Apple like" experience where there is no hassle and no fiddling.

They reversed the decision because of the user outcry, they noticed a lot of users would rather risk stuff not working than not get them outright. This is a major step and I like that a lot. Being able to change your course to what users want instead of what you think is the most profitable should be applauded.

Do you want to encourage the behavior of stubbornly sticking by an initial decision despite public outrage?

Good to see someone approaching issues with an open mind, and not immediately catagorizing all decisions as either black or white...


Were you going to buy any of their products in the first place?

Possibly. I've been looking for a small handful of smart home products, and would like to have them all on the same network, now that the Ninja Sphere project is dead.

A ZigBee network seemed like the right idea.

They can still control it and reverse the reversal in the future. You are at their whim. It is not user-friendly unless it is free software (and hardware). Amazon can still remotely remove books and no one bats an eye. This is just an issue because at the moment these kinds of home automation are per-dominantly "nerd" territory while e-book readers are already mainstream.

Where is this magical place where I can find free hardware?

To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.

GP's point still stands. Open hardware is very rare.

I won't be so quick to "roll-back" my decision to boycott their products.

Hey, give them some credit. They listened to their customers and responded very quickly.

Exactly this. Their management / decision makers aren't familiar with the hacker mindset, but they responded to public criticism quickly by acquiescing to the demands. I don't so anything bad about this.

They mad a public about face, admitting that their decision was not the right one for their audience, and changed it. That's not easy to do for most people, let alone companies.

They didnt really admit the decision was bad for the audience. They said "well, we were just looking out for you, and highly recommend you doing what we want, but I guess you can do that too, but you shouldnt."

The tone is very much "we did nothing wrong." I don't expect more, but I was hoping for it.

I disagree. The tone was more akin to "This really doesn't impact a lot of our customers, but the customers it did impact caused a significant (unexpected) response."

That's perfectly valid. They felt that it was a minority doing it (which is probably true) so this would be a non-issue. It wasn't, so they reversed it.

Are you trying to say that reversing their decision was a mistake?

I really respect philips for having the humility to come back on a decision like this. As someone who already owns hue and has bought into the ecosystem, this makes me want to promote their brand further, and I will.

Hat down to whoever made this happen over there! The world is better when things are open.

"We underestimated the impact this would have upon the small number of our customers"

Do they really believe it is a small number of customers that use non-Philips light bulbs? I mean, good for them in reversing the decision, but the damage is already done (check out Amazon reviews for one) and it should have been easily foreseen.

I do, 100%, and there's no reason they wouldn't know this from metrics sent by their apps/bridge.

Not a single Hue-using person I know, outside of HN, has any clue about ZigBee or interoperability or any of the stuff that a small fraction of Hue users care about. None of them. If it wasn't on the placard in Best Buy next to the bulbs, it wasn't even a passing thought.

I am pleased they reversed their decision. I don't actually care about interoperability, even though I am a technically minded user deep into home automation and relevant protocols. But I still recognize the significance of a big company offering up a mea culpa when they get heat from a vocal group of customers. Not many have the courage to do so.

Let's not diminish that they responded to customer backlash by manufacturing other reasons to hate them, or by generalizing. They actually did what the users wanted.

Translation: "we'll do this to shut up the pro users that are generating all this bad P/R, and it really doesn't matter since 99.9% of our customers won't care about this anyway."

Can't say I disagree with the idea. Everyone wants a system like this to be open on principle, but in reality it won't really get used that much. This stuff is still too hard for the average consumer.

I dunno. I bought a Hue starter kit (hub+3 bulbs) and three more bulbs when I moved into my new house. I wanted something cool and "gadgety" to set up in the new place. They've generally been OK but I haven't bought any more bulbs since that first setup two years ago.

This is mainly because the Hue bulbs are quite pricey and I've had a couple of them semi-fail (some colors in the spectrum stop working due to the blue LEDs crapping out). I've been keeping an eye out for compatible bulbs that are a bit more affordable since Hue prices haven't dropped at all and I'm more likely to drop $20-30 on a fancy bulb than another $60 when they can still fail.

Granted, I've already got the hub so they have my money. Their risk is that I only buy third party bulbs instead of Hue bulbs from now on. Still, the next time I go to buy more lamps to expand my setup, if there are less expensive options that are reasonably equivalent, I'll buy them instead anyway. If Hue lamps become more affordable, I'll stick to first-party by default. But if Hues are still $60 each and some other platform starts selling good RGB LED bulbs for $15-25 each (and Hue has locked out third party bulbs), I'll just drop Hue in general and cut my losses.

I got a couple of the OSRAM RGB bulbs a while back, and while they're not quite as good as the Hue ones at half the price they were definitely the right choice. The only really issue I have is that their colours don't match the Hue ones, so it can be a bit hit and miss getting what you're looking for.

And that's FINE - it just confirms that we don't need DRM and walled gardens for these things. If most users will still buy Phillips bulbs and some power users will be able to use other brand then everyone wins.

You'll notice that gem on many press releases that concern a company apologizing or backtracking. It's usually done in order to downplay an issue and/or avoid making any statements that could be used against them in a lawsuit down the line. By saying it only affected a small number of users, they maintain plausible deniability that they knew how badly they screwed up.

The funny part is that they claim to have broken their customers' previously working functionality in good faith.

Who writes these things, and why do their supervisors allow them to keep working there?!?

Well their supervisors probably help write these things...

It could be worse: "Some customers were involved in a darkness-related incident."

I'm not sure if this is a specific reference to something like McSweeney's Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar [0], to something else, or just a comment in general. (But I agree.)

[0] http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-interactive-guide-to-a...

I guess that's today spin doctors from PR department.

I wonder if this had anything to do with the flood of negative comments to their Amazon product pages?

3/5 stars: http://www.amazon.com/Philips-455303-White-Starter-Generatio...

4/5 stars (previously 4.5/5): http://www.amazon.com/Philips-456210-Ambiance-Starter-Genera...

Not sure why people are screaming "boycott". Philips never advertised their system as being compatible with third-party lights. The fact that they use an open protocol to communicate with their own lights doesn't change this.

It's like connecting to your office chat with an IRC client because you figured out that's what they are using under the hood. Why would you scream bloody murder when one day your IRC client stops being compatible with it? They never advertised this to begin with!

You can't exactly demand functionality that you were never sold.

Not bothering to test and actively support devices from other vendors would be reasonable, but customers have the expectation that a product does a decent effort to respect the standard; whitelisting a subset of Philips lightbulbs and deliberately refusing to work with anything else means giving users a bad product for the sake of anticompetitive business practices. This kind of deliberate, obviously harmful abuse is worse than merely reckless behaviour like the Superfish scandal or the Windows 10 update that uninstalls user software.

Except I don't think Philips advertised that they are using an open standard. It's just what they used for the implementation.

They are free to mutilate that standard as they see fit for their own product, and since they didn't make it into a selling point, there is no reason for them to expect compatibility.

In the world of customers who prefer trustworthy vendors, there's a substantial difference between not wanting to spend money to respect a standard any more than advertised, and deliberately spending money (firmware updates aren't free) to worsen the product and screw customers.

Likewise, "mutilating" a standard to leverage standard technology in a not-really-standard product isn't the same as deliberate artificial incompatibility for purely commercial reasons.

"Philips Hue is based on ZigBee LightLink, a low-power, safe, and reliable technology to control your lights. New features and improvements are continuously added to the system to make it even more useful. Software and firmware updates can be done wirelessly and directly to your lights. The Philips Hue system can be easily integrated with other ZigBee-based systems for additional home automation." http://www2.meethue.com/en-gb/about-hue/what-hue-is/

That phrase was up there before the DRM, during the DRM, and now after the DRM. So yes, they were advertising the functionality.

They openly tested and added 3rd party bulbs to be controllable by the system in the past: https://twitter.com/tweethue/status/567368692452048896

They were advertising it and committing open actions to support 3rd party bulbs. The community interpreted their actions as shit rightfully.

The people who complained suggest otherwise.

A lot of the people are talking about how important integration and interoperability is. I agree with it, however, a lot of work has to be done to achieve it.

In order to do it properly, there should be standards that major providers agree upon making integration much easier and predictable. That takes plenty of time.

Then you probably need some walled garden to control the experience. Approved apps, approved 3rd party providers, etc. If some crappy app is released, regular users won't blame the developer but the platform, as it was discussed in great details in other threads. We need to get out of the HN bubble. Seriously. We forget that a computer is a device to watch porn and browse facebook and that's about it for A LOT of people. Chances are, it will cause a wave of anger in communities such as this one (where there's a strong sentiment for open systems).

This work has to be done be a number of large providers (read: long processes) and followed by startups popping up and disappearing now and then. This stuff always takes time.

Second large company this week to rollback a change after public outcry, with Valve rolling back a change in CS:GO. I hope their marketing people take a lesson out of this.

if only valve would listen more often and faster. Im not demanding fixes the next day, but it would be nice to at least get some message saying "We know about this issue, we're looking into it"

Sounds exactly like the FTDI FT232 "serial killer" saga all over again.

They got many people very pissed off and probably never buying or building products with their chips again.

How many developers does it take to change Philips lightbulb?

Any recommendations for third-party lights?

the GE Link bulbs are pretty nice. they have a great hue (pun actually not intended).

"We fucked up, but we don't want to admit it."

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