Lightbulbs With DRM Are Here

There’s a lot of love about this crazy future we live in but there are also some downright bizarre things. For example, how many of you thought your lightbulbs need some kind of mechanism to lock you into a particular manufacturer’s bulbs? Through the wonderful world of ZigBee-enabled bulbs Philips has made your dream a reality:

Philips just released firmware for the Philips Hue bridge that may permanently sever access to any “non-approved” ZigBee bulbs. We previously covered third party support in January 2015, when Philips indicated it was not blocked – and have since benefited.

The recent change seems to suggest any non-Philips bulbs from manufacturers such as Cree, GE, and Osram will not be supported in many situations, whereas “Friends of Hue” branded product are. At the time of publication, it’s unclear whether 3rd party bulbs will stop working immediately after the firmware update or if they may only become inaccessible after the bridge is reset. We’re also not sure if being “reset” means rebooted or factory reset. This appears to apply to both the round v1 bridge and square v2 HomeKit-compatible bridge after the latest firmware update is applied.

I’m not going to be a cranky curmudgeon and bitch about lightbulbs with new functionality. But I will bitch about how companies utilize new technology as a means of baiting and switching. Philips originally stated it would support third-party bulbs. I’m guessing the reason behind that was so it didn’t have to foot the entire bill to encourage adoption of ZigBee-enabled bulbs. Now it has changed the rules and locked out third-party manufacturers. In all likelihood this is because ZibBee-enabled bulbs are now sufficiently popular that Philips wants to enjoy all of the profits. It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody at Philips also assumed owners of third-party bulbs would rather purchase Philips’ hardware than lose the functionality offered by ZigBee-enabled bulbs.

There is an important lesson here. Never be entirely reliant on a third-party for your business. If, for example, you are utilizing a third-party’s software package for your hardware you should have an alternative standing buy in case you’re locked out. Were I one of these third-party manufacturers I would release an open source client on GitHub that works with any ZigBee-enabled bulb.