Ikea has a lightbulb moment with new smart lighting system

Tech Tools: Tradfri kits embrace the Internet of Things, but where’s the remote access?

Product name: Ikea Tradfri smart lighting

Price: €79.0

Where to buy: Ikea

Website: ikea.org

Thu, May 18, 2017, 06:39

   

You know a particular technology is fast approaching mainstream when Ikea dips its toe in the water. The Swedish furniture giant has already embraced wireless charging; now it’s the turn of the Internet of Things. Ikea’s smart lighting system has hit stores, offering another option to people who want to smarten up their home.

The bulbs included in Ikea’s smart lighting range include GU10s, E27 and E14. No bayonet caps, unfortunately, which are more popular in Irish homes not kitted out by Ikea, but you can pick up adapters elsewhere that will make your bayonet light fittings compatible with the E27 bulbs. There are also light panels for furniture, shelf units with LED doors, and storage units with remote-controlled LED light panels. Basically, Ikea has gone all in – unless your home is filled with the aforementioned bayonet bulbs.

For review purposes, though, we looked at the Tradfri Gateway Kit (€79), and two Tradfri dimming kits (€19 and €35).

Skip the gateway

Included in the gateway kit is the hub you’ll need to control all your lightbulbs, a dimmer switch and two E27 bulbs. The bulbs can be used without the gateway, using only the dimmer switch, so if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of internet-connected bulbs, you can skip the gateway portion of proceedings and just invest in the dimmer kits. If you change your mind later, you can pick up the gateway separately, for €32, which certainly seems like a bargain.

Setting up the system takes only a few minutes. Downloading the app was the longest part. If you want to use the gateway, you’ll have to plug it directly into your router and get everything set up; then it’s just a matter of adding the bulbs and you are ready to go in a few minutes.

The bulbs themselves allow you to alter colour temperature. There’s a harsh light that is supposed to help you focus, say if you are working late at night, with softer tones to help you relax when you need it.

There is a lot of competition out there, though. Ikea is going up against Philips and its Hue collection, Belkin’s Wemo smart bulbs, LIFX and others.

So how does it compare?

Plain white bulb

The E27 Philips Hue lighting starter kit, which include two bulbs and the hub, will set you back €79, which doesn’t seem like much of a saving to go with the Ikea set. But that’s just the plain white bulb kit, and there is no remote control included. It’s probably fairer to compare it it to the Philips Hue Ambience starter kit, which includes the two bulbs, a hub and dimmer switch. That will cost you around €140. Belkin’s Wemo start kit bulbs don’t allow colour temperature changing, but do support remote access, dimming, timers and rules to make sure your lights are turning on and off when you need them.

And that’s where Ikea’s kit falters – for now. The one downside of the Ikea set is that it currently doesn’t allow remote access. That will come later this year – October, Ikea tells me – so until then you will have to be content with using the lighting set as a glorified timer plug, albeit one that allows you to mess about with the tone of light in your room.

Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until I was out of range of the gateway, meaning my grand plan to make it look like there was still someone at home while I was away crashed and burned. And my house lights were switched on all night, which defeated the purpose of installing the system.

On the plus side, though, it’s a cheap way to get started, and when October rolls around, Ikea will implement the update that allows you to log into the gateway remotely and tinker with your home’s lighting system from afar.

The good: As far as price goes, the Ikea kit is certainly affordable. The bulbs are all under €20. The ability to alter colour temperature is also a plus. Security-wise, the Ikea system has also got the thumbs-up from some experts, which is good news for anyone worried about their lightbulbs becoming part of a zombie botnet taking down targets all over the world.

The not so good: No remote access? That’s definitely the downside to the the Ikea system, although that will be rectified in a few months. The ability to hook up rival systems to things like Apple’s HomeKit or IFTTT would also be welcome in Ikea’s new system.

The rest: You can set the colour temperature to one of three settings, and the gateway is not strictly necessary to use the lightbulbs and dimming switches – although you can probably pick up non-connected bulbs that can be dimmed for cheaper than Ikea’s smart ones if you have no intention of utilising the system to its fullest.

The verdict: A good way to dip your toe in the IoT waters, but more useful when the remote access is enabled.