Philips Hue users outraged after firmware update blocks third-party light bulbs

A Hue hub firmware update sacrifices interoperability for consistency, and it doesn’t go over well.

Editor's note: Philips has since reversed course and pledged to restore support for third-party ZigBee smart bulbs.

Philips Hue users say they feel betrayed after a firmware update broke compatibility with non-Philips smart bulbs.

Prior the update, Philips’ Hue bridge worked with any bulb that supported the ZigBee Light Link protocol, including third-party bulbs from GE, Cree, and Osram. Through a single Wi-Fi bridge, users could then control all of their bulbs with a common set of dimmer switches or mobile apps.

But Philips now says those products are causing too many compatibility and setup headaches, and is cutting them off from the Hue bridge. As of firmware 1.11, users can no longer connect new bulbs that Philips itself hasn’t tested. Existing bulbs will remain linked, but Philips will permanently block new connections if users reset their bridges or unpair any third-party bulbs.

Although Philips says the change affects a “minimal” number of users and a “minimal fraction” of products connected to Hue bridges, the backlash is already rolling in, with angry comments abound on the Philips Hue Facebook page and subreddit. “Philips has just slapped fans like us in the face and kicked interoperability out the door,” Hue user Chris Marquardt wrote in a scathing blog post. “Without any communication they delivered a new firmware to the system that disables adding products that they don’t approve of.”

Philips claims that it will add interoperability back through its Friends of Hue program, which involves testing and certification for third-party bulbs. However, it’s unclear whether any of Philips’ most direct lighting competitors will participate in this effort, or whether they’ll even be allowed to do so. For now—and excuse us for taking the obvious pun here—users are left in the dark.

Why this matters: Smart homes and connected lighting are in such an early stage that interoperability is rare, and that explains why users are so upset. They were investing heavily in a product that they thought would be averse to lock-in, and now they’re feeling stranded. In its FAQ, Philips talks of the need for differentiation on top of standards like ZigBee Light Link, and while that’s an understandable goal, it doesn’t seem like the company thought the execution through.

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