In San Francisco as part of the I Love APIs Apigee event, Kevin Toms from Philips Hue Developer Program is at the forefront of how an established business is reorienting toward an API-focused digital future. He spoke with ProgrammableWeb about how developers are working with Hue and where the move will take the lightbulb manufacturer.
“I’m running the development program for Hue,” says Toms, who is based in the Netherlands. “I’m a software architect but spend a lot more time on marketing and developer engagement these days. My role supports independent developers in particular, as we also have a partnership team.”
The goal of the position, says Toms, is to help developers create new apps and services that make use of the flexibility and design of the Hue lightbulb system.
Operating on a Local API Hub
Hue is a series of LED products (predominantly globes, but also light strips and other lighting formats) that are wirelessly connected to a hub (the Hue bridge). This, in turn, is linked to a router and enables remote management of the lights via an app or the Philips Hue API.
“At present, the API is a local API,” Toms confirms. “It works on your local Wi-Fi system in your home. There is a bridge that connects the bulbs to the home automation system. So then, on the bridge, we have a RESTful API, so generally people who are writing apps for Hue, it is on the home Wi-Fi system. So API calls and management is completely free.”
This means the API endpoint would be something like the bridge’s IP address/API. Toms confirms that Philips is working on a remote API to provide more options for communicating and managing lights individually or in collections, potentially expanding use cases beyond the home and into events management-type functions.
IFTTT Remote Access Alternatives
“But even with the current model, the app might be monitoring something from the Web, and you can tell people in the home by setting the color. For example, if it is raining, you might make lights turn blue to alert people to take an umbrella,” suggests Toms. To help introduce the potential use cases, Philips Hue worked with IFTTT to encourage developers to create recipes early on.
Toms explains: “Quite early on, we approached IFTTT to build a collaboration. That is remote access, but we are working on a more substantial API for remote access in the future. On IFTTT, there are now over 1,200 recipes for Hue.”
Business Models for Third-Party Developers
For developers looking to monetize their apps, it is still very much at the trial and discovery stage regarding defining what sort of business model may be successful. Toms confirms that there are developers who have been able to buy a new car, for example, from the money they have made from developing a Hue app.
Toms believes Philips is now in a much better position to support developers to commercialize their applications. On the MeetHue website and on the Hue app, showcase sections highlight third-party apps that have been created for Hue. This is a much more targeted approach than offering the apps on iTunes App Store or Google Play, as the audience on Hue’s app is made up of users of Hue, so it is a qualified target customer audience.
Our initial data shows that this substantially increases downloads. The apps showcase is going direct to Hue owners. Or through MeetHue, it is a good way for our third-party developers to reach their audience. We’re approaching 200 apps now. Light control and home automation are the key focuses, but there are a number of music apps, for example. The showcase feature is good way for us to show our customers what the Hue can do.
Brian Mulloy, VP of Apigee who's responsible for heading up its new Zetta Internet of Things platform, gives a glowing (yes, I went there) recommendation:
Our IoT lab is filled with gadgets, and it is a fantastic technology. Philips know how to get really precise color out of a light globe, and this is a product that developers can create really interesting solutions with. They got the model exactly right by having the hub that can control multiple globes and then have a Web API that can transcend the hub and work directly with the globes (that is, the forthcoming remote API). Because Philips have made it so simple, we use Hue bulbs in every single demonstration we do. And that’s how you extend your value proposition into developer channels.
API developers can learn more on the Hue Developer Portal. SDKs for iOS and Android are also available.
ProgrammableWeb will provide further details of Apigee’s new Zetta Internet of Things platform on Friday.