Smart lighting systems like Philips Hue are futuristic and awesome and, typically, expensive. But IKEA wants to offer this type of technology to the masses. The Swedish flatpack furniture empire is developing an entire smart home system, and it looks futuristic and awesome and, you guessed it, cheap.
This shouldn't come as a huge surprise. IKEA's been inching into the home electronics business very deliberately, and it's only natural that it would want to upend the burgeoning smart home market. Creating with a connected lightbulb system makes good sense. We already saw IKEA's affordable, motorised sit/stand desk last fall. Then, came IKEA's versatile and customisable wireless charging system that hit stores this spring. But next fall, the so-called Home Smart II Lighting Collection will take things to a new level.
Note: IKEA flew me to Sweden to check out its future products. They put me up in the IKEA Hotel, paid for my meals, and bought me a few glasses of wine. I also got a free tote bag, but I gave it to a friend.
At least, IKEA says it's going to do this. I recently visited IKEA's headquarters in Älmhult, where the company was showing off all kinds of new goodies, from vegetarian meatballs to couches made out of paper. At an event that I can only describe as a science fair for furniture, I learned a little bit about how the new lighting system will work. Since I didn't test the products themselves, I'll offer you IKEA's description of the system, which is being developed in collaboration with Frog Design:
IKEA will offer home furnishing light kits that enable people to personalise their homes and create a sense of safety and wellbeing. For example, bedside lamps can imitate the sunrise while coffee is automatically brewed and different modes can be optimised to support each family throughout the home using wall switches or a smartphone app. All without any wiring or the need to call an electrician.
And IKEA promises that it will be cheap — as cheap as possible. "Let's create smart solutions that make everyday life at home easier," Björn Block, the head of liking and IKEA Home Smart, said in a statement. "And let's create these solutions [at] prices so low that as many people as possible can afford them."
That's a lofty promise! Once again, I have not touched this lighting system or basked in its life-improving light. But above is a sketch of what the system will look like. It's dead simple. A connected, colour-changing LED bulb and a switch. Here's a grainy scan of some internal marketing materials:
The switch is actually more like a remote, and like the IKEA statement says, the system can be personalised. It will be so personalised that, when you carry the remote into a room, the lights automatically adjusts to your preferences. There will also be a mobile app that could presumably perform even more functions than the remote. The whole system is designed to require no set up beyond screwing in the light bulbs
It honestly sounds too good to be true. IKEA offered more details about the Home Smart II Lighting Collection on a poster at the funny furniture science fair. One blurb read:
The mobile application and the physical products work seamlessly helping users personalise their spaces. Out of the box users can customise their lights by switching scenes and adjusting brightness. With a few additional taps they can customise and save personal scenes with colours and automated settings like vacation mode which would automatically turn on light.
But wait there's more:
Where the switch is everyday use, the application is what unlocks a new level of creating atmosphere with light, personalisation, and safety.
Users can create customer [sic] lighting scenes in their rooms, set up the lights to turn on automatically when they are away from the house, and create automatic sequences across their house when they wake up, or go to sleep.
So that's basically the definition of a smart home. Except instead of requiring a stupid hub that takes up space and tends to break, all of the brains are in the bulb. Or at least, that's what IKEA is promising.
Obviously, we won't know how well the Home Smart II Lighting Collection until we try it. We also won't know how cheap it will be until IKEA official announces the product and price. What I do know is that this sounds like an amazingly easy and impressively versatile start to a smart home system for the masses. Since IKEA also makes appliances, you can imagine how that smart home could grow.
IKEA's tagline for this initiative, by the way, is "The internet of better things."
So when do we get that IKEA smart TV? Probably never. One IKEA executive told me that IKEA wasn't interested in making gadgets, but the company is looking to expand its offerings in home electronics. I'm not really sure what that means, but IKEA's futuristic concept kitchen does provide some clues. Once again, none of these products are actually on the market yet, so we'll have to wait and see if the company can pull it off.
IKEA wouldn't provide me with any photos of the new lighting kit, but I took a few photos of the promotional posters. They're a little blurry, but you get the point. IKEA's getting in the smart home game, like everyone else. But, IKEA being IKEA, the company stands to change the game in dramatic fashion.
Pictures: Adam Clark Estes