Philips Hue bridges won't block third-party light bulbs after all after fierce backlash

Philips has quickly backtracked on a decision to block third-party smart bulbs from connecting to Philips Hue bridges.

The company is working on new firmware that will reverse the previous 1.11 update, which arrived on Monday and promptly caused a backlash. Users who rely on non-Philips bulbs should avoid resetting their Hue bridges or disconnecting those bulbs for now, as doing either will break compatibility until the next firmware update arrives.

With the Hue system, all light bulbs connect to a single bridge device using the ZigBee Light Link protocol. The bridge then connects to a home’s Wi-Fi network, letting users control their lighting with wireless dimmers, smartphones, and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices. While Philips might prefer that people use official Hue bulbs, there was nothing stopping users from connecting third-party bulbs that supported ZigBee Light Link.

On Monday, Philips released new firmware that blocked any new connections to third-party bulbs, unless those bulbs became certified under Philips’ own “Friends of Hue” program. The company cited compatibility issues and confusion, noting that some unauthorized bulbs have not been working properly with the Hue system. The number of affected users would be “minimal,” Philips said.

After a torrent of complaints on Facebook, along with some one-star reviews on Amazon, Philips now says it “underestimated the impact this would have” on a small number of customers. The Friends of Hue program will continue, and Philips won’t try to fix any compatibility problems that arise with unauthorized bulbs, but the company won’t actively block those bulbs either.

Why this matters: The reversal is a big win for the notion that users aren’t stupid. Although Philips said its original decision was made in good faith, the idea that users might be confused by unauthorized bulbs came off as condescending. It also left users in a considerably worse position, as they’d invested in a system that wasn’t supposed to lock them in. At least Philips recognized the mistake, and is letting users decide whether to risk compatibility issues down the road.

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