Ever since Thomas Edison helped popularized electric light the world has never been the same. Freed from the expensive candle industry, people could stay awake for longer. Study, laugh and live in the glow of inexpensive electric lighting. It’s a small miracle to create light at the flip of a switch. One we take for granted far too easily.
Time stands still for no one though and modern lighting is clean and energy-efficient. Thanks to the rise of cheap wireless electronics and embedded processors, those lights are now also smart. Just hook them into your home automation control network and you can recreate almost any lighting setup you want when you want it.
LIFX is a clear market leader in the smart lighting industry and a fine choice for any home automation fan. If you want to know how they stack up against their main competition, don’t miss my comparison article with the Philips Hue.
To help you decide on your lighting provider and give you an idea of what’s involved in the setup, I’m going to give a quick overview of how LIFX are hooked up to the most popular home automation systems. We’ll also be looking at what these nifty lights can do in isolation.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “LIFE-EX”.
LIFX and Alexa
Early in 2016 Alexa fans got fantastic news. LIFX announced direct, native integration of their product with the friendly Amazonian voice assistant.
Before this, you had to utter “LIFX” every time you wanted Alexa to fiddle with the lights on your behalf. Now there’s a bunch of natural phrases you can use. For example, you can say Älexa, turn the lounge light off” and she’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
There’s also an advanced set of commands that Alexa can help you set up. Just say “Alexa, ask Life-Ex what I can do with my lights.”
To get the basic setup done, just follow these simple steps:
- Open the LIFX App (obviously, you need to grab it from your app store)
- Under “integrations” open the Amazon Echo menu and connect your Amazon account
- Now go to the Alexa app and access settings>account>connected home>devices
- Tap “Discover Devices”
- Group the lights as you like (this is unconnected from your LIFX app groupings)
- That’s it! You can now just talk to Alexa and she’ll work the lights for you.
Don’t forget about looking into the advanced commands I mentioned before, which will allow you to access functions such as color changes and the like.
LIFX and Google Home
Google Home is a much more recent home automation product than Alexa. Despite this late entry, Google has arrived with typical confidence and style. So if you’re thinking of throwing in with the G-men here’s what you need to do for LIFX integration.
- Open up your Google Home app on a mobile device
- Tap the “hamburger”. It’s the three-line thingy in the top left corner.
- Tap “home control
- Now tap the little plus-looking thing on the bottom right.
- Briefly curse how no one has decent names for these all the “thingies
- Tap “LIFX”, you’ll see it under “add new”
- Sign in to LIFX
- Hit that authorize button like a boss, you’re almost there.
- Now you can attach each individual light to the rooms you’ve already set up as part of Google Home. Just hit the pencil icon and pick the room.
You can now ask Google Home to do most of the basic things that you’d expect, such as switching lights in specific rooms on and off. Unfortunately, there isn’t support for advanced functions such as scenes, but you can still use a third-party service such as IFTTT to patch together a solution until Google comes up with a native solution.
LIFX and HomeKit
Love them or hate them, you have to admit that Apple can make some really good kit when the mood strikes them. Clearly, the company sees a future in home automation for themselves and to be sure Apple HomeKit shows a lot of promise Unfortunately as I write this there’s still no native HomeKit support for LIFX. One of the issues is that HomeKit doesn’t use a fixed hub or device like a smart speaker.
Recently Apple has announced their own smart speaker, this HomePod doesn’t give us any clue whether LIFX will get native support, however. In the case of Philips, they got around the problem by providing their own hardware hub that works with HomeKit, but LIFX doesn’t have anything like that yet.
While there are some unreliable and rather technical hacks to get some sort of integration until LIFX finally roll out official HomeKit integration I can’t recommend HomeKit users go with LIFX or vice versa.
It may be worth holding out, however, since the company has indicated that it could be released sometime in 2017. They aren’t willing to commit to a fast date, however, so you’ll have to make some hard decisions if you can’t wait.
One of the great things about LIFX is the library of 3rd-party apps you can make use of. There are way too many to mention them all here, but I do have a few favorites that are worth pointing out.
If you have an Android TV, you can use an app like MoodSync to turn your LIFX lights into ambient lighting matching the primary color on TV at the moment. Your mileage may vary, as some users report lagginess, but the app is free. So no harm in trying!
There’s a similar app for Apple user called HueVision. Despite the name, it does work with LIFX too. Playing games on your Mac with ambient lighting is a pretty cool idea.
One of the best ways to use your LIFX lights is with music. It lets you repurpose your home lighting into something suitable for a party or just for fun. There’s really only one app that comes to mind immediately and that’s Light DJ, which is on both Android and iOS.
The one essential app is OnSwitch, which is the app that LIFX should have shipped with their product. It’s the light scene app to have.
No Internet: The Caveman Option
If your internet connection constantly goes down or you just don’t have a home internet connection for some reason, you can’t control your LIFX lights through the cloud service, which most apps rely on. So what to do?
Well, if you’re a coder you could make an app using the LAN control API documentation, but that’s probably not the most friendly option.
The good news is that the LIFX app itself can control your bulbs over the LAN. As long as the phone and the lights are all on the same WiFi connection it will work. However, I have seen some complaints that the Android app sometimes refuses to do this, depending on circumstances. If that happens you have little recourse but to look for a solution online or get in touch with LIFX support.
Despite the smart lighting thing being a two-horse race between Philips and LIFX at this point, the products are anything but lazy. It’s the rapid changes in home automation standards that are the real pain. Still, soon we should see proper support for all the big names, especially HomeKit and once you’ve experienced smart lighting done right, it’s hard to go back to the dark ages.