How to use smart lighting in your home
There's a lot more to smart lights than simply changing the colour via your smartphone. Various intelligent features baked into each app enable you to perform all sorts of neat tricks, such as the ability to set custom rules for turning the lights on and off automatically, compatibility with the IFTTT (If This, Then That) web service, and novelty lighting effects like a music visualiser and colour cycle.
The bare basics
Before you can start taking advantage of all of the additional functionality available, however, you'll need to master the bare basics: getting used to turning the lights on and off from your mobile device.
Smart lights are, by necessity, controlled from a mobile app, giving you a richer control centre of functions than is possible from the simple on/off wall switch. This is all well and good, but you – and the rest of your household – will have to train yourself to stop reaching for the wall switch whenever you want to turn the lights on and off. This may take longer than expected due to your good ol' muscle memory.
The other downside to controlling your lights this way is that it takes far takes longer than it does from a wall switch, as you have to reach for your phone, wake it up, launch the relevant app, and then find the screen that has the on/off button.
Controlling your lights
There are a few workarounds to make smart lighting control easier to access. If you have a Pebble or Android Wear smart watch, you can download apps for the Hue and LIFX lighting systems (for the former type of watch, this app is installed automatically if you have the relevant smartphone app installed) that let you control your lighting from your wrist.
In the Hue's case, you'll need to download the third party Hue Control Android app to get this functionality on an Android Wear smart watch, or the Huebble app onto a Pebble. For LIFX, the standard LIFX app for Android will work for Android Wear, and you'll need the OpalX app for the Pebble smart watch.
Another option for Philips Hue users is investing in the Logitech Harmony Ultimate remote control. It's pricey, but it's worth it as it's compatible with thousands of in-home devices, including TVs, sound systems, Blu-ray/DVD players and games consoles.
The Logitech Harmony Ultimate really earns its high pricetag, however, when it comes to programming activities. You can programme a variety of actions into a single activity, such as 'Watch a movie', which could dim your Philips Hue lights, and turn the TV, Blu-ray player and soundbar on.
Finally, if you have one or more old iPhone or Android devices handy, you could repurpose them into dedicated light switches by mounting them on a wall, running a power cable to each one, installing the relevant app and setting the screen to never turn off.
If your Android device doesn't support the option of never turning the display off, you can download free apps like No Screen Off or Screen Timeout Toggle.
IFTTT: Setting it up
The coolest thing you can do with smart lights by far is connect them to the IFTTT service – currently supported by the Philips Hue and LIFX lights only (Belkin will be adding support to the WeMo lights soon).
To setup IFTTT connectivity on the Philips Hue, open the app and click on the menu button in the top left corner. Tap the 'Log in to my hue' button, and this will launch the web browser to create a Hue account.
Once you're all setup there, head here and click activate. If you don't have an IFTTT account already, you'll be prompted to do so, and then you'll have to sign in with your Hue account to link the two together.
When the two services are linked up, head back to the IFTTT page to see all of the different 'recipes' available for controlling your Philips Hue lights. 168 web services, or 'channels' are supported for the Philips Hue, including Android Location, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook and Fitbit.
To set up your LIFX bulb with IFTTT, open the LIFX app, click on the 'Smart' tab, then scroll down to the Services section, where you'll find an 'IFTTT' tile. Tap on the tile, and it will open a web browser to the IFTTT page. Click the big 'Activate' button to link your LIFX to IFTTT.
IFTTT: Using it
To start using IFTTT, you can access the service from the web page or download the IF by IFTTT app for iOS/Android. From here, you can create your own 'recipes' using a combination of triggers (these are based on set variables, such as the time, getting a notification in Facebook, or receiving a new SMS from your partner) and actions (making your lights turn on, or making them flash a specific colour – like blue when you receive a Facebook notification and red when you receive a new email to your Gmail account).
A couple of the cooler recipes involve activity monitors and voice control. If you have a Jawbone UP or Fitbit, you can setup your Hue or LIFX lights to turn on whenever you turn the sleep mode off on the activity tracker. Do a search on IFTTT for the activity tracker and lighting system (for example, LIFX fitbit) to find the relevant recipe.
If you have the magical combination of an iOS device and Philips Hue lights, you can also use Siri to turn your lights on and off. Well, kind of. While Siri doesn't support turning smart lights on and off just yet, you can fake it by creating a contact in your addressbook called 'Hue' that uses the IFTTT phone number, and then setting a designated command via IFTTT that turns the lights on or off. The easiest way to set this up is by using one of the pre-built IFTTT recipes, such as the 'Hue lights ON w/ my siri' recipe.