Philips Hue Bulbs: Better on the Apple Home App, but Not Perfect

I’ve recently set up my home with the Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit. While I’m still in the early stages of setting routines and specific lighting scenes that are convenient for my particular home-life, I’ve already noticed several issues with the native Philips Hue app. That being said, the Philips Hue app is powerful. In it, you can set lighting routines based on specific times of the day or even sunrise and sunset, you can have lights trigger as you leave or arrive home, and most importantly you can change the brightness and color of the bulbs to 50,000 different shades of white. But the most underrated feature within the Philips Hue app is the ability to automatically fade your lights to a pre-set state over the course of 5 to 30 minutes.

The Philips Hue App

For instance, I’ve set up a custom routine in the Philips Hue app that automatically fades my living room lights from the “Bright” state at 9:45pm to a dim, red-toned color called the “Relax” state at 10:15pm. Between those 30 minutes, the bulbs in my living room slowly shift from a standard yellow-tone to a red-tone while simultaneously decreasing from 100% brightness to 56%. This routine helps prepare me for bed as the house gets darker and feels calmer without suddenly changing from 100% brightness to 0% in an instant.

But here’s the issue: the Philips Hue app routines activate a change of state regardless of several very important parameters. The Philips Hue app doesn’t care about the prior state of the bulbs before activating a change of state. I could have my lights set to “Off” while watching a movie with my wife and at 9:45pm they’ll begin increasing the brightness from 0% to 56%. The app doesn’t ask if it should be increasing or decreasing its brightness. It only knows to change to a set brightness percentage, regardless of whether or not it needs to increase or decrease. That’s bad functionality but even worse, the app doesn’t even care if the user is home. Ideally, the Philips Hue app would allow users to automatically trigger a routine on the condition that 1) the user is home (or not) and 2) that the bulbs are in a specific prior state. While I could just open the Philips Hue app and turn my bedtime routine off in preparation for a movie night, that completely nullifies the ambitions of proper home automation.

The Apple Home App

Surprisingly, Apple’s Home app can do almost all of these things with the same Hue bulbs. By setting up scenes in the Home app that reflect specific color-tones and brightness percentages, Apple allows the user to change the state of the bulbs at specific times of day or even at sunrise and sunset. Not only that, but Apple even allows the user to input specific parameters such as:

  • When somebody is home

  • When the first person arrives home

  • When the last person leaves home

  • When nobody is home

Apple’s automation features within the Home app are truly powerful with the inclusion of these highly-specific parameters. For instance, I’ve created an automation within the Home app that activates my living room lights to 100% brightness at sunset, but only if at least one person is home. Additionally, our lights turn on when either my wife or I arrives home first, but only after sunset. Practically, this means that if my wife comes home from work after sunset, the lights will turn on for her when she arrives. If she were to then turn all of the lights off to watch a movie, those lights would not then turn on once I arrive home from work after her. They only respond to the very first person to arrive home.

There is just one major shortcoming to using the Philps Hue bulbs in conjunction with the Home app. Apple doesn’t allow bulbs to fade over time. As discussed above, the Philips Hue app has the wonderful feature of fading lights over the course of 5 to 30 minutes, but the Home app only allows for an instantaneous change of state. I’d love to have my living room lights slowly fade into the “On” state as the Sun fades below the horizon, but it’s impossible. This is particularly frustrating considering the Home app does allow the user to manually adjust the brightness-level of Philips Hue bulbs. I suppose Apple just never bothered to add it as one of the many parameters of automation.