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Philips backs down over firmware that adds DRM to light

Let a thousand third-party bulbs glow

By Iain Thomson, 17 Dec 2015

Dutch electronics giant Philips has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn over its plans to lock out third-party suppliers of light bulbs for its Hue smart lighting system.

Earlier this week Philips updated the firmware of its Hue lighting system to block the use of light bulbs from companies that don't have the Philips seal of approval.

Philips' Hue ostensibly subscribed to the IEEE 802.15.4 standard (aka ZigBee) that was designed for such Internet of Things (IoT) devices. But with the latest update, it fiddled with the stack to lock out competition and make sure the lights work as the firm wanted them to.

The change meant owners of the system would only be able to buy supplies from Philips or a supplier it approved.

There's very little new in this. Coffee maker Keurig tried the same thing, until a crash in sales caused the company to reverse its policy. Apple also deliberately borks standards to make a few extra bucks, and continues to do so in light of its customers' apparent willingness to carry on paying the Cupertino idiot delightfully-integrated experience tax.

But Philips' customers have staged a very noisy protest at the move and the firm has backed down. In a statement on the Hue Facebook page, Philips gave a somewhat ungracious explanation about why it had reversed its earlier decision.

"We recently upgraded the software for Philips Hue to ensure the best seamless connected lighting experience for our customers. This change was made in good faith," Philips said.

"However, we under-estimated the impact this would have on a small number of customers who use lights from other brands which could not be controlled by the Philips Hue software. In view of the sentiment expressed by our customers, we have decided to reverse the software upgrade so that lights from other brands continue to work as they did before with the Philips Hue system."

Philips' attempt to move its lighting system onto a printer-cartridge model appears to have failed at the moment, but it and other manufacturers are bound to try again – the potential profits are too large to ignore. ®

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