back to article Philips backs down over firmware that adds DRM to light

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 …

  1. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Sounds a bit Microsoftish: fuck the customer over. A pretty short-sighted way of improving revenue if you ask me...

    1. dan1980

      In the 'f%$k-over the customer for revenue' stakes, yes, MS are utterly guilty of this (it's almost their mission statement). But I would say that MS really are quite good with interoperability as a rule. The do remove features that people use, of course, but that;s slightly different.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        True. Maybe I'm just a grumpy old fart, but it seems to me that the idea of service without servility has pretty much gone out the window and been replaced with the FU attitude. I'm actually shocked when I receive excellent, or even very good service these days.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I'm actually shocked when I receive excellent, or even very good service these days.

          when I do, I stop and think furiously: where did they catch me NOW? And when will it bite me in the ass, and how hard?

          And it's not because I was born paranoid, nosir :(

      2. Naselus

        "But I would say that MS really are quite good with interoperability as a rule."

        Indeed, the 'you must buy the whole fricking stack from us or it won't work' thing has always been the Apple MO rather than Microsoft's. MS specialized in ensuring that, no matter what hardware you had, Windows would still BSOD with equal efficiency and regularity. :)

        And history shows pretty firmly which business plan worked better, too - MS's work-reasonably-with-everything software absolutely dominated (and continues to do so in the desktop space), while Apple's work-well-but-only-with-our-own-stuff method pretty much bankrupted the company until Jobs went cap-in-hand to Bill Gates for a bailout in the late 90s, and was eventually abandoned by the Mac division in favour of just using the same, vastly superior hardware that PCs had been on for years.

        As Philips appear to have just discovered, people don't actually like being aggressively locked into an ecosystem. They'll allow it with new tech (hence how Apple got away with it in the early days), but as a market matures people start asking why, exactly, we should give out a monopoly on peripherals and parts, especially when those monopolies are immediately and inevitably abused to an extreme degree by the suppliers (Why not spend £25 on a cable from the Apple store? No, this one is completely different from the 3rd-party version you can pick up on Amazon for £3, honest...).

        Frankly, good on Philips for recognizing that this was going to hurt them in the long term, but shame on them for trying it in the first place. Consumer's ain't stupid and can see it a mile off when you start taking the piss, and won't tolerate it in a mature technology.

      3. nijam Silver badge

        > ... MS really are quite good with interoperability ...

        What? No, definitely not.

    2. Mage

      MS? No, more like Adobe and Apple

      MS (after losing an EU case) is pretty open. Even before that very much was interoperable. Nor generally do MS create SW that only works with their H, or HW that only works with their accessories.

      There is a good reason why retail OS X is a lot cheaper than retail boxed Windows.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. TheVogon

      "Sounds a bit Microsoftish: fuck the customer over."

      Sounds far more like Apple to me. For instance the Apple watch only working with the Apple "QI" charger, magic cables required for all Apple devices, etc, etc...

      "There is a good reason why retail OS X is a lot cheaper than retail boxed Windows."

      Yes, those reasons are a) you pay for it via the vastly overpriced hardware, not directly, and b) it has far less included functionality / features.

  2. dan1980

    Such things are always done to offer users the best "experience" and it always only a "small number of customers" who are screwed adversely affected.

    Amazingly, despite this consistency of message from every company that attempts similar moves, the words manage to be unconvincing.

    1. Captain DaFt

      If it was really only a "small number of customers", do you think they would have actually cared?

      Unless, "small number of customers" means that their customer base is still small, and most of them threatened to jump ship.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Unless, "small number of customers"

        Unless, "small number of customers"

        I suggest you ookup the price of the zigbee enabled lightbulbs on Amazon. You can easily make a guesstimate of how big the customer base is (I would be surprised if it is more than 10s of thousands).

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      'Such things are always done to offer users the best "experience"'

      Experience. There's a word on the same level as "your call is important to us". Why do they never realise that all this clap-trap just makes things worse?

      AFAICS they actually had a good story - whether true or not I don't know - that some "compatible" kit wasn't. They could have reiterated that & said something along the lines of "Some of you insist on taking the risks. OK, on your heads be it."

  3. a_yank_lurker

    Yea right

    They did not expect people to want to buy a light bulb from someone else. Bloody idiots.

    1. dan1980

      Re: Yea right

      Of course, the problem is that they did expect people to do this and thus wanted to have them spend their money with Philips instead.

  4. Grade%

    Aww, who'd a thunk it.

    With IoT threats, now, to my toaster demanding a certain brand of bread? Okay, that example is hyperbole but how much? Not very it seems if every thing with an IC included gives manufactures dreams of perpetual lockouts. The future is going to be interesting in that we may have to subscribe to a clipping service that will update us as to how the products we own are altered. We will have to continually harangue them to not do so in a manner that is a detriment to our application of use.

    Ha, I know that the defense of liberty is eternal vigilance, but come on, my frigging toaster?

    1. Graham Marsden

      @Grade% - Re: Aww, who'd a thunk it.

      > my toaster demanding a certain brand of bread

      Howdy doodly-doo!!

      1. Alister

        Re: @Grade% - Aww, who'd a thunk it.

        Lister: We don't LIKE muffins around here! We want no muffins, no toast, no teacakes, no buns, baps, baguettes or bagels, no croissants, no crumpets, no pancakes, no potato cakes and no hot-cross buns and DEFINITELY no smegging flapjacks!

        Toaster: Aah, so you're a waffle man!

  5. Fraggle850

    Being charitable...

    Let's assume Phillips did do this to improve the UX by extending the zigbee stack, why not open source the code and encourage the alternative providers to adopt it? Could it have been implemented in a way that still allowed compatibility for non-compliant/official standard compliant alternatives?

    IoT, meet the money grubbing reality of short sighted greed.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Being charitable...

      Somewhere along the lines companies seem to have decided that bean counters should be making business decisions, not just measuring them.

      And bean counters don't look at long term outcomes. Or customer relationships ( actual human, not CRM). Just balance sheets and the next financial reporting season.

      Which is why we get (outsourced) call centres that mechanically tell us that they really value our call, and/or that they are having a high volume of calls at the time when you'd expect them to have a high volume of calls, but still don't have enough staff to answer the f***ing phones.

  6. MacroRodent


    Just say no to this Idiocy of Things. Connecting devices sometimes has valid uses, particularly when the item to be controlled is inconvenient to access, but many companies seem to be trying very hard to go overboard with IoT. Lights are best controlled with the obvious switch on the wall (unless you are controlling stage lighting). Toasters and fridges have no business networking. In general, anything the user necessarily interacts with directly should only have very direct, obvious controls. Anything else is a gimmick that brings risks with it.

    1. Naselus

      Re: IoT

      But how else am I going to automatically inform my friends on Facebook when I'm making toast, or invite them to join me in enjoying a toast-making experience?

    2. keithpeter Silver badge

      Current through wire in a (near) vacuum - Re: IoT

      "Lights are best controlled with the obvious switch on the wall (unless you are controlling stage lighting)."

      I've actually gone back to incandescents in the Man Cave. They are still sold for 'industrial use' in the UK. Might get a Variac for lutz with the desk lamp.

      It is winter, so central heating is on a thermostat, which means that the extra few tens of watts of heat energy being dumped into the house by the tungsten filaments will just lengthen the pauses between the combi-boiler kicking in by a few seconds.

      Was getting headaches with the energy saving bulbs. We have one LED based luminaire that pulses different colours a bit like a lava lamp. Gets used now and again. Fun thing.

      1. Trixr

        Re: Current through wire in a (near) vacuum - IoT

        Have you tried the LED bulbs that have been around for years now, rather than CFLs? Massive power savings, last longer than incandescents, smaller bulbs than CFLs, and don't have the "flicker".

        1. MacroRodent

          Re: Current through wire in a (near) vacuum - IoT

          Massive power savings, last longer than incandescents, smaller bulbs than CFLs, and don't have the "flicker".

          Most importantly, LEDs are instantly on, whereas CFL:s sometimes take up to a minute to reach full light output, depending on the model and ambient temperature. I have replaced most lights in my house with LEDs, a no-brainer now that their prices have come down to a reasonable level.

          Regarding the earlier post about old-style bulbs in the man cave: I too have a house heated with an oil-burning boiler, with thermostats in the radiators (and what passes for winter in these greenhouse effect days outside), but I estimate the effect differently: Heat from electricity is much more expensive than heat from the oil, and the bulbs also tend to supply it in the wrong place: near the ceiling. Any effect on the working cycle of the boiler from using incandescent bulbs would probably be measured in microseconds, instead of seconds.

        2. NBCanuck

          Re: Current through wire in a (near) vacuum - IoT

          "Have you tried the LED bulbs that have been around for years now, rather than CFLs? Massive power savings, last longer than incandescents, smaller bulbs than CFLs, and don't have the "flicker"."

          ....not to mention don't emit mercury when dropped or broken, and are much more resistant to breaking in the first place. And for those of us who have to deal with cold winters, LED bulbs come on immediately while CFL bulbs can take a few minutes to heat up before putting out much light.

  7. Long John Brass

    Makes me sad

    Philips was the last of the big manufacturers I had any faith in. They build or used to build solid reliable mid-range gear ... Looks like they've gone down the same shit hole as everyone else.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Makes me sad

      The reason Phillips is going down the shitter (along with many other companies) is that we are finally at the end of competent properly educated people in the workforce and these companies are only hiring millennials now.

      You know all that idiocy that they believe in? This is the end result.

      1. Trixr

        Re: Makes me sad

        So you think the executives who made this hairbrained decision are millennials? Please.

        1. PhilBuk

          Re: Makes me sad

          He was talking about engineers, not executives - they've always been fucking stupid.


  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WTF happened to this once mighty company?

    Generations of my family used to use Philips shavers. But once they switched over to using low voltage transformers they didn't have enough power anymore to deal with our heavy grain. Then they started outsourcing their TV brand to dodgy assemblers in places like Mexico. Several Philips TV's had to be returned due to dead-pixels! What now, DRM IoT games!!! Wow! Time to stop buying Philips.

    But what happened to this once mighty company? Rhetorical question I know... Corporatization? Short term thinking, short-term profits.... There's little incentive for executives to do anything else I suppose, and few white collar-police around should they really step over the line...

    1. Mage

      Re: WTF happened to this once mighty company?

      Before 1926 they only did light bulbs. Now they only do light bulbs and health products. They licensed the TV and HiFi badges to two different Asian companies, a step beyond outsourcing. Philips Electronics that did wonderful valves (Mullard from 1928) and later Transistors and ICs (inc Valvo and Mullard) was spun off ages ago as NXP.

      They were the last serious European competitor to Asian Consumer Electronics.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These kind of systems tend to be aimed at architects who specify hugely expensive and complicated lighting systems in new buildings.

    A few years later the owners will want to make some changes, only to find that the system is completely undocumented, the company that originally installed it is gone, the local sparky can't figure it out and even if he could, there's a bunch of special parts needed that are no longer available.

    Solutions that are unnecessarily complex always come back to bite you. There isn't much wrong with a simple incandescent light bulb and a toggle switch.

    1. TheProf

      Yep totally agree with you.

      About 10 years ago I worked* in an office that had some form of esoteric lighting system imported from Germany. I remember the janitor staring wistfully at the dull patch of ceiling saying that 'in the old days' he'd have changed the dud bulb in 30 seconds. It took about 2 weeks to get a replacement from the secret bunker in Germany and then they had to use a highly skilled bulb swapping technician.

      *Ha hah hahhahahahahahahha!

  10. Huns n Hoses

    No it wasnt!

    "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.

    Who are statements like this actually addressed to? Like, who for a single moment would believe this utter drivel? Why not just point to the "we are committed to..." in your Mission Statement as a reply to any question and save us all the bother?

    This political cabbage-speak from business weasels has become normal.

    "that affected a small number of customers" ==> "the whole fucking thing fell over"

    "we are experiencing an unusually high number of calls" ==> "we're too cheap to hire enough operators"

    "we have listened to our customers" ==> "we have been forced to"

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: No it wasnt!

      "we have listened to our customers" ==> We have got caught out and have told our PR bods to think up a response that lets us wriggle out of as much of the shit as we can.


  11. Mystic Megabyte

    Hysterical note

    Many years ago my sister worked as a secretary at Philips light bulb division in London. They received a letter from a woman* who was outraged that her neighbours had fitted a red light in their porch and demanded that Philips withdrew the sale of such bulbs.

    *a Mrs Trellis perhaps

  12. Nifty Silver badge

    Apple - USB cables

    Go figure

    1. Mage


      Magsafe connector

      Various generations of iPod / iPhone docks

      The Apple Watch so called "wireless charger" plate*

      Inability to use USB storage mode, you have to use iTunes or "cloud" to move data from iDevice with USB port even if you have a Mac.

      [* So called wireless chargers are connector-less, the pad still needs a cable. Even madder is a Cordless kettle. It's a corded kettle with a really big plug!]

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Apple

        "a Cordless kettle. It's a corded kettle with a really big plug!"

        Best. Description. Ever!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I have no arguments with MagSafe connectors save that Apple won't let anyone else use them, for external batteries, for example. Several times I have watched the MagSafe disconnect when a power cord has been tripped over, leaving the laptop on the table when with a different power connector it would have been yanked into space.

    Sometimes there really is progress through better design and I think MagSafe is a good example. I don't mind it being an Apple exclusive: they invented it. The rest of your examples, though, including the (pointless) Apple Watch lack of USB storage mode and daft proprietary wireless charging (and where's that for iPhones, pray?) I completely agree with. There's a reason Apple has made all that money.

  14. Donald Becker

    It's an oft-repeated story: they want the benefit of an open system, but then try to close the doors to trap the customers inside.

    My guess is that part of the pressure was others in the industry pointing out that they were violating the standards agreements. Once you sign the agreement and put the logo on your products, you have made a commitment. Even if the standards body doesn't sue you, there are plenty of law firms that specialize in class action lawsuits.

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