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Google, Philips hook up as Nest controls Hue lamps

The beginning of a beautiful friendship? Google and Philips have teamed up to control Philips Hue lights with Google's Nest intelligent home automation system. Could this be the start of a bigger relationship between the lighting stalwart and the digital era kingpin? Above, old new pals Rick and Louie from the film Casablanca.

It was only a matter of time until the icon of lighting’s analogue past, Philips, teamed with the beckoning symbol of its digital future, Google. That moment should arrive today, as Google plans to exhibit it Nest intelligent home control system working along with Philips’ Hue smart bulbs when the glitzy Consumer Electronics Show opens its doors in Las Vegas.

Nest is a thermostat and home automation device that wirelessly connects to boilers, furnaces, doors, lights, washing machines and phones, to name a few items. It’s potentially a staple of the fledgling ‘Internet of Things’ in which physical objects communicate and respond to each other and people via wireless networks either locally or from around the world.

Nest’s applications are as varied as the imagination. For example, users can progamme it to turn the heat on when they walk through the door, to run the washing machine when they’re away using smartphone apps, or to flash lights in the event of a fire or an intruder.

Philips’ Hue is range of ‘smart bulb’s based on LED chips that respond to digital wireless controls to turn on and off, change brightness or colours, or flash. Nest now includes Hue as part of the ‘Nest Protect’ line of home safety applications.

‘When Nest Protect senses something’s wrong, your Hue lights can flash on and off to get your attention,’ Nest said on its website, where it also announced 14 other new partners including Whirlpool for appliances, as well as a couple of companies that allow Nest to forward home phone calls and to remotely turn on lawn sprinklers. It plans to display them all when the annual Consumer Electronics Show opens at 10 a.m. local time Tuesday in Las Vegas.

For Philips, Google’s Nest marks at least the second partnership with a giant of the internet. The venerable Dutch lighting firm also sells its Hue lamps through Apple’s retail outlets.

Philips, the world’s largest lighting company and one of its oldest, has made impressive technological advances into the new era of digital, LED lighting, such as with its Hue lamps.

But it has struggled financially during the ongoing transition, as it is still wedded to a legacy business of making and selling conventional lamps such as incandescents, which many governments around the world are banning. New LED-only companies are also challenged to find a sustainable business model selling LED bulbs that last a purported 20 years or more (and thus offer no ‘replacement bulb’ market), but are at least free of the conventional lighting albatross. They include Cree, Aurora, Opple, Acuity, TCP, LIFX and many others.

Philips’ financial tribulations prompted Philips’ corporate CEO Frans van Houten last September to begin an attempted sell off of the lighting division, a move that echoes Siemens’ spin-off of its Osram lighting group in 2013. Like industrial conglomerate Siemens, Philips wants to focus on other sectors; in Philips’ case, on healthcare and on consumer products like coffee makers and shavers.

By partnering with internet titan Google on Hue, Philips is moving more into the future not only technologically, but also by way of business models. With new bulbs lasting for decades, the future of profits lies not in bulb sales; rather it resides somewhere in the realm of the internet and services. No one yet knows exactly what that model is. But it’s easy to imagine Philips expanding its relationship with Google to include streetlighting, office lighting, or any kind of internet-connected digital lighitng.

Pure speculation, but one could also imagine cash rich Google taking a stake in Philips. Van Houten probably dreams of it. It’s less certain whether the Google brass does.

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