Friday, January 31, 2014

A Foray Into "The Internet of 'Things'"

Last year, an online acquaintance had pointed me to what looked to be a nifty bit of gadgetry. It was an IP-enabled LED lightbulb that you could control from your iOS or Androd mobile device. Not only was it advertised to be able to remotely power it on and off, you could dim it and even change the bulb's output color.

I followed the link that was posted and it took me to a Kickstarter page. When you go to the page, what's shown is an LED bulb that looks like it packs all this functionality into a standard lightbulb's form-factor:

So, on March 3rd of 2013, I placed an order for four of them. Total cost: $300 plus shipping fees. Original expected arrival date was August of 2013. Halfway through August, get an email saying that there's been a manufacturing delay, but it should only be a couple months. Eventually, in December, get notification that they should be arriving in Q1 of 2014. Today they finally arrived.

I was quite chuffed to open the box and start using my new bulbs. I read the installation manual (no small feat as, apparently, the folks at Lifx really like small print - I'd say the user booklet is probably printed in the 6-8pt range). I download the Android app to my notepad (odd, it's got a really low rating on the Google Play Store). I install the first bulb, power it on, and follow the instructions to set up my bulb. Gets to step 5 and the app tells me "can't talk to the device".

I flip through the manual to find the troubleshooting section. I go through the factory reset steps and retry the setup. I try using two different WiFi routers and two different Android devices. Each  (of literally a dozen) attempt ends in the same failure.

So, I send an email to their support address describing my problem. We go back and forth for a while, with them telling me "the Android app is mostly broken" and asking me "can you use an iOS device to set it up: that App is much more functional". Seriously? I reply back, "no, I can't: I don't have any iOS devices". They assure me that a replacement app is in the works and it will fix all the issues ...but it's "just a couple weeks" from being ready for release. Pardon my concern about what "a couple weeks" means from a company that was a couple quarters late in delivering this PoS.

Speaking of dubious descriptions... See that picture above? Yeah. What came looks nothing like that. To be fair, they'd sent pictures of the updated design. The updated design isn't horrible in the pictures, but when you unbox it? Yeah, it's nowhere near as small as the image above. It won't fit in any of my light fixtures and it's mad-heavy.

I've got other LED bulbs, so I know they tend to be on the heavy side. But my other bulbs are positively frail compared to these beasts. Each socket I managed to fit the bulbs into, the socket is being visibly torsioned from the weight of the bulb.

Also, the default color? Suuuuuuuuucks. My other LEDs provide much better quality of light - better color, less harsh projection and less-stark shadowing. Those other bulbs also cost half as much.

At any rate, at this point, I'm thoroughly disillusioned. I ask, "how do I get a refund for these since they're not functioning as advertised". Their helpful response? They inform me that I'll have to ship them back to Australia - on my dime - before they'll credit back the $300 I've wasted on these.




A product whose shoddiness is only exceeded by the shoddiness of their customer support. Oh well, at least looking at the threads on their FaceBook page, I'm not alone in this flooding boat.

Lifx: from your CEO on down, everyone in your organization should be ashamed of this disgraceful product-release. A lot of your buyers are people that like to support small/new businesses - it's why we "sponsor" stuff on sites like KickStarter in the first place. You spat all over that. I dunno about others, but it really makes me question whether I should pony-up on any other similar products.

Philips has a better product for a more reasonable price. And, having dealt with them on other support issues, they actually have a worthwhile customer service organization.