LIFX bulb shines light on connected home vs gadgets

A new Kickstarter project aims to offer Wi-Fi connected light bulbs to the masses and the best part is, you can change the bulb’s color with the help of a smartphone. The bulb is called LIFX and thanks to the LED technology inside, it’s an energy saver when compared to traditional or CFL bulbs. You control the brightness and color directly from an iPhone(s aapl) or Android(s goog) device using the LIFX application and there’s smarts in the bulb itself: It can notify you when a new Twitter message arrives, for example.

Take a look at the LIFX explanation video and you can see that the creators my be correct in calling LIFX the “smartest light bulb ever made”:

The project impresses me for a few reasons. LIFX, which can be backed for as low as $69 a bulb, has already surpassed its $100,000 goal for backing, taking in over three times that much with nearly two months left for fundraising. It also brings a wide variety of functionality to something most people consider mundane but necessary: a light bulb. And it appears simple to use through the dedicated smartphone application or can still be turned on or off through the existing light switch.

This last point raises a question, however, and I’ll be asking it later this week on a connected home panel that I’m moderating at our Mobilize 2012 event. When it comes to connected homes do we want a central system, or is it better to have different interfaces and apps for various connected home gadgets?

Mobilinc Pro app for a central smarthome systemI actually use both scenarios today but many visitors to my home find it all confusing when I explain. I have a small server device that controls and monitors my home automation system: heating/cooling, various indoor and outdoor lights, and a garage door sensor, to name a few. The system is controlled in one place and all of the parts are manageable in a single app or web page.

Then there are the standalone bits that I have or have used in the past: A Nest thermostat and a web server you that monitors and reports the status of our 41-panel rooftop solar array (you can see the real time output here). Each of these has its own app and isn’t able to “talk” to other devices on the central system. It would be nice, for example, if the solar panels could tell the thermostat to boost the air conditioning on a hot, sunny day, for example, when they are generating excess power.

For now, I think standalone connected gadgets such as LIFX are more appealing to most, simply because they bring new smarts into the home and, let’s face it, one more smartphone app installation isn’t a big deal. Over time, however, I’m thinking a centralized system with a single interface — possibly voice — will make all of these gadgets work even smarter by having them work together.