SAN FRANCISCO—When consumer products company Philips introduced its Hue line of special customizable LED light bulbs in October 2012 for home users, the innovative bulbs allowed owners to change the light colors to match their moods using simple commands from an Android or iOS smartphone or other mobile device.
But there were limitations. The Hue bulbs are set up through a special wireless bridge that is connected to a user's wireless network and are then controlled through a proprietary Hue app. That means that users can turn their house lights on or off, change bulb colors or make other changes using the app from anywhere, but it wasn't open to other innovative uses that are becoming more possible through the Internet of things, where more and more products are able to be connected to the Internet.
That's when Philips' lighting division began looking to build an open API that would allow nonproprietary remote control of the Hue systems. Such a custom and open API could then be offered to developers and partners so that they can use it to extend the Hue line with new useful features that may not even be thought of today.
To do that, Philips earlier this year began working with Apigee, an API development company that helps businesses build smart APIs that are tied in with deep analytics capabilities, to create an open API for Hue. That upcoming API is expected to be released by the end of the year, according to Kevin Toms, the manager of development programs for Philips Hue.
"We are using the Apigee toolset to re-engineer our server interface so that we can provide a managed API for third-party developers and partners," Toms told eWEEK here at the Apigee I Love APIs conference on Sept. 9. "Our current system was not designed for such wide use, and Apigee is providing what we need to manage and deliver that. Without Apigee, we would have to custom-build a lot of the toolset they provide in their solution."
The idea of light bulbs that connect to the Internet has been around for quite a while, said Toms, but the Hue lights aim to make the process easier. The lights can be set to operate using a timer, and they can be color-coordinated for holidays, parties and any other events, he said. There are already about 200 other apps built by developers to work with Hue systems, such as a disco app that makes the lights responsive to sounds, but they do not integrate with the current Hue app from Philips.
The upcoming remote API will add helpful new capabilities, Toms said. "It really puts the Hue bulbs onto the Internet rather than just on your home network."
That will allow a myriad of new uses for Hue, he said. "Developers have plenty of good ideas. So really we are giving them the infrastructure to do it."
By using Apigee's API development platform on-premises, Philips is able to drastically shorten the development cycle to build the API and get it out to users, he added. Apigee offers its API-building services through the cloud or on-premises, as needed by customers.
Michael Rasalan, a mobile development analyst with Evans Data, told eWEEK at the conference that the development of these kinds of open APIs is happening more and more as companies discover the value of sharing APIs to encourage innovation from outside parties.
"Developers are enablers of particular companies and brands," said Rasalan. "That's why you have [other] companies like Coca-Cola and Walgreens getting developers on board with their APIs."
Large numbers of companies today are publishing their APIs, and about half of those are offering open APIs to encourage partnerships and more innovations, he said. The idea is to use useful APIs to add features to products to increase their desirability to consumers and ultimately to increase sales, he said.