Kickstarter vaporware of the day, Lifx edition

By Felix Salmon
September 18, 2012
worried that Kickstarter was morphing into SkyMall for Vaporware.

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Back in March, I worried that Kickstarter was morphing into SkyMall for Vaporware. While Kickstarter is great for creative projects which can be realized by small teams, so far there’s zero evidence that it’s a good way of providing startup capital for would-be businesses. I gave an admittedly extreme example, of the kind of ultra-high-tech industry which needs much more than a Kickstarter campaign in order to succeed.

Getting a product to market is hard. Even companies with business plans and executives and millions of dollars in funding — and a fully-functioning product — can fall down on that front. Look for instance at the Switch lightbulb: in July 2011, Farhad Manjoo of Slate said it would go on sale in October 2011 for $20. In August 2011, Dan Koeppel of Wired magazine ran an article saying that the bulb would go on sale in October for $30. But here we are in March 2012, there’s still no sign of the thing, and the company’s Facebook page is filling up with comments saying things like “I’m going to start my own company making a product that no one can buy. Hmm….what should I not sell? So hard to decide.”

Six months later, the Switch lightbulb still hasn’t arrived. And Koeppel’s article explains some of the good reasons why it’s really, really hard to make these things. For instance: in 2008, the US government offered $10 million to the first company which could produce a 60-watt-equivalent bulb which would draw less than 10 watts of electricity, be dimmable, and generally be at least as good, in all respects bar cost, as incandescents. Philips won the prize, even though, as Koeppel writes, the development costs of doing so were much greater than $10 million:

Coming up with a truly worthy LED bulb is enormously complex, requiring expertise in physics, chemistry, optics, design, and manufacturing… nobody has built such a multidisciplinary lighting product before.

Koeppel’s story was of a small startup company, Switch, which was competing against the three giants in the space — Philips, Osram Sylvania, and GE. But to give you an idea of what you need to compete in this space, Switch has received “an eight-figure investment” from one company alone, VantagePoint Capital Partners. VantagePoint is an investor in a few of these companies: another is BridgeLux, which, according to CrunchBase, has received a total of $210 million in venture funding.

All of which brings me to Lifx, a small group of guys who have just launched a Kickstarter for their revolutionary dimmable LED bulb. It even has wifi! The Kickstarter campaign is going really well so far: it has raised more than $600,000 just since Saturday, far exceeding its $100,000 goal. They claim that the mechanics of the bulb (as opposed to the electronics) are really nothing special:

We are using as many standard LED lighting components as possible. These components have undergone rigid testing and stood the test of time.

At the same time, however, they admit they are still “looking into all the options on the best type/brand of LED lamp to use in the production model”. And you only get a brief glimpse of the prototype in their video; it frankly looks pretty shabby. Their big still photo, on the other hand, is gorgeous: so gorgeous that it’s not a photo at all, just an illustration. Here, compare the Lifx illustration, on the left, with the glossy Condé Nast photo of a real-life Switch bulb, on the right:

bulbs.jpg

The bulb on the light is quite lovely, in its own way, but also shows the kind of design compromises that real-life LED bulbs need to make: a big, heavy heat sink; clearly spaced LEDs, and so on. The illustration on the left, by contrast, looks just like a normal incandescent, only with the bottom half of the bulb replaced by a beautifully-contoured heat sink. You can’t see the LEDs at all.

The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb. The Switch bulb uses a patented thermally conductive gel to prevent the bulb from overheating; the Lifx bulb uses — well, we have no idea what it might use, since they’re not going into that level of detail. It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.

Lifx founder Phil Bosua, in the video, explains that what he’s doing isn’t cheap. “To produce Lifx at an efficient price point,” he says, “we need to buy thousands of RGB LED lamps, make dies for the outer casing, create custom-built computer boards, and finalize our onboard software and app development”. Does he really think he can do all that for $100,000, or even $1 million?

Put it this way: either Lifx is a genuinely revolutionary new LED bulb, or it isn’t. If it is, then it’s going to run into huge fights just on the intellectual-property front alone: I’m pretty sure they don’t have any important patents, at least on the hardware. And if it isn’t, then lots of people would be out there making LED bulbs, and Lifx would just be coming along to try to add some wifi-enabled control-this-from-your-phone whizz-bangery. (Which, Belkin, maker of the WeMo, might have some patent issues of its own.)

For while there are indeed a fair few LED bulbs on the market at this point, many of them substantially cheaper than the Lifx bulb, there are good reasons why none of them have really taken off. LED bulbs are undoubtedly the lighting device of the future; they just haven’t quite got there yet, and I can’t believe that Lifx has managed to solve the enormous problems that many huge companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying — and generally failing — to fix.

All of which is to say that if the Lifx bulb ever ships, it’s going to be a gimmicky disappointment at best. The “white” light won’t be warm and rich, the illumination will come out in clumps rather than being even, the bulb will hum when it’s dimmed, the electronics will fail in the heat, etc.

And there’s a very real risk — I’d say it’s a probability — that the Lifx bulb will simply never ship at all. If Switch can’t do it, with their working prototypes and their patents and their tens of millions of dollars in funding, not to mention no desire that their bulbs be controlled from iPhones, then there’s no good reason to believe that Lifx can, as they’re promising, start delivering these things in March. Their last project, after all, was basically a collapsible cardboard box; it raised $184,500 — well above its $12,500 goal — and was meant to be delivered in July. The backers are still waiting; the most recent shipping date is mid-October.

The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.

Despite the fact that there’s really no reason to believe that the Lifx team can produce what it’s promising, in the first few days Lifx signed up five backers at the $5,000 level, each of whom was ordering “25 packs of four LIFX smartbulbs for resale”. That’s not actually allowed by Kickstarter any more, and they put an end to that after I asked about it. But still, there are lots of people putting in very large orders — already 108 backers have pledged $490 or more. Those people are going to be very disappointed if they end up receiving nothing.

These people aren’t just being seduced by a clever sales pitch: they’re being shepherded there by lots of very high-profile blogs, such as Wired and TechCrunch and Mashable and GigaOm. And, of course, Reddit, where at least there’s quite a lot of skepticism, not least when it comes to the question of how a phone can configure a lightbulb before the lightbulb knows what wifi network to join.

So my feeling is that both Kickstarter and the tech blogosphere should start being a lot more skeptical about the claims made in Kickstarter videos, where anybody can say pretty much anything. And anybody thinking about supporting Lifx should take a deep breath and just wait until the product exists, instead. It’s funded, now, so pre-ordering on Kickstarter doesn’t cause the product to get made, it just maybe gets you the product a couple of weeks earlier. And in return for that negligible upside, you’re taking on the risk of a huge downside — that you lose all that money entirely, with nothing to show for it at all.

Update: Lots of smart comments below, both defending Lifx and raising new problems — such as the need to get certification in multiple jurisdictions, since they’ll be shipping the bulb under their own trademark.

Lifx itself has three reactions to this post. First, they’ve made public the 12-step process for setting the Lifx bulbs up as part of your wireless network — it involves switching your phone to the Lifx network, configuring the Lifx bulb to your wifi network, and then switching your phone back to your own network.

Second is a comment from founder Phil Bosua:

Addressing the recent Reuters article: We originally had meetings with our Melbourne/Shenzen LED bulb supplier which proved the project to be viable but as the demand for the LIFX smartbulb continues to grow so will the scale of partners we work with. We have also recently had meetings with companies experienced in large scale LED light bulb manufacturing and will be utilising their experience and knowledge to attach the LIFX control chip into tried and tested LED light bulb technology.

We know that the demand for a smartbulb is clear. It takes a big vision, a lot of work and smart operations to revolutionize a main stay product and with your support this is what we are going to do.

And third is a comment on the Lifx tech blog:

An approach I’d really like to follow is “Please don’t feed the internet trolls“.  We must focus our complete attention on delivering your pledges and answering your questions and comments.  LiFx has attracted a lot of attention, not all of it good.  Some people are just waiting for a large KickStarter project to fail, without any regard for the interests of the supporters of that project.

We’ve all seen the Reuter’s opinion piece and I don’t want to waste time responding to it.  Primarily, because I don’t need to respond … thanks to “KenG_CA” whose comment at the bottom of that opinion piece has already made a rebuttal.  Thanks Ken … whoever you are !  I have nothing more to say about that piece.

So, if you think I’m an internet troll who just wants Lifx to fail and who doesn’t care about the supporters of the project, then you’re pretty much in line with the thinking within Lifx. But if you were looking for a more detailed response from Lifx, sorry — it looks like you’re not going to get one.

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Comments
76 comments so far

Lightwiz, tempo36, I just don’t read their pitch as “we’re going to deliver the best LED bulb yet”. If that’s what people are hearing, then yeah, maybe there’s a problem, but that’s not what Felix was criticizing them for, and it’s not what I was defending – which is that adding a wi-fi and/or zigbee radio to an LED light bulb consistent with today’s standards is absolutely feasible. Also, regardless of whether they are promising a state of the art 60W bulb or an ordinary 40W one, it’s no reason to bash Kickstarter. This thread has actually made me view it in a different light, a very bright one (pun intended).

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Ken,

I have to wonder if you are somehow involved with Lifx, because you seem to continually ignore all criticism and sidestep any valid issues raised, and continue to defend the product and company.

You have not once addressed *any* of the factual issues I have raised.

As for the blog, if you re-read it, he’s not bashing Kickstarter. He is saying they should take a sharper look at the projects they allow – and is using Lifx as an example. Apparently, Kickstarter agrees, since they have subsequently severely tightened up their requirements, to the extent that Lifx, as presented, would not be allowed as a project on their site.

As for Lifx, you say you don’t read their pitch as them claiming to deliver the best LED bulb yet”. What they *DO* claim is they will deliver a 60-watt equivalent bulb in an RGB LED package with controllable colors and intensity through WiFi.

I have already pointed out why that is a BIG technical leap over everything else that exists today… and you keep going back to “adding WiFi to an LED bulb is absolutely feasible”. How do you figure? What they claim to be doing (and will be able to deliver in a few months time) is not just sticking a Wifi module on an existing RGB LED bulb – but – by their own words “re-inventing the light bulb”.

Wifi control isn’t the relevant part of this. There have been DMX and Insteon/X10 controllable colored lighting for years and years. You can get wireless DMX lighting for a lower price than Lifx and have been able to for years.

The relevant part of this is they claim to be able to make a 60W-equivalent RGB bulb that also contains Wifi and a microcontroller and be able to fit it all into a standard bulb package and do it for $70, with an R&D cost of $100k.

Once again, that is the equivalent of a home mechanic claiming to have developed an electric car that goes 150mph, runs for 300 miles per charge, and charges in 30 minutes, and costs $25k. And if he can just get $100k, he’ll be able to commercialize his invention – and oh year, he hasn’t picked what batteries or which electric motor he’s going to use yet – and all he has to show you is a rendering of a swoopy looking car.

And guys on the Internet are defending the aforementioned guy by saying it’s feasible because their moped gets 100mpg so this is do-able, and continually saying that to automotive engineers who tell them it’s hogwash.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

Lightwiz, I have addressed your comments – I said they are not relevant to what I was saying. I talked about the feasibility to add a radio to an LED light bulb, and you talk about the quality of the light – I said nothing about that, as it wasn’t relevant to the discussion (you introduced that as an issue, when it wasn’t brought up by Felix or me). I never commented on the quality of the light, and I was explicit about them not inventing LED technology.

Your comments read as if you paid no attention to the entire thread, especially my initial comments. Felix said it was unlikely they could deliver an LED bulb with wi-fi, because of the heat and the difficulty of fitting a wi-fi radio in the bulb, and that’s what I reacted to. I made no comments about the light output, or how good it would be, and neither did Felix.

I have no involvement in Lifx, my interest is based in how people with absolutely no knowledge of electronics design and development, nor of the abilities of the lifx team, have dismissed them as frauds.

Felix has bashed Kickstarter, in this and other posts, and while I don’t have a problem with him criticizing Kickstarter, it has to be for valid reasons. And him thinking Lifx is not capable of delivering a wi-fi controlled LED bulb is not a vlid reason. I like the concept of Kickstarter (I may use it myself), and I think the kind of criticism Felix has leveled at them has caused them to change their rules for the worse. It will no longer be a viable way for people with hardware product ideas to raise money, as they will need to build a prototype first. That is often too expensive for many people to do.

You say that wi-fi control isn’t the relevant part of this – yes it is, because that’s one of the features that Felix said isn’t viable. Which is why I keep repeating that point. Read his post, and the early comments.

To you, the relevant part is their claim about making a 60W equivalent RGB bulb, but that was not part of the early thread, nor post. Please read the paragraphs Felix wrote below the pictures of the bulbs. That was what I responded to.

I have not defended the claims about the LED output or quality. Your analogy is not valid. I don’t know anyone at Lifx,for all I know, they don’t know the difference between NOR and NAND flash. They may very well not deliver, but that’s not what I have been talking about.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Ken, at the risk of descending into name calling… if you read that Felix is only skeptical of the wi-if component then you need a lesson in reading comprehension.

Paragraphs #4 & #5? Felix talks about their “revolutionary” light bulb, their (rendered) svelt design and their complete absence of having picked an LED manufacturer. He isn’t asking if they’ve picked a wi-fi chip. Or even mentioned if the wi-fi is doable at this point. He has though mentioned that other companies are trying, and failing, to revolutionize LED lighting. The quote from Koeppel’s article? It’s about LIGHTING. Not wi-fi control.

Let us move on. Paragraph #6 is ONLY about LED light challenges. Spacing, heat management, compromise, DESIGN. #7 we get into the heat sink (“The heat sink is crucial”). Here we finally bring in wi-fi. But we bring it in in the concept space of pointing out that LED already have heat issues in their own right. We discuss Switch and their gel patent. Felix does say, perhaps erroneously that the wi-fi components particularly demand good heat control. But he’s already made the point that Switch recognizes that heat control is one of the PRIMARY problems of the LED market. He’s pointing out in this paragraph that not only is LIFX ignoring heat management as a huge issue in normal bulbs, they’re adding more components and expecting current tech to be enough. If current tech is inadequate, as Switch/Phillips/et al recognize, then adding anything, no matter how trivial only makes the problems worse. They could be adding wi-fi or a Clapper, it wouldn’t matter. It’s MORE. When current tech is inadequate, MORE heat, even a trivial amount can’t possibly be easier. It’s like throwing a match on a burning house and wondering why the firefighters are pissed off. Maybe you didn’t really make it worse. But you sure didn’t help them out any.

Paragraph #8 the LIFX quote is about casings, LEDs, computer boards and software. 2 of the 4 items…50% are LED problems, not wi-fi problems. And since software isn’t part of the hardware, this quote is 66% about LED problems and only 33% wi-fi.

Paragraph #9 , #10 & #11 are again, you guessed it, all about LED challenges. #9 mentions that if all we want is wi-fi, Belgian is already part way there and discusses “revolutionary” LED lighting. #10…all about LED tech and it’s difficult hurdles. #11 talks about the light quality that’s likely, it’s dispersion, heat…

Is this about wi-fi? Are you reading the same article that Lightwiz and I are?

Eleven paragraphs in and this article is about the challenges of delivering an LED that makes the grade. Wi-fi is not under attack here! Nor is Kickstarter. Felix suggests they, and the tech blogging sphere need to ratchet up their skepticism, something kickstarter clearly agreed with. But he doesn’t attack them.

And if you think the 60W part is just distraction, let me point again to paragraphs 10 & 11. In 10 Felix talks about the disappointment of many bulbs, he’s not explicit, but if you understand lighting you know why they are disappointing. They’re not 60W equivalent. People buy them hoping to place their lights and they don’t make good replacements. So when LIFX says to just change out your lights…what am I supposed to imply? That I’m replacing all my lights that supply LIGHT with what…? Whether stated or implied, by suggesting that we replace our lights with LIFX we are led to believe that they’re a proper replacement. Would any rational person replace four 69W bulbs in their living room with 20-40W bulbs? No. Those mock ups show whole rooms lit with LIFX bulbs. Warm white light, omnidirectional, etc. So when I replace my bulbs and my living room is now dim…do you think I’m going to care at all about the wi-fi module?

This is an article about design and tech development. Wi-fi is part of the package but it’s not the hurdle Felix is worried about. How can you read this article and miss his concerns about the core LED tech that LIFX seems to be lacking?

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

p.s.

Ken, your very first comment:

“The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.”
You can buy LED light bulbs for under $20 – adding a wi-fi interface can be done for $10 or less in volume. It is very likely.”

This is what you seemingly don’t get. You just ignore that a huge hurdle is the ability to produce LIGHT. Right off the bat you say that we can get LED bulbs for $20 without seemingly recognizing that no one is going to want the light those bulbs produce. Felix recognizes the problem! As I pointed out above he is fully aware that current tech isn’t up to the task of LIGHTING our homes in a satisfactory manner. So whether I can buy an LED for $10, $20 or $100 it doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t emit good light.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

p.s.

Ken, your very first comment:

“The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.”
You can buy LED light bulbs for under $20 – adding a wi-fi interface can be done for $10 or less in volume. It is very likely.”

This is what you seemingly don’t get. You just ignore that a huge hurdle is the ability to produce LIGHT. Right off the bat you say that we can get LED bulbs for $20 without seemingly recognizing that no one is going to want the light those bulbs produce. Felix recognizes the problem! As I pointed out above he is fully aware that current tech isn’t up to the task of LIGHTING our homes in a satisfactory manner. So whether I can buy an LED for $10, $20 or $100 it doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t emit good light.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

tempo, you keep bringing up irrelevant points – the main issue is that millions of those LED bulbs that you say people don’t want are sold each year. Bulbs that have simple designs and have solved the heat sink issue enough to get people to buy them. I get your point that it’s not trivial to design a state-of-the art LED bulb, but thats not what they are selling.

If you think Felix issn’t criticizing Quickstarter, then you’ve missed the whole point of the post – that Quickstarter allows companies like this to raise funding.

I said to read the paragraphs after the photos, this is from the second one:

“The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb.”

That’s nonsense.

“It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.”

And yet the rendering clearly shows a heatsink.

“Does he really think he can do all that for $100,000, or even $1 million?”

To which I answered in my first comment, yes. And that Felix is not qualified to answer that question.

“Put it this way: either Lifx is a genuinely revolutionary new LED bulb, or it isn’t.”

It is only revolutionary from the standpoint that it can be easily controlled by a smartphone (for what that’s worth, obviously something to some people).

“I can’t believe that Lifx has managed to solve the enormous problems that many huge companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying — and generally failing — to fix.”

Lifx isn’t claiming to have solved those problems, and I never suggested they did. I only said their goals are feasible, and they shouldn’t be dismissed for the reasons Felix and you mention.

“And there’s a very real risk — I’d say it’s a probability — that the Lifx bulb will simply never ship at all.”

There is always that risk, and that’s the nature of Quickstarter funded hardware projects. Quickstarter tells all of the contributors this up front. The lifx founders seem well-intentioned, it’s not like they are going to take the money and run to the Caribbean.

“The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.”

That is wrong.The networking technology doesn’t cost anywhere near that.

“Despite the fact that there’s really no reason to believe that the Lifx team can produce what it’s promising,”

How does he know that? They’re not promising the best LED bulb in the world.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Oooook. I think we’ll just need to agree to disagree. You don’t seem to feel that LIFX is implying that their bulbs are good replacements for existing bulbs and I do. They talk about replacing your bulbs and reducing your power consumption. But that’s a useless offer if the bulb you’re replacing your old one with cant light your house in a useful manner.

I offer to replace your SUV with a scooter and tell you that I’ve fixed the issue of how much you spend on gas. Technically true but I think you’d notice the loss of utility.

You’re maybe right that millions of LED bulbs are sold every year, but I bet that you’d find precious few, if any, folks who have been happy enough with the overall performance to truly change out every bulb in their house with them. But since neither of us have data to back up our assumptions, it’s a moot point. I think that in about 6 months we’ll know one thing, if LIFX can delivery on schedule, and about 1 month after they deliver we’ll see how many people are actually happy with the BULB once the wi-fi novelty is worn off. Personally I see little utility in being able to turn on a crappy light bulb remotely…And I just can’t believe that folks realize this when backing the project…”Awesome! I can replace my functional bulbs with less functional ones but they’ll be remote controlled!”

We can revisit in 6-9 months….

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

So Ken…if those current LED bulbs are so satisfactory…have you replaced every bulb in your house with them? If not…why?

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

tempo36, tens of millions of people have replaced their landlines with mobile phones, even though the voice quality, and often signal quality, is horrible with the mobile device at home, and no match for the landline. People listen to MP3 songs, which lack the sonic quality of analog or high bit rate digital recordings. They watch fuzzy and shaky bootleg videos that are recorded with cameras in theaters. Hundreds of millions of people in this country alone buy fast “food”, even though it is often horrible and anti-nutritious. It’s what they can afford, and it illustrates how the declining standard of living in the US manifests itself – reducing quality, and not quantity of what they buy. So if you’re still wondering why people, who like the idea of light bulbs that consume less energy that incandescents, buy those crappy LED bulbs, I don’t know what else to say.

Personally, I wouldn’t buy the Lifx bulb and don’t think it’s a great idea (and I love to network everything that runs on electricity). But other people do like the idea, and they should not be prevented from investing in the possibility that they can get one. Even the best VCs strike out more than 60% of the time, and that’s when they invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in teams that they personally vet. So the amount they are raising, and the founders’ lack of credentials don’t really matter. As for the risk the VCs are taking when they invest in those unproven startups, it is often money from pension and retirement funds, but the individuals have no say in what risks are undertaken. At least with Kickstarter, people get to choose how much and on what they want to risk $50 or $100 or whatever they feel they can afford. And that’s important, and should not be stopped.

There is often no reason to replace every bulb in the house, only the ones that are used often enough to justify their replacement. There are some bulbs in my home that have been there since we moved in 8 years ago, as they aren’t used enough.

I would love to replace all of the lighting in my home with LEDs, even if the bulb is not used often, but almost all of the lighting is in the ceiling, and I haven’t found LED bulbs that will fit and meet the output and dimming requirements.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Ken,

It seems like you have a deeper beef with Felix, and are using this topic to hash it out. I have no dog in that fight, my focus is strictly Lifx and this blog post. I do not see Felix bashing Kickstarter at all. Perhaps he has before, but not in this post.

As for your criticism that people with no electronics knowledge are wrong in commenting on the viability of adding Wifi to an RGB bulb… what is your electronics design background? I am not feeling that you have one from your posts, and if so, I don’t see how your criticism of the other critics is valid.

Raising questions about adding Wifi to an existing RGB LED setup *is* a valid criticism. It is not only the Wifi module, but the microcontroller and associated circuit board required to interface with it, as well as an AC->DC converter of sufficient power and low noise to run a Wifi module, all of which must fit inside the “extra room” inside an RGB bulb. Then you have the problems of putting a radio device inside a metal housing, and yes, there are some very real challenges there. To dismiss it as “just adding wifi to an existing bulb” is drastically over-simplifying the technical challenge.

All of that is in addition to the much greater challenge, which is making a 60W RGB bulb in the first place. Which is a lot MORE power than any other RGB bulb on the market today (meaning larger heat sinks, more thermal issues, less space to work with).

Which brings me to my final point. I am not sure why you feel that my responses must be constrained only to topics you feel relate to what Felix wrote. You commented on the viability of making what Lifx claims to be making. I responded to that. It appears that the most compelling argument for why Lifx is vaporware is one you want to ignore as “not what you were talking about”.

I thought what we are talking about is the viability of the Lifx product, and whether Felix was correct in raising his concerns. That you and others did not appreciate the technical challenge of the 60W RGB portion of their pitch only reinforces the very real doubts that Felix raised.

Again, it seems like you and Felix have some sort of historical beef going – and I have no idea what that’s about, and IMO it’s not relevant to Lifx, which is a vaporware project that either will never see the light of day, or if it does, it will be very, very late and will not come close to meeting the commitments made in their video and accompanying write-up – IMO.

That’s from someone who works with high power lighting on a daily basis. It’s all I’ve done for the past 12 years.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

Ken,

To reply to your other post… you said some things that, as an engineer, I simply cannot let go.

FELIX:The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb.

YOU: That’s nonsense.

He is *absolutely* correct on that point. By *far* the biggest challenge in home LED lighting is heat – by far. Every single LED bulb in existence is a tradeoff between efficiency of the LED die and light output. Every. Single. One. Heat sink efficiency is almost exclusively a function of size and airflow. Size and airflow are pretty much the two first things to be compromised when you are designing a product that must match the form factor of a ubiquitous product like a standard incandescent bulb. Lifx not only claims to have solved the light output/heat problem to the extent that they can get 60W equivalency, they claim to have done it using an RGB bulb (which is MUCH less efficient and generates much more heat per lumen output compared to a white LED), *and* with enough room in the heatsink to put a wifi module. Considering that size is one of the two things that matter in a heatsink, that is an unbelievable accomplishment. And I mean unbelievable in the literal sense.

FELIX:It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.”

YOU:And yet the rendering clearly shows a heatsink.

He is talking about the prototype, not the rendering. The prototype is what the guy in the video is holding in his hand, and briefly show on a test bench. And he’s right. The “heat sink” appears to be a smooth piece of metal – that’s not a heat sink – at least, nothing resembling an effective heat sink. Felix is absolutely right on this.

FELIX: Does he really think he can do all that for $100,000, or even $1 million?”

YOU: To which I answered in my first comment, yes. And that Felix is not qualified to answer that question.

And others have come along to say why Felix was right on this, yet you still say he is wrong. You call him out for not being knowledgeable enough to comment, yet when others come along who are knowledgeable enough to comment say you are incorrect, you stubbornly refuse to admit that and claim you are still correct. No offense, but you are unqualified to say Felix is wrong on this point. He isn’t.

FELIX:Put it this way: either Lifx is a genuinely revolutionary new LED bulb, or it isn’t.”

YOU: It is only revolutionary from the standpoint that it can be easily controlled by a smartphone (for what that’s worth, obviously something to some people).

That is what *you* read into the product, but you are wrong. The biggest revolution in Lifx is a 60W equivalence bulb using an RGB emitter. This is the most damning claim in the Lifx presentation. You first said that it is feasible “because there are lots of RGB bulbs on the market”, then claimed that you were not talking about the quality of the light. Again, Felix is right. Lifx is claiming a revolution. I believe you are just being stubborn again on this point – you didn’t realize there were so many technical challenges that major OEM’s have been unable to solve, and when confronted with them, you just keep saying Felix was wrong and/or that you weren’t talking about light quality. Felix was right on this point.

FELIX: I can’t believe that Lifx has managed to solve the enormous problems that many huge companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying — and generally failing — to fix.”

YOU: Lifx isn’t claiming to have solved those problems, and I never suggested they did. I only said their goals are feasible, and they shouldn’t be dismissed for the reasons Felix and you mention.

YES THEY ARE CLAIMING TO HAVE SOLVED THOSE PROBLEMS! Ken, what do you think the problems are that these huge companies have spent hundreds of millions to solve? Do you even know? I’ve told you – fitting enough LED power into a package that produces enough light to rival 60W incandescents while dissipating enough heat while packaged in a traditional bulb form factor that sells for a price the consumer will pay. That is 100% of what all these companies are working towards. And that happens to be exactly what Lifx has claimed to solve. They flat out say 60W performance. Felix hit a bullseye on this comment.

FELIX: And there’s a very real risk — I’d say it’s a probability — that the Lifx bulb will simply never ship at all.”

YOU: There is always that risk, and that’s the nature of Quickstarter funded hardware projects. Quickstarter tells all of the contributors this up front. The lifx founders seem well-intentioned, it’s not like they are going to take the money and run to the Caribbean.

If someone promises the world but are totally unqualified to deliver, is it OK that they make pretty renderings and collect millions for it? Felix doesn’t think so. Kickstarter agrees, since they have just changed their policy to specifically disallow projects like Lifx. On this topic, not only does Felix have a valid point, but after he wrote his article, Kickstarter changed their rules dramatically to align with his comments. That says it all.

FELIX: Despite the fact that there’s really no reason to believe that the Lifx team can produce what it’s promising,”

YOU: How does he know that? They’re not promising the best LED bulb in the world.

Yes they are – from a performance standpoint. They are claiming to be able to produce something far, far in advance of what companies like Philips and others have done, despite the millions those others have spent on it. Felix seems to realize this, you don’t. That’s why he is saying it’s likely vaporware, and why I agree with him.

Pretty much all your criticisms of his article are without merit, I’m afraid. You seem like a passionate guy about these topics, but it is clear you do not have even a rudimentary knowledge of electronics or lighting design, most especially as it relates to LED lighting. And it’s also clear that you either did not watch the Kickstarter video or read their text, or if you did, you didn’t pay attention to what they are saying.

They flat out say “60W equivalence”, which is not possible with today’s RGB LED’s. I wish it was, I’d buy them for my whole house, but it’s not. When someone promises something so far ahead of everything else, and they claim to be able to make it for a pittance ($100k vs. tens of millions Philips spent), and deliver it in just a few months, from a group with no previous experience in the same field or developing a similar product – what would you call it?

Vaporware.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

Lightwiz,

I don’t have a big beef with Felix, this is easily my favorite blog. But that doesn’t mean sometimes I don’t agree with him, and the Lifx/Kickstarter post is one of them. I will address all of your comment:

My electronics design background includes the design and release into production of over 70 electronic products, running on processors from 8-bit uCs to 32-bit SoCs. They have included network interface, LEDs, and power supplies.

Wi-fi modules come with uCs these days, I pointed out the MyFi SD card for cameras as an example, which includes a wi-fi radio and a microcontroller in it. An LED light bulb already has an AC/DC converter in it, and if it needed a regulator to supply the voltages for the wi-fi module, could be easily fit into a 5 or 6 mm square area (look at the TI PMICs for example), with over 85% efficiency, so it wouldn’t generate a lot of heat. Most of the light bulb is glass or plastic, especially the sides facing away from the bulb, so I’m sure they can place it where it will work.

I’m not getting into the LED argument again, as I mentioned, people accept lower quality products all the time in exchange for extra features and lower cost.

We are not constrained to topics that I bring up, but you can’t criticize me for a point that I don’t make. I didn’t question the challenge of making a 60W bulb, but that was what my comments were being minimized for.

You and other are calling the Lifx product vaporware, but that is the nature of most Kickstarter products – people are looking for funding so they can develop them. I think it was clear that Lifx hadn’t built these yet.

What I said was nonsense was that the wi-fi radio does not need a heat sink. Obviously the LEDs do, but wi-fi modules do not dissipate enough power to require a heat sink.

Felix may have mentioned that the video showed no heat sink, but given the rendering, it’s not like Lifx was pretending there was none. Why would they have a drawing with a heat sink, if they are going to represent it as not having one?

Felix says they can’t deliver a bulb for $100,000 or even $1 million. I’m not saying they will, only that it was possible. I say this from experience, as I have worked on many projects that were developed for far less than what big companies spent. Felix has, to the best of my knowledge, never design any electronic products, so I don’t know how he can know what it will cost to do this, unless he asked somebody whose knowledge of product development is solely from a big company perspective.. Low cost development happens all the time, there’s even a book about it that has gained attention recently (The Lean Startup).

As for all of your comments about the 60W issue, once again, I never addressed them. Companies over-promise on specs all the time, and then back off. Also, the state of the art is rapidly advancing, and by the time these guys finish, who knows what they can deliver. None of my criticism of Felix’s post mentioned anything about his dismissal of the light output claim; had he criticized Lifx solely because they were promising 60W light, and made no mention of the other issues, I probably wouldn’t have commented at all. But he made several incorrect assumptions to build his case that Kickstarter should be reined in, and I don’t agree they are valid, nor that Kickstarter should have made all of those changes (like they must have a real photo, which means people must develop products now before seeking funding).

I didn’t watch the Lifx video, as I was not responding to their claims, only to Felix’s unfounded criticisms (note once again I did not challenge his comments on 60W of light). Yes, today, Lif’x product is vaporware, as are most of the Kickstart projects, and even products from companies that pitch VCs. In addition to designing all those electronic products, I have invested in many start-ups, none of which actually had a prototype when they sought funding. Which is what Kickstarter is enabling. If Lifx was taking orders on its website for these bulbs, they should be called out for that, but that isn’t what Kickstarter is about, even if that is the net result. Companies can’t sell shares on Kickstarter, so they can only offer something of value in return, and their intended product is the best thing.

I think you need to learn what “rudimentary” means.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Don’t ding me on grammar, my computer is responding slow to key presses, and I left out several “s”‘s and other endings to words.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Philips just released the Hue. I’m sure that LIFX will still fund, though clearly folks are jumping ship as spots are opening up at all pledge levels. Folks are dismayed that the founder’s cardboard box is still a no-show and that there seems to be little advantage to back a startup that won’t post a video of its prototype.

Also note, Philips is only releasing a 50W multicolor bulb…so I remain skeptical that LIFX is going to manage their promised 60W equivalent….hmmmmm…

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

I think LiFx has essentially proven the “vaporware” claims to be true.

-No video demo
-Now the structure of how the unit works has radically changed, from master/slave to all masters
-Now they have a ring of white LED’s for the white part of the light (which is exactly what I said – you can’t get acceptable quality and light output from just an RGB emitter – just not possible)
-They talk about a “production partner”. That’s great – except production partners need something to produce, which they can’t do if you don’t have a final design for them yet
-They didn’t even know what microcontroller platform they were going to use?
-They’re working on tube style bulbs now too? Honestly, they have so much work to do with their normal bulb that it’s somewhat insulting for backers that they’re working on such pie in the sky, especially while video demos remain undelivered

-the HUE is the final nail in their coffin. Some posted that Philips copied Lifx. Considering the Hue must have been in development for many months, it is the other way around. Lifx has an idea that they have no idea how they are actually going to accomplish. Philips has a product you can go to any Apple store and buy today.

Lifx is never going to happen, IMO. If they do ever ship anything, it will change from “vaporware” to “crapware”. Their goals are simply too lofty to be achieved by such a small company on such a short timeline with such a small budget. And to be pre-empted to market by someone like Philips?

Game over. Someone switch off the lifx’s on the way out :D

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

http://blog.lifx.co/2013/01/26/firstafte rnoon/

Looks like they have a factory which is going to start working towards a prototype. They still think they will ship by March.

I suspect they will push far too hard to hit the unrealistic ship date which they will miss. Then end up shipping much later with a compromised product that doesn’t meet anybodies expectations (buggy software, low light output etc.).

Posted by stinch | Report as abusive

I will say that so far I’m somewhat impressed. LIFX appears to have at least produced an interesting prototype (though not one that I think they can remotely deliver in March since they just finalized this prototype).

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lime mouse/lifx-the-light-bulb-reinvented/pos ts/406296

They’re claiming 900+ lumens which is very impressive if it’s accurate. I’m curious if that is 900+ lumens when “pure white” or if it’s capable of producing 900+ lumens of green, red, rose, blue, etc.

What is most interesting is the compromise they made in design to manage heat. It’s one of the possible compromises that most of us skeptics assumed would be necessary. The final design and the heat simulations they’ve showed, show a bulb with likely all unidirectional LED placement. Their enclosure may help diffuse that light to some extent but I suspect it will be a limitation of their design. So for settings where directional light is OK, they may have a great bulb here. So far no one in their backer pool seems to be concerned about the directionality of that bulb and indeed in many situations it may be a non-issue.

Just a quick search yields that unidirectional bulbs are a lot easier to produce strong output…1050 lumens in this quick google find:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/GE-Energy-Smar t-LED-Flood-Bulb/17300460

But it looks like they’ll ship something that’s at least interesting, even if it’s not game changing.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

Oh how easy it is to be a critic, slinging arrows from the comfort of your office chairs. So readily some of you criticise the inspirational efforts of others, from what would appear to be a background of well … just writing. Don’t get me wrong I love writers but some of you really don’t have very good ground to be forming such strong opinions. have you ever started a company, made a sale, created a new service, a new product, talked to a real customer?

Felix you make a big point about the design presented in the LIFX video, comparing the LIFX illustration to some failed prior company’s product. “It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.”

Well if you had gone shopping you would have bought LED bulbs that design wise are pretty similar to the LIFX illustration. To a backer like myself I would expect that at the time of the first video the prototype, would in fact be many prototypes and have many iterations. Not every prototype perhaps needed the heat sink. Its a proto-type. If you pause at 2:00 in the video (night light for your kids) you can clearly see a heat sink on THAT prototype. Also pause at 3:20, looks like a heat sink to me. Your statement quoted is just embarassingly factually wrong and even if we had seen only smooth bulbs, so what? Its a prototype.

IMHO Kickstarter should take care not to lose the very essence of why its become successful. We Kickstarter’s love the idea we can feel part of the development of something new and cool. We are the absolute definition of Geoffrey Moore’s early adopters.

For example Ive backed the Taktik case on KickStarter. I missed the Pebble but pre-ordered one. Im waiting for my shipment. I also missed the close of the LIFX but have pre-ordered a single lamp. Price of admission, a few hundred bucks at risk.

For my day job Im in the consumer electronics and mobile phone business. I represent brands looking to expand into Asia, Australia & New Zealand. I love it.

I fully appreciate the enormous challenges that can be faced bringing new products to market. For large companies and small. However Ive also experienced the incredible speed, experience and skill of Aussie entrepreneurs and Chinese manufacturers. I also know that despite their huge resources, large companies sometimes can’t overcome their cultures to be truly innovative. There are so many case studies.

Ive seen various KickStarter projects eg for i-product stands and the like. These are often neat in their design, but essentially simple to mass produce. IMHO Taktik people made a fairly complex case and did a great job, it took longer than they thought. But they essentially were using well known tools, materials and standards.

I think projects like LIFX are pretty exciting.

Perhaps some people here should do what I did today and wander down to the local mass merchant retailers ALREADY SELLING LED lamps that screw into existing fixtures. There are a few choices of brands available. For those of you unable to get out of your house/blog just Google or Amazon for LED bulbs.

So much for the technology isn’t here yet.

Also of course Wi-Fi is widely deployed and Zigbee (used by Philips) is not well known to consumers but widely used in industrial situations and places like vineyards (low power, comms networks).

The MAGIC that LIFX has brought to the table is to imagine a new way to bring several existing technologies together in what looks like will be a very elegant solution.

The Philips Hue looks like a great leap forward (and according to online reports has sold out everywhere). However its also a bit clunky looking and needs an additional ‘base station’ hard wired into your LAN. Kinda old thinking IMHO.

The entrepreneurial spirit evidenced by Kickstarter founders is the life blood of the world economy. Having done several start ups myself I can truly appreciate their challenges but know also the thrill of achieving something significant that everyone said could not be done.

Some projects will remain small and some may well fail. Some will deliver less than we hoped. Some may have stunning success and redefine a category. There will be (may have been already?) crooked players. Some will cause the established players to finally get it right.

Whether or not Kickstarter keeps supporting product developments in tech that cat is out of the proverbial bag. Someone or some other websites will for sure. I hope the Kickstarter founders and funders come to their senses. Funding early stage design products is precisely their sweet spot.

There are plenty of us out there that see the future as bright and are happy to share a little risk in exchange for a share of the ride.

Consider yourself Pebbled!

Have an awesome LIFX. :-)

cheers Batch

PS while I support the idea of better disclosure of risks and perhaps experience too would be nice, if you think written or video disclaimers about the risks is going to protect Joe Public you really weren’t paying attention through the sub-prime crises. :-) IMHO

Posted by Batch8888 | Report as abusive

Took a little longer than I hoped but here’s my detailed response. http://goo.gl/zSUtjT

Thanks for supporting innovation, you hack.

Posted by PhilBosua | Report as abusive

It took 9 months longer than you said while still not providing a finished product. Not only that but you f*cked over the people that allowed you to start your company. You actually sent out the products that WE paid for to retailers when you explicitly promised you wouldn’t!

So before you go around calling people a “Hack” maybe you should have a look at yourself!

Posted by IHateLIFX | Report as abusive

So was that shipment bound for Best Buy, as opposed to one of your actual backers? Any comments on your abandonment of the backer community and your terrible management skills? What about your almost complete apparent lack of ethics?

Also, will you be back to apologize when your bulbs start burning out in short shrift?

Posted by jcmcca | Report as abusive

So was that pallet bound for Best Buy, or actual backers?

Posted by jcmcca | Report as abusive

Nice pic and mature response, Phil. Pity that’s probably the batch you sent off to Best Buy, since most of your backers still don’t have their bulbs. Those that do don’t have your promised features, such as:
*Open, documented communication protocol (seemingly-scrapped in favour of a closed protocol and a promise of ‘libraries’ while developers have been left to reverse-engineer the system in lieu of documentation of information)
*Functional on iOS and Android devices (not functional on Android)
*Fits into any light fitting you can fit a light bulb (the oversized LIFX bulb won’t fit many of your common lighting features)
*Features such as notification alerts from mobile devices (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*Automatic On/Off based on user location (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*Sunrise/sunset wake-up/sleep methods (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*Music visualisation (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*40,000 hour / up to 25 year standards (it is not possible when the bulbs run up to 100°C – there’s also only a 2 year warranty on a ’25 year’ bulb, if that doesn’t tell you something)
*Create a night light for your kids (With a 100°C bulb? What kids are you trying to maim here? Children’s night lights use low-wattage bulbs that generate minimal heat)
*Security mode when you’re on holidays (still only basic on/off/colour functionality, even on iOS – no mention of remote access at present)
*Downlight [GU10] bulbs available (These were stripped off the early-run manufacturing list with no prior notification to backers. These are now to be delivered at an indeterminable date)
*Scripting engine on the bulb for near-infinite customisation (No scripting engine – as mentioned above, no documentation on device communication at all)
*Guaranteed first delivery to your backers (They’ve now gone to retailers while backers are still waiting)

I ask you, Phil, who’s the real hack here? Seems Felix was far more prophetic than you’d like to admit.

Posted by DefraudedByLIFX | Report as abusive

.

Posted by DefraudedByLIFX | Report as abusive

I’ve received my lifx bulb in the last week.

As a backer, I was worried about the light bulb being vaporware.

But it was a risk I was willing to take for two reasons. One, I would have liked to have the lightbulb, and two, I wanted to back someone who was willing to make it.

Do I expect the majority of what was promised? Yes. Do I expect it all? no. I’m not as stupid to believe every kickstarter project is going to be _exactly_ how its portrayed. This is close enough.

Posted by TealThanatos | Report as abusive
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