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5 creative applications for smart smart lights

Many smart-home gadgets try to disappear in your home, but color-changing smart lights from Lifx Nanoleaf Sylvania and Philips Hue are a great, striking exception. With countless shades of vivid, colorful light available only with a voice command or with a few taps on your phone, lights like these are certainly not subtle. Instead, the idea is to create a more modern and eye-catching living space.

Whether you really want it or not, it's up to you, but you should also keep in mind that this kind of light has practical uses. For example, with the right automation, they can mimic the way natural light changes during the day, or signal you when you've received a new email from an important contact.

You will find even more ways to use them if you want to get creative. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

With a little help from IFTTT, your Lifx lights will flash when one of your Alexa timers goes off.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Visualize Your Alexa Alerts

As someone with a bad habit of losing track of time, I use timers and alarms all the time. Aside from the four or five that I usually wake up every morning (it's a process, people), I also constantly set Alexa timers to remind me when it's time to go to an appointment, a pizza out to pull the stove or a series of other things that I might lose sight of.

That's all well and good, but what happens if I play with headphones and can not hear the sound of the timer? What happens if I go to another room and miss it?

This is where smart lights come into play. Most major brands have their own channel in the free online automation service IFTTT, which allows them to connect to other services and devices. Connect them to your Amazon Echo device over the Alexa Channel and you'll be told they'll need to flash the lights or change their color when one of your timers goes off. Voila! Visual alarms!

A quick note: The Google Assistant has an IFTTT channel like Alexa, but unlike the Alexa channel, there is currently no way to trigger an automation recipe when a timer fires. This means that this tip currently only works with Alexa devices.

  hue-beyond-style-shot.jpg >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> a lot of time you have to doze.


Wake up smarter

As I mentioned earlier, some of us need as much help as we can to wake up in the morning. And, you would not know, color change can help intelligent lights.

Pretty much every smart light lets you schedule a recurring light change at a certain time of the day, so it's a good start to have your bedroom lights automatically turn on in the morning. If your lights can change colors, you can go one step further and color-code these automations to remind you how much time you have left to slumber.

For example, I would like to get up at 7:30 am every morning, so I set a bedside lamp to start a slow, 90-minute fade at 6am. The light is red to begin, but it gradually turns yellow after 30 minutes, then green after one hour. Green means "go" as in "go on and get your lazy ass out of bed".

It sure is a small thing, but a quick, rough look at the color of the light immediately gives me a sense of how much valuable time I still have to spend bunched in bed – no need to squint at the clock radio.

A beautiful, 30-minute fade out in a dull orange makes for a particularly powerful power napping.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Falling asleep with fade

Speaking of bedroom: Color changing lights can make things soothing when falling asleep. In particular, I'm a fan of a nice, slow fade in about 30 minutes. If you first dial into a dull orange tone, you can mimic a sunset and plunge into a peaceful slumber.

Just make sure to check the app before buying a specific Smart Light. For example, Philips Hue and Lifx provide neat fade controls in their respective applications, but not other brands.

Third-party apps, like those that resemble a thunderstorm, can help teach your smart lights new tricks.

Screenshots of Ry Crist / CNET

Launch a Thunderstorm

While I'm engaging with Apps, you should consider that third-party app developers teach your Smartlights one or two new tricks. Most major brands offer software kits that allow external developers to develop their own custom controls for your lights – including those that do things their lights can not do themselves.

For example, a developer offers a variety of apps for Hue, Lifx, and Nanoleaf lamps to simulate a thunderstorm or a crackling fire. Other developers have developed apps to provide better controls for syncing light changes with the music you're listening to, or other fun, kid-friendly effects like firecrackers. Most are available on both Android and iOS devices and only cost a few dollars.

Make the movie even more magical

Something to watch out for over the coming months: improved connections between color changing lights and the things we see on TV. Philips here introduces new "Hue Entertainment" integrations including those that synchronize color changes with popular PC games . Soon, the new Hue Sync computer software will synchronize your lights with what's on your screen, period.

What's really cool about integrations like this is that they learn the position of your lights relative to your screen. This means that the synchronized lighting changes are also position dependent. The effect is particularly impressive in animated films, which are usually provided with vivid images and bright color palettes. Translation: It's a particularly kid-friendly feature for a product category that already has a lot of kids appeal.

This rundown is by no means exhaustive – if you have your own creative idea, please let us know in the comments!

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