Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ambee: Hue in Living Color

Lighting has always held particular sway over me. Casting a spell, it can make or break a space, or composition, and have profound effects on my mood. Color captivates me. My earliest memories are of Christmas, with all the colored lights everywhere.

I discovered Philips Hue lighting like I imagine many people did, while watching the 2012 Apple WWDC Keynote address. Like with most new tech, I was amazed, but at the time it would not have made sense with my budget and my living arrangement. Fast forward to 2015; a lot can change in three years. New job, new career, new place.

My new place was dead when I moved in, the only sources of light being the windows and some rather clinical looking ceiling globes illuminated by cold compact fluorescent bulbs. I was starting over, and had nothing. Fortunately, there are a lot of windows to let in natural light during the day. At first, I started with a few thrift store lamps, moving them around to get the best coverage, but I really needed living light. I remembered Hue and found some great videos on YouTube that showed an entire apartment, every bulb a Hue and demonstrations several apps. But what I found most captivating were the dynamic animations. The transitions between colors were hypnotic. It was at this time that I realized I had to have this product. 

I bought the 2nd Gen starter kit, three extra bulbs, and combined that with two IKEA lamps. Finally, I had some mood lighting, and the iPhone interface was the piece de resistance. Eventually, it became an obsession, and I assimilated my entire apartment into my scheme upgrading nearly every bulb in the house except the one in the refrigerator.
I embraced this new obsession, or hobby as some may call it. I tried a lot of different apps, then I found Ambee. At the time, it was relatively new, born out of the ashes of another app called Goldee. It didn’t have many animations, but it had potential. Immediately I took to it. Whereas some apps hand you a paintbrush and a palette and let you go at it, Ambee is more like an art gallery. The animations are masterpieces created by the developer, Tomas Baran, a Slovakian man now living in the Canary Islands who makes his living in technology. Imagine a collaboration of Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Ludwig van Beethoven; a symphony of color and light. Before I knew it, Ambee had become my go to app for my lights.


1) Ready To Go Out of the Box

Ambee will automatically incorporate your zones or rooms from the Hue bridge. You can also create your own as well. I find that to be very convenient and handy. The benefit of this is that you can essentially create sub-zones. For example, maybe you have five bulbs for your living room but sometimes only want to use three for a scene. A sub-scene will allow for this.

2) You can vary the brightness of a animation.

Imagine yourself at an art gallery. You find a piece you love. You must have it. But it only comes in one size and it’s either too larger or two small for the intended space. What if you could scale it to fit any space? That’s what the brightness slider is for, and it’s particularly tuned not to affect the overall composition of the scene.

3) Broad Range of Choices Available

Ambee currently has a total of 50 compositions available so there’s something for every mood. It has dynamic animations, and static scenes as well. The static scenes are mostly intended as effective work lighting, but you can get creative with them as well.

4) Distinctiveness of Animations

Each animation is unique in color, functionality and performance. Some of the scenes incorporate a music or audio track. For example, the Bamboo Forest scene plays an audio track that sounds like a tropical rain forest. Connect your headphones or a Bluetooth speaker for a spa feeling. The Rock & Roll Drinks scene incorporates a music track featuring electric guitars.

Some of the animations are really more like light shows. One of my favorites, the Idyllic Sunset, is actually a sunset simulation. It starts out bright with subtle transitions like clouds moving in front of a sunset, then gradually dims over a period of 15 minutes with progressively warmer shades of red and orange.

5) Performance

I’ve seen a lot of jenky apps for Hue, tentative: like the developer didn’t really try very hard, rushed it, or was just not experienced enough to deliver a high quality product. Some of them have really harsh transitions on startup and stop. The lights seem to strobe into action, out of sync. Ambee as silky smooth transitions. Startup, stop, and re-selection have a soft subtle quality, the lights synchronize, and change all together at the same time.

My biggest complaint with dynamic apps is that they time-out. They are unstable. Ambee seems to have that under control. You can set a time-out, or not... And if something happens, for example if a bulb gets turned off during animation, Ambee will automatically re-sync it as soon as it reconnects with the bridge.

6) Rich Saturation

Ambee has some of the richest color saturation I have seen in any app. I don’t know if it’s the compositions that make it look that way, but I’ve had a Hue system for two years and I cannot seem to get blues and purples as deep as with Ambee.


One trait I have always had is creativity. I like to think outside the box and try new things. I like to run a different animation in every room. I even have a Hue fireplace that I made from an old electric fireplace that I gutted. There are a few animations that I previously didn’t have much use for that work really well in the fireplace. They provide some really interesting fires with their color transitions, enough to rival the fireplaces at Hogwart’s. I like to combine animations in the same room with my sub-zones. Here are a few of my favorites:


Tomas would say that Ambee is a work in progress, constantly growing, moving forward. He is truly a gifted developer, and a visionary. In my interactions with him, he always says “there’s more to come.”

The market for smart home products is skyrocketing. New products and new apps are launching every day. Apple is playing nice with everyone, allowing HomeKit to be completely open-source for developers. Products are selling everywhere you go. In my town, BestBuy, Home Depot and Bed Bath and Beyond all carry Hue products. I think diversity is the key here. So many different products to choose from with even more apps available. I would love to see HomeKit integration with Ambee. I’d also like to see an Ambee widget for the Notification screen and on Apple Watch. AND an Android app as well. 

Ambee is free. It comes with 10 animations. Additional dynamic animations sell for about $2.00 US each, and are comparably priced where available in other markets globally. Static scenes are free. I would recommend Ambee over any other app to anyone interested in bringing life to their Hue system. Ambee is perfect for both novice and experienced users; I highly recommend it with a five star rating.

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