Home automation is all about convenience; the easier it is to execute a task, the better. This has been something of a conundrum for smart lighting, because unlocking your smart phone, finding the app, launching it and hitting the “on/off” button is far more cumbersome than simply flicking a light switch (although you do have to get off the couch to do that).

While there are automated solutions available that will turn your Wi-Fi enabled lights on and off at pre-set times or based on other actions occurring, sometimes you just want to say, “Lights, turn off ” and have it happen.

When I installed a set of Philips Hue lights in my living room, I quickly realized how helpful it would be to simply tell my phone to turn my lights on or off. For those not familiar, Philips Hue is a personal wireless lighting system that can replicate any color in the spectrum and be controlled remotely via a smartphone app. Along with the manufacturer’s app, there are hundreds of third-party apps that will do everything from turning your living room lighting into that of a movie theater to offering up the perfect color spectrum for your current mood. But none of them work with voice activation.

So, I turned to Siri, Apple’s digital personal assistant.

First, I just thought I’d ask her to turn the lights on and see what happened. Her response was “Hmm, I don’t see anything connected but I can help once you’ve set something up.” Intriguing. It turns out this was not a reference to my lack of technical ability, but a subtle reference to Apple’s soon-to-be released HomeKit.

HomeKit is Apple’s smart home protocol. Intended to help your smart home accessories connect with each other, HomeKit promises secure pairing, the ability to easily control individual or groups of devices throughout the house, and integration with Siri. For example, you will be able to tell Siri you are “going to bed” and it could dim the lights, lock your doors, close the garage door and set the thermostat.

Philips has already said it will work with HomeKit, so whenever it arrives (Apple says early 2015, so any day!), we should all be able to control our Hue bulbs via Siri.

But, like most techies, I’m impatient. I want to be able to turn my lights off with voice activation right now. So, I did some research and discovered a simple workaround, using IFTTT, text messaging and a little bit of set up.

Here’s my step-by-step guide to getting your Hue lights to turn on via Siri:

  1. Sign up for an account with IFTTT. If This Then That is a service that lets you connect your various devices and software together via the Internet in order to perform pre-set actions.  
  1. Connect your Hue lights to IFTTT by creating a Hue Channel  
  1. Connect your iPhone to IFTTT by creating an SMS channel.  
  1. Next, search for this “recipe” (a recipe is a pre-configured action created by a member of the IFTTT community). You can also create your own recipes from scratch, but it is worth starting with one that has been proven to work and then modifying it to your needs. This recipe will turn your Hue lights “on” when you send a text message to IFTTT with the phrase #on.  
  1. Customize the recipe by choosing the phrase you want to use and which lights you want the commands to activate.  
  1. Next, add your IFTTT number (which will be shown in the recipe) to your phone’s contacts. I suggest naming it “Lights” for ease of use, but you can call it whatever you like (I would avoid Hue, especially if you have an uncle named Hugh.)  
  1. Now all you need to do is ask Siri to “text Lights #ON.” Siri will then send a text message to IFTTT with the trigger to activate the Hue channel and turn your lights on. Here’s a video of me activating my lights via Siri.  

Once you have this set up and working, go back in to your IFTTT account and create different versions of the recipe for the different actions you’d like to complete. Currently, the Hue IFTTT channel allows you to dim lights, change color, and turn on a color loop as well as a few other basic actions.

The only downside to this workaround is that it’s not instantaneous. The message has to be sent out to IFTTT servers over your cellphone carrier, then come back to your home through your Hue light’s Wi-Fi connection, and it can get tripped up or slowed down along any of those stages. So this is a bit of a roundabout process, but it is currently the only option for voice-activated control of your Philips Hue bulbs beyond some major tinkering. (By the way, you can also just ask Siri to launch the Hue App and it will open up to the screen where you just need to touch a button to turn it off-but this way is so much cooler, don’t you think?)

About Jennifer Tuohy
Jennifer Tuohy is a gadget lover who writes for The Home Depot about smart home technology. Her latest infatuation is with the smart LED light bulb and the cool things you can do with them from your phone. You can find the Hue LED light bulbs at The Home Depot.