Swedish Meatballs and Smart Lighting

Jun 19, 2017 by

In the home automation market, many companies and startups are participating in a land rush to solve problems we didn’t know we had…in the end not even solving those problems. When home furnishing giant IKEA stepped into the ring, it didn’t come as a surprise that they would start with lighting—the safe place where a lot of companies dip their toe in the consumer smart home waters.  IKEA has gained a tremendous amount experience with affordable LED lighting and tends to take a different approach to the “home for everyone.”

Trådfri (Swedish for wireless) is IKEA’s first smart home product that uses the ZigBee wireless standard for IoT devices. We first introduced Trådfri to our Home: On listeners in episode #87 of Home: On. Since then we’ve had a chance to set up the system and put it through some daily use to see how well it holds true to IKEA’s philosophy to “design things that improve life at home for everyone.” What we’ve experienced so far with Trådfri hasn’t blown us away as unique or revolutionary, but that’s not what the majority of consumers need. For the average, non-technical customer, IKEA has nicely simplified what is too often a frustrating introduction to smart home products.

Product Design

True to its affinity toward simple design, IKEA has produced a very sensible entry into home automation lighting that will surely appeal to the majority of consumers. Like so many IKEA products, Trådfri is one of those perplexing names most customers won’t be able to pronounce correctly, but the company formula proves that has no bearing on the desire to purchase.

Tradfri line header

The following products are currently available in the US and Canada:

  • Dimmable Trådfri Warm White 2700K bulbs, ranging from 400 to 1000 lumens in brightness.
  • Clear and translucent white Trådfri White Spectrum bulbs in a variety of bases and sizes. These feature an adjustable white light, offering 2200K warm yellow light to help you prepare for sleep, a 2700K setting for everyday lighting, and a cool white up to 4000K to help you wake up and stay focused.
  • A round, wireless, five-button remote for easy on/off, dimming, and toggling between three preset color temperatures IKEA calls Relax, Everyday and Focus on its White Spectrum bulbs. The remote can be hand-held or held in place magnetically with an included, mountable base.
  • The wireless dimmer, sold pre-paired with a dimmable bulb, is a magic little dial that uses an accelerometer to detect when you’re turning it to dim the lights or turn them off entirely. You can rotate it on the included mountable base that secures it magnetically, or you can take it off the base and rotate it on any surface or in mid-air.
  • The motion sensor, also sold in a pre-paired bulb kit, detects your motion with passive infrared to turn lights on for 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes, based on a dial setting on the back of the sensor. A second dial lets you choose between turning lights on all the time or only when there isn’t adequate daylight.
  • Finally, the Trådfri Gateway lets you control lights on your local Wi-Fi network with your smartphone, to change the color temperature of Trådfri White Spectrum bulbs, or group multiple lights to dim them and turn them on or off. You can also link lights together with the Trådfri Remote, Dimmer or Motion Sensor. Rather than the typical square-shaped hub that has become a common site in connected lighting, IKEA has opted for a round hub reminiscent of the first generation Hue Bridge, but with a practical twist that values appearance as highly as function. Advances in miniaturization have allowed for a hub that occupies only half of the space behind the removable, circular cover. This clever design allows excess Ethernet and power wires to be neatly tucked away “inside” the hub.

You can check out IKEA’s full Trådfri lineup on the web.

Installation

Out of the box, the Trådfri family of products (with the exception of the Gateway kit) come already paired with the included light bulb, ready to use. Pairing is a process that connects the ZigBee-enabled control devices to ZigBee-enabled bulbs, allowing a specific device to control a specific bulb or group of bulbs.

If you opt to also get Trådfri Gateway (it’s not required to use the Trådfri bulbs), you’ll need to connect the hub to your home network with the included Ethernet cable, although a teardown by iFixit shows a not-yet-functional 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi radio onboard. Power is provided by a standard 5 volt power adapter and USB-A to micro-USB cord you might find with any non-Apple smartphone.

Configuration

We caught up with Marketplace’s Molly Wood in episode #88 of Home: On, where we talked about the challenges the consumer smart home industry still faces and how, for the most part, it really hasn’t taken off the way people have expected. Molly summed it up well, saying “It’s still really hard.” Connecting things to a home router and figuring out network settings is not something most consumers are comfortable with. There are four ways to control Trådfri lighting, and IKEA has made it just about as easy as it can be today. Need to dim a light? Screw in the included Trådfri bulb and dim the light. Even the Trådfri Gateway, while slightly more involved, isn’t really all that complicated.

Tradfri gateway setupTradfri pairingPairing and configuring smart lighting may not be as straightforward as assembling a Billy bookshelf, but they do try to make it as easy as possible. IKEA guides your setup process with step-by-step, illustrated instructions in the Trådfri app, available for iOS and Android. The available remote, dimmer and motion sensor all wirelessly connect to both the gateway and bulb(s) via the ZigBee Light Link standard by holding a pairing button on the back of the respective device for 10 seconds. This simple pairing method ensures you’ll never have to get out a magnifying glass to read tiny serial numbers off the base of a bulb to set up Trådfri, and the bulbs can always be controlled with the remotes and motion sensor, even if the Gateway loses power or its connection to the internet.

While Trådfri pairing is simple, it does have its limitations. For example, one or more bulbs may be paired to a single device, and this grouping can be modified from the Trådfri app if you’re using the gateway, but multiple devices such as a dimmer and a motion sensor cannot currently be paired with a single bulb or set of bulbs. This is a notable shortcoming when compared with the Philips Hue Bridge and accessories that don’t have these restrictions and allow their capabilities to be further extended with Hue Labs and third-party apps.

Smart Home Integration

IKEA’s Trådfri products make it easy to add connected lighting to your home, and that’s a great thing for many consumers. But as far as using Trådfri as part of a larger smart home system…that’s a less appealing option right now.

With the Trådfri gateway and app, you can automate your Trådfri lights with three different timers:

  • turn lights on and off based on a time and day schedule to fool would be burglars
  • turn lights on or off for periods of time, based on a per day schedule
  • wake up by gradually by increasing your lights over a 30 minute period based on a time and day schedule

Currently Trådfri doesn’t let you control your lights from outside your home or adjust them to specific color temperatures. In fact, at present the gateway only uses its internet connection to retrieve firmware updates. In a recent press release, though, IKEA announced upcoming compatibility with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri via HomeKit. This is great news since this should also allow remote access and future integrations with other third-party software such as IFTTT and Stringify. We’re glad to see IKEA adopting technologies early in Trådfi’s product evolution that can deliver that satisfying feeling of your home responding in various ways to voice first interfaces and your presence or absence.

If you’re looking for a more capable system head over to the SmartThings Community forum, where contributors have already built custom device handlers for several IKEA Trådfri bulbs. And if you’re interested in Trådfri but want to connect everything to everything, you should benefit from the Amazon Voice Service, Google Assistant, and HomeKit integration anticipated later this year. Meanwhile, this just barely fits into the IoT category given its limited use of internet connectivity.

By Comparison…

This wouldn’t be a proper review if we didn’t point out some of the differences when you compare with similar but more mature systems like Philips Hue.

tradfri-led-bulbWhite adjustment. Currently you cannot adjust the Trådfri White Spectrum bulbs beyond more than three defined steps from the remote or within the gateway. This is a choice they’ve made to keep things simple for consumers. There isn’t a technical limitation with the bulb, and as we mentioned before, contributors to the SmartThings community have already written custom device handlers, giving full range adjustment to Trådfri bulbs from within the SmartThings app.

Dimming. We tried pairing IKEA’s dimmer with Philips Hue White bulbs and found that it operates them smoother than the Trådfri bulbs themselves. That was a surprise that shows IKEA still has some work do if they’re to match bulbs in this price range. We also had occasional trouble connecting the pre-paired dimmer with the gateway, and although we found a fairly reliable solution to the issue, it’s not likely to go over well with a non-technical consumer that just wants it to work the first time, every time. We also noted a fairly quick battery drain from all the devices and went through five batteries in total during testing. We suspect the pairing process puts a significant drain on the batteries, but we have not had enough time with the system to know if this will be a factor that affects daily use.

tradfri-motion-sensorMotion sensor. While you can add the motion sensor to the gateway, its adjustability is limited to simple switches on the back. You can’t fine-tune ambient light sensitivity, so you can’t decide exactly how dark a room should be before your entering triggers the lights. Most other smart home motion sensors not only give you fine adjustment of this setting from the app, they also have fine adjustment of the timing before lights turn off again. Not surprisingly, then, Trådfri doesn’t support any dim or flashing warning before the lights do go out, and you can’t specify different lighting levels in response to motion based on different times of day. This is a nice feature of some more advanced (and, notably, more mature) systems, including Philips hue, which supports one of our favorite uses cases—automatically adjusting lights to their lowest level in the middle of the night so you’re not blinded when entering a bathroom.

Interoperability. Since IKEA Trådfri bulbs operate using the ZigBee Light Link standard, they should be compatible with any hub that is also ZLL compliant. But they’re not fully compliant, and according to Philips, “…IKEA bulbs report their ProfileID as corresponding to the ZigBee Home Automation (ZHA) profile rather than the ZigBee Light Link (ZLL) profile. As the IKEA bulbs do not behave fully compliant with the ZLL standard, they are rejected by the Hue bridge. IKEA is aware of this and informed us their intent is to have the IKEA smart lighting bulbs to work with the Philips Hue bridge.”

In Summary

Whether you like the simplicity of IKEA’s approach or feel their efforts are too limiting, it’s been clear to us for quite some time that no retailer is better positioned at the moment to offer both the experience and the product together in one place like IKEA. We’re generally impressed with the current functionality of IKEA Trådfri products. We’ve found them very reliable and simple to set up and use. More advanced features, like controlling lights when you’re not home, may not be something the general consumer is looking for or needs. We think this system is going to satisfy a large number of buyers, and the planned updates later this year are sure to satisfy an even broader audience.

To learn more about Trådfri and IKEA’s entry into the smart home space, listen to our interview with Björn Block, the Global Leader for IKEA Home Smart, on episode #90 of Home: On.

Have you tried Trådfri or do you plan to? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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