CES 2020 Home Automation

GE Announces New Smart Lighting Controls in Advance of CES

C by GE logo

GE Lighting is getting ahead of CES this year with some pre-emptive announcements for new products. Last year, GE significantly expanded its C by GE line with a selection of connected bulbs and wired switches and dimmers that could each act as a bridge/controller for other C by GE products.

Newer, Leaner, and More Versatile

This year, GE plans to duplicate its entire C by GE wired switch and dimmer lineup (5 devices in all) with newer versions that are smaller (making them easier to install) and don’t require a neutral wire. Otherwise, the industrial design is identical to last year’s models. In our opinion, that’s unfortunate. They’re only available in white, and the interactions on all but the toggle switch are largely unintuitive.

GE Announces New Smart Lighting Controls in Advance of CES
The current and newly-announced C by GE switch and dimmer lineup looks largely identical

That’s not all that’s staying the same—so are the prices. The paddle and toggle switches will again come in at about $40, with the motion-sensing dimmer topping out the line at about $60.

Curiously, these new SKUs won’t replace their predecessors. GE will offer both last year’s and this year’s models when the new products come in this year, even though they’re largely the same products. While GE hasn’t confirmed this, presumably the older models will go down in price.

The press release and promotional materials for the new products tout this lineup as “first-ever” technologies. That’s certainly accurate for the on/off switches. In fact, we’re eager to see how they’re pulling that off. But two-wire dimmers (GE is calling them three-wire, counting ground) are not new. Caséta dimmers use two wires (load and line) plus ground. And Insteon has been selling a two-wire dimmer for nearly a decade now.

The release also indicates (and thus many press outlets are reporting) that these switches and dimmer are all “hubless,” suggesting that that’s new. Again…it’s not. The predecessors to these products, released in 2019, are also hubless. That, in fact, is their greatest value. Not only do they not require a hub, but they themselves can each act as a bridge to any other C by GE product. This allows them to control not only wired fixtures but also other C by GE lights and controls. It also enables voice control through Amazon or Google.

So what is new and “first-ever”? It’s the combination of switches and dimmers that (a) don’t need a hub and (b) don’t require a neutral wire. And not needing a neutral wire is a surprisingly big deal depending on when (or how) your house was wired. Some switch boxes, particularly in older homes, do not include a neutral wire, which can make implementing smart switches challenging.

One more note on the new wired devices: GE indicates that “they will come with an optional accessory that eliminates bulb ‘ghosting’ and ‘flickering’ that can occur with other smart switch solutions.” We’re eager to learn more about what, exactly, this is and how easy it is to install.

Look…No Wires!

In addition to the new wired switches and dimmers, GE is also announcing some all-new wireless products for its C by GE line. These include a wireless dimmer (think Pico but for C by GE), remote control, and a motion sensor. These are all powered by standard batteries, expected to last about two years before needing to be replaced.

C by GE Wire-Free Smart Switch Dimmer + Color Control

The wireless products double-down on GE’s rounded design approach, including that odd “butterfly button” design for dimmer controls. Of these, the wireless dimmer is probably most interesting. Like Lutron’s Pico, it’s designed to fit within the frame of any decora switch plate, so it could be used to create virtual three-way circuits. It will also blend into most environments (assuming you’re cool with white switches).

Ge will offer the wireless dimmers and remotes in two versions: one for about $23 and one for about $25. (Yep…that $2 difference seems absurd to us, too.) The more expensive of the two will offer an additional rocker to adjust the color temperate on white-tunable C by GE bulbs. While the design is unintuitive, this is a unique and valuable feature. We’ve only before seen two other wireless controllers (from IKEA and Home Depot) that offer this capability.

The motion sensor will cost about $30.

Still No HomeKit

In 2017, GE introduced the C-Reach to break the otherwise isolated C by GE bulbs out of their walled garden and make them compatible with third-party ecosystems. C-Reach adds voice control through Amazon and Google for all of its C by GE products. HomeKit support, however, is still limited to the dimmable and white tunable bulbs. GE still plans to add HomeKit support for its switches, but that isn’t yet available and still may not be included when these new products launch. Of course, we’d like to see GE add its new wireless products into the HomeKit mix, too.

Once they make this available, it’s likely that all these hubless switches and dimmers will still require the C-Reach bridge to work with HomeKit.

Come Play with Us?

Finally, GE is planning a new “Works with C by GE” program. This will allow third-party product manufacturers to integrate with C by GE. But…why? That’s what Alexa, the Google Assistant, and HomeKit are for. Why take that on? Manufacturers (and GE is a perfect example) are already challenged just to support those major three ecosystems, let alone other systems like SmartThings and IFTTT for those interested in more serious automation and integration.

But somehow the product folks at GE think this makes sense. Try to read this statement from GE’s press release without chuckling:

The C by GE Mobile Application is rapidly becoming one of the “go to” smart home solutions for consumers.

Huh. Really? We’ll have to see about that.

We’d argue that this move is not good for consumers and that GE’s efforts would be better spent participating in the connected home working group recently established by Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance.

You can expect to see all of these products arrive within the first two quarters of 2020.

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About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard Gunther

Richard is a digital technology consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.