21 October 2016
Apple's planned connected-device platform HomeKit will be compatible with GE technology. Photo: Reuters
Apple's planned connected-device platform HomeKit will be compatible with GE technology. Photo: Reuters

GE taps Apple, Qualcomm to reignite lighting business

General Electric Co. (GE) is teaming up with Apple Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. to reinvigorate its 130-year-old lighting business.

The cooperation will allow GE to harness digital technology and a growing market appetite for data, Reuters reported Tuesday.

With chipmaker Qualcomm, GE is offering retailers a way to connect with shoppers’ smartphones through technology embedded in LED light bulbs.

One use of the “indoor positioning” technology could be to transmit customized coupons to shoppers depending on their store location.

GE also said it will produce an LED bulb compatible with Apple’s planned connected-device platform HomeKit.

The bulb can change colors to align with the natural rhythms of the body.

The tie-ups underscore GE’s plans to dive into the emerging and increasingly competitive market for connected lighting that integrates with smart devices.

While GE sees an opportunity in selling energy-efficient LED bulbs, it will seek to use sensors and other technology embedded in LEDs to the advantage of consumers, businesses and cities, said Beth Comstock, who leads GE business innovations.

Services offered by GE stand to provide revenue that could offset pressure should the LED bulb business become more commoditized.

“There’s now a data stream from light that is going to create opportunity to be more productive,” said Comstock, in her first interview about the lighting strategy since September, when the unit became part of GE’s innovations division.

GE itself is undergoing a sweeping overhaul, jettisoning the bulk of its finance division to focus on big-ticket industrial products such as jet engines and power turbines.

Some analysts have speculated the US conglomerate will divest lighting after deciding last year to sell its appliances segment and moves by Siemens and Philips to hive off lighting units.

GE Lighting posted about US$2.5 billion in revenue last year, 2.3 percent of the company’s overall industrial sales.

Comstock said lighting fits smoothly with GE chief executive Jeff Immelt’s desire to marry software and analytics with GE’s various industrial equipment.

“LEDs plus software, it helps GE continue its Industrial Internet expansion and I think the lighting business has a big role in GE’s future because of that,” Comstock said.

Along with traditional lighting manufacturers, the “intelligent lighting” market is drawing companies that manage other building controls such as Honeywell, and start-ups focused on lighting controls, according to Jesse Foote, analyst at Navigant Research.

“There are so many kinds of companies getting into the space,” Foote said.

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