The lighting industry has finally come up with an energy-efficient replacement for the incandescent bulb that people actually seem to like: the LED bulb.

Although priced at around 20 times more than the old-fashioned incandescents, bulbs based on LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, last much longer and use far less electricity. Prices for the bulbs are falling steadily .

And because the light in LED bulbs comes from chips, companies have been able to develop software applications that let users control the bulbs, even change the colour of the light, with tablets and smartphones.

Last year, LED sales, though small at about 3 per cent of the residential market by some estimates, grew faster than those of any other lighting technology, according to retailers and analysts.

Among A-type bulbs, the most common, LEDs will outsell incandescents in North America in 2014, according to projections by IMS Research, an electronics research firm that is now part of IHS Inc. And LEDs will become the most popular A-type technology by 2016, with North American shipments reaching almost 370 million, a tenfold increase from the roughly 33 million last year.

Already at Philips, LEDs were responsible for 20 per cent of lighting sales last year, according to Ed Crawford, general manager of the lamps division.

The first big alternative to emerge, compact fluorescent bulbs, has left many consumers dissatisfied. The light quality is seen as harsher, the bulbs can be slow to warm up and difficult to dim, and they contain toxic materials.

LEDs are more expensive, but offer better light quality. And thanks to heavy marketing by retailers, customers are beginning to discover their appeal.

For the manufacturers, LEDs pose a new challenge. They offer higher profit margins, but because they can last for decades, people will be buying fewer bulbs of any sort.

The Energy Information Administration estimates that total light bulb sales will fall almost 40 per cent by 2015, to just under 1 billion from 1.52 billion bulbs, and continue their decline to about 530 million by 2035, with LEDs making up a steadily increasing portion of the market.

New York Times News Service