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Here’s What the ‘Matter’ Smart Home Standard Is All About

The ideal smart home seamlessly anticipates your needs and instantly responds to commands. You shouldn’t have to open a specific app for each appliance or remember the precise voice command and voice assistant combination that starts the latest episode of your favorite podcast on the nearest speaker. Competing smart home standards make operating your devices needlessly complicated. It’s just not very … well, smart.

Tech giants try to straddle standards by offering their voice assistants as a controlling layer on top, but Alexa can’t talk to Google Assistant or Siri or control Google or Apple devices, and vice versa. (And so far, no single ecosystem has created all the best devices.) But these interoperability woes may soon be remedied. Formerly called Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP), the open source interoperability standard known as Matter is finally here. Some of the biggest tech names have signed on, like Amazon, Apple, and Google, which means that seamless integration may finally be within reach.

Updated October 2022: Added news of the Matter 1.0 specification release, the certification program, and some additional details.

Table of ContentsWhat Is Matter?What Makes Matter Different?When Will Matter Arrive?What About Other Smart Home Standards?Will Matter Work With Existing Devices?How Do Smart Home Hubs Fit In?What About Security and Privacy?Will Manufacturers and Platforms Limit Functionality?Will Matter Succeed?What Is Matter?

Matter promises to enable different devices and ecosystems to play nicely. Device manufacturers need to comply with the Matter standard to ensure their devices are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and others. For folks building a smart home, Matter theoretically lets you buy any device and use the voice assistant or platform you prefer to control it (yes, you should be able to use different voice assistants to talk to the same product).

For example, you’ll be able to buy a Matter-supported smart bulb and set it up with Apple Homekit, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa—without having to worry about compatibility. Right now, some devices already support multiple platforms (like Alexa or Google Assistant), but Matter will expand that platform support and make setting up your new devices faster and easier. 

The first protocol runs on Wi-Fi and Thread network layers and uses Bluetooth Low Energy for device setup. While it will support various platforms, you’ll have to choose the voice assistants and apps you want to use—there is no central Matter app or assistant. Overall, you can expect your smart home devices to be more responsive to you. 

What Makes Matter Different?

The Connectivity Standards Alliance (or CSA, formerly the Zigbee Alliance) maintains the Matter standard. What sets it apart is the breadth of its membership (more than 550 tech companies), the willingness to adopt and merge disparate technologies, and the fact that it is an open source project. Now that the software development kit (SDK) is ready, interested companies can use it royalty-free to incorporate their devices into the Matter ecosystem.

Growing out of the Zigbee Alliance gives Matter a firm foundation. Bringing the main smart home platforms (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings) to the same table is an achievement. It is optimistic to imagine a seamless adoption of Matter across the board, but it has enjoyed a rush of enthusiasm with a range of smart home brands already signed up, including August, Schlage, and Yale in smart locks; Belkin, Cync, GE Lighting, Sengled, Signify (Philips Hue), and Nanoleaf in smart lighting; and others like Arlo, Comcast, Eve, TP-Link, and LG. There are more than 280 member companies in Matter.

When Will Matter Arrive?

Matter has been in the works for years. The first release was due in late 2020, but it was delayed to the following year, rebranded as Matter, and then touted for a summer release. After another delay, the Matter 1.0 specification and certification program is now finally ready. The SDK, tools, and test cases are available, and eight authorized test labs are open for product certification. That essentially means you can expect to see Matter-supported smart home gadgets going on sale as early as October 2022 after they’re certified. 

The CSA says the last delay was to accommodate more devices and platforms and ensure they all work smoothly with one another before release. More than 130 devices and sensors across 16 development platforms (operating systems and chipsets) are working through certification, and you can expect many more soon.

What About Other Smart Home Standards?

The road to smart home nirvana is paved with different standards, like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Samsung SmartThings, Wi-Fi HaLow, and Insteon, to name a few. These protocols and others will continue to exist and operate. Google has merged its Thread and Weave technologies into Matter. The new standard also employs Wi-Fi and Ethernet standards and uses Bluetooth LE for device setup.

Matter is not a single technology and should evolve and improve over time. It won’t cover every possible use case for every device and scenario, so other standards will continue to develop. The more platforms and standards merge with Matter, the greater its potential to succeed, but the challenge of making it all work seamlessly also grows.

Will Matter Work With Existing Devices?

Some devices will work with Matter after a firmware update. Others won’t ever be compatible. There’s no simple answer here. Many devices that currently work with Thread, Z-Wave, or Zigbee should be able to work with Matter, but it’s not a given that they will get upgrades. It is best to check in with manufacturers about specific devices and future support.

The first specification, or Matter 1.0, covers only certain categories of devices, including:

Light bulbs and switchesSmart plugsSmart locksSafety and security sensorsMedia devices including TVsSmart blinds and shadesGarage door controllersThermostatsHVAC controllersMost PopularGearThe 15 Best Electric Bikes for Every Kind of Ride

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Security cameras and doorbells, robot vacuums, and other devices will likely be covered in a later specification.

How Do Smart Home Hubs Fit In?

To achieve compatibility with Matter, some brands, like Philips Hue, are updating their hubs. This is one way to sidestep the problem of incompatible older hardware. Updating hubs to work with the new Matter standard enables you to connect older systems, which will demonstrate that standards can coexist. But getting the full potential benefit of Matter will often require new hardware. Once you adopt the system, you should be able to get rid of hubs altogether. 

The underlying Thread technology in Matter allows devices, like smart speakers or lights, to act as Thread routers and create a mesh network that can pass data, increasing range and reliability. Unlike traditional smart home hubs, these Thread routers can’t see inside the packets of data they exchange. Data can be sent securely end-to-end by a network of devices from different manufacturers.

What About Security and Privacy?

Fears about security and privacy have cropped up frequently on the smart home scene. Matter is designed to be secure, but we won’t know how secure until it is working in the real world. The CSA has published a set of security and privacy principles and plans to use distributed ledger technology and Public Key Infrastructure to validate devices. This should ensure folks are connecting authentic, certified, and up-to-date devices to their homes and networks. Data collection and sharing will still be between you and the device manufacturer or platform provider. 

Where before you had a single hub to secure, Matter devices will mostly connect directly to the internet. That makes them potentially more susceptible to hackers and malware. But Matter also provides for local control, so the command from your phone or smart display doesn’t have to go through a cloud server. It can pass directly to the device on your home network.

Will Manufacturers and Platforms Limit Functionality?

While the big platform providers can see the benefit in a common standard, they are not going to open up full control of their devices to their competitors. There will be a gap between the walled garden ecosystem experience and Matter functionality. Manufacturers will also keep certain features proprietary.

For example, you may be able to turn an Apple device on or off with a Google Assistant voice command, but you will have to use Siri or an Apple app to tweak some settings or access advanced features. Manufacturers signing up to Matter are under no obligation to implement the entire specification, so the extent of support is likely to be mixed.

Will Matter Succeed?

Matter is presented as a smart home panacea, but only time will tell. Few, if any, innovations get everything right out of the gate. But there is potential value in seeing a Matter logo on a device and knowing it will work with your existing smart home setup, particularly in households with iPhones, Android phones, and Alexa devices. The freedom to be able to mix and match your devices and voice assistants is enticing.

No one wants to have to select devices based on compatibility. We want to choose devices with the best feature set, the highest quality, and the most desirable designs. Hopefully, Matter will make that easier. 

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