As we near the availability of Matter devices, this is the perfect time to understand exactly what to expect once we have those devices in our home. That’s the main takeaway I got from virtually attending a Silicon Labs Works With session on Tuesday. Panelists included representatives from Arm, The Connectivity Standards Alliance, Comcast, Google, Samsung SmartThings, and Silicon Labs, with Stacey moderating the discussion.
Among her many questions, the one Stacey posed about a “level set” for Matter may be the most important one. Why? Because we’ve been talking about Matter since 2019, even before it was called Matter. Back then, it was more of a vision; one that in a perfect scenario would unify all of the connected devices in our smart home, regardless of who made them.
That vision is still relatively valid. With Matter, Google devices will talk to those from Apple, for example. Having multiple smart speakers with different digital assistants that speak the same technical language will also happen.
Right out of the gate though, it might be wise to temper expectations. Multiple Controller Admin is the feature that will connect those disparate digital assistants in your home. However, you may see them “fight” a little if they both have automations set up on the same device. In that case, you might have to break them up by reviewing device automations and adjusting or removing some of them as necessary.
There’s also the scenario of onboarding devices.
It should be very easy to add a Matter device to your home, either through Bluetooth or by scanning a QR code. Think of HomeKit’s simplicity here. But the panelists know there’s more work to be done to provide the same simple experience when adding, say 50, lights.
This could be a pain point for folks who already have dozens of connected lights in their smart home and want to change over to Matter-compliant bulbs, for example. Jim Kitchen, VP of Product, IoT Platforms & Devices at Comcast said, “I think the “lots” experience is going to be fine, it’s probably not going to be great.”
It might sound as though Matter isn’t simplifying the onboarding process based on that example. Again, members of the working group are still … working on improvements for edge cases and large numbers of device additions. And there is some benefit even at launch time. Instead of having different manuals, apps, or methods to install lights from several brands, Matter consolidates and standardizes the process.
Speaking of different apps, panelists were asked if Matter meant we could eliminate all of the various smart home device apps from our phones. And the answer, for now, is, not quite.
You’ll surely be able to reduce the overall number of apps because Matter devices can work on any supported ecosystem. So if you’re running your FrankenHome on Google, Apple and Samsung, for example, you can probably eliminate most of the apps from two of them.
In terms of security, we heard a while back that Matter will use blockchain technology. And it does but in a very limited scope. People won’t be mining Matter transactions or having a complete copy of the blockchain database in this case.
Instead, vendor and device certifications for Matter will be issued and that really has nothing to do with blockchain. This is more like security certificates for websites today. However, according to Darren Learmonth, an engineer at Silicon Labs, each device will have its Device Attestation Certificate data saved in a compliance ledger, similar to how a blockchain is a distributed database.
When adding a new Matter device to your home, the network will check the device information against the compliance ledger. This indicates that you have a device that meets the Matter specification, so you’re not installing some type of hacked product that might do malicious things. There are also security layers built in at the chip level to protect devices after installation.
So what does the smart home of the future look like and how is Matter part of it?
We’ll need more devices to fall under the Matter umbrella to answer that: Think video cameras, robotic vacuums, and other products not in the initial scope of Matter. And there’s a simple process to make that happen: “Build it and we will come,” according to Michele Mindala-Freeman, head of marketing and member services for the CSA.
Any device maker can bring any type of device to the CSA to include in future specification revisions. They can work through the open source documentation for Matter on GitHub and leverage the data models from the existing standard. Then, the Matter working group will try to fold the new devices into a spec revision to expand the type of devices Matter can support.
Overall, I came away from the session feeling mostly optimistic about Matter’s launch. Yes, there are expected to be some hiccups with devices, automations, and installing large numbers of devices at all once. In the end though? Matter looks set to start delivering on that vision of a smart home with truly interoperable devices.