At long last Amazon has shared its plans for implementing the Matter smart home interoperability protocol. The retailer plans to support Matter on most of its Echo product line, including the Echo Shows, Echo Dots, Echo Studios, Echo Flexes, and more. The only Echo devices that won’t get an update are the first generation Echo and Echo Dots and the Echo Tap. The news does not extend to other Amazon-owned brands such as Ring or Eero with Chris DeCenzo, a principal software development engineer with Amazon, saying that those brands will have their own announcements later.
So what does Matter support mean for Amazon’s more than 200 million devices out in the world? The biggest thing it enables is local control of Matter devices in the home using Alexa.
This is a big win for people who want lower latency for lights and want to control devices when the internet goes down. Amazon hasn’t offered much in local control, except for Zigbee devices, so this is big.
DeCenzo explains, “Alexa has many many systems connected to it through the cloud and our priority has been on ensuring they can mix and match. What Matter will do is it lets us have a local plane of control and connectivity.” He stressed that the cloud will always be a “vital piece” of the Alexa experience.
Amazon will also release a new version of its Frustration-Free Setup SDK that supports Matter. Amazon’s frustration-free setup feature lets people buy Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee devices from Amazon and lets them connect to their home network automatically. With a Matter version, this means every Matter device purchased from Amazon will attach to the account owner’s home network, and then the user can choose how to set the device up and control it using the Multi-Admin feature in the Matter protocol.
Amazon also plans to support pulling data from and controlling non-Matter devices controlled via a Matter-compliant bridge. For example, my Z-wave locks won’t likely get Matter support, but if I attach those to a Matter-compliant SmartThings hub I could still bring them into routines that involve Matter-compliant devices using my hub and Alexa.
This is good news for people who have existing gear and will gradually add Matter devices. Plus, with devices like cameras not part of the Matter protocol yet, we’ll have mixed homes for quite some time.
Amazon is also going to use Matter to standardize communications for smart TVs to avoid the challenges that come with different casting technologies, says DeCenzo. So Amazon is working with content and streaming providers as well as TV makers to ensure that there’s a consistent way to voice to launch content on a variety of screens.
Amazon also shared more big news for Alexa fans, including something called the Multi-agent Experience (MAX) toolkit, that will make it easier for developers to build multiple voice assistants into one product. This toolkit which Amazon plans to release at an unspecified time is part of the 90-member Voice Interoperability Initiative.
Combined with Matter, this sort of effort will make the smart home far more interoperable and shows clearly that the value for the big tech providers is in the digital assistant itself. Along with this, Amazon is opening up its expertise with Alexa to other companies helping them create custom assistants for their own devices. The first one of these will be used in a car.
Amazon is also releasing dozens of new Alexa features such as the Paid Skills, that will let developers get paid for their Alexa Skills. Customers will pay a one-time fee to get to access the content.
I’d do this for specific workout skills or games for sure. Developers can also let customers add things to their Amazon cart within a Skill and will get referral fees. For the smart home set, Amazon is changing its replenishment program to let companies make money by helping customers order replacement parts from Amazon. So a company like Carrier or Resideo can create an air filter replenishment program through Amazon and earn a referral fee on the filters.
Developers also get new APIs for building specialized skills including a Food Skill API for food delivery, a Send to Phone Skill that lets someone start communication with Alexa and finish on their phones, something Apple has offered with the HomePod Mini for a few months.
And in a possibly upsetting turn of events for those of us who find Alexa a little too chatty, other developers will be able to create proactive experiences which uses what Amazon calls Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions to have Alexa make suggestions. Amazon offered an example of someone beginning their morning run and Alexa suggesting a playlist. It will be a good test of whether we really want Alexa only to listen or if we want it to talk back.
Alexa Guard also gets support for carbon monoxide and leak detection sensors in addition to the sound of glass breaking and smoke alarms, which should enhance the paid security service.