When it comes to the Matter smart home interoperability standard, there’s so much we don’t know. But thanks to news this week from Amazon and Google, it’s clear that two of the biggest players in the smart home are approaching the protocol with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
On Thursday at its Smart Home Summit event, Google said it will consolidate its many options for smart home developers under one name and in one place while also prepping the way for the upcoming Matter smart home interoperability standard. Its announcement came a day after Amazon launched a new Alexa Connect Kit software development kit — but made no mention of Matter.
When I asked about support for Matter, Amazon’s Ben McInnis, a director of smart home devices and developer experiences there, said the software development kit (SDK) was only for Alexa compatible devices and that he didn’t have any additional news to share. The company subsequently clarified, via a spokesperson, that for those using Alexa’s Connect Kit (ACK) SDK, the manufacturer can elect to make the devices work with Google or Apple’s HomeKit too.
While that’s all very nice, none of it really speaks to the hoped-for interoperability that Matter is expected to provide for a variety of smart home products. Such a conversation is especially relevant to Amazon and Google because the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which is the group working on the Matter protocol, plans to release a Matter-specific SDK some time early next year.
For smart home developers, Amazon’s ACK announcement is great news, as it means they can select their own hardware for products going forward. But the remaining lack of clarity around Matter is a bummer because the entire industry is waiting for the release of this standard, and consumers and manufacturers are going to be in a bit of a holding pattern until it’s out.
Google, on the other hand, made Matter the star of its Smart Home Summit, providing several ways for developers to build for Google on top of Matter. I spoke with Kevin Po, a senior product manager at Google, ahead of the news.
Here are the highlights from the announcements. First up is a new developer portal and brand called Google Home. The goal here is to bring together all the necessary tools and SDKs for a variety of services that have been scattered under a variety of Google brands into one place. So tools to help with casting, working with Matter, creating routines, and more will all live under the Google Home portal. We’ll see a finished version of that early next year.
Another big feature Google launched was the ability for developers to create routines for smart homes and share them with users. This feature has been a long time coming. It’s also necessary for the smart home. Most mainstream users aren’t going to sit around thinking up routines and pulling them together beyond an initial use case or two.
Now, with developers building their own IFTTT-like recipes, users can search or get recommended new routines that will help them love their smart homes more. Developers can brand the routines, and maybe one day they can even charge for them (to be clear, Google did not mention charging for routines).
But the news the industry was waiting for was all about Matter, and the company did not fail to deliver, saying that it is releasing a Google Home Device SDK that will be compliant with Matter but that adds additional functions specific to working within the Google ecosystem. An app maker or device company will not have to implement this SDK, but my hunch is that higher-end brands will ensure that both their product launches and the experience those products provide work seamlessly with Google’s assistant.
The company also launched the Google Home IDE, which provides a simple way to code and test the Google Home ecosystem. With Matter, it won’t be necessary for basic functions, but for easy onboarding, better QA, and advanced features this will be useful. Finally, Google launched the Google Home Mobile SDK, which will provide a seamless linking capability between an onboarded device and the Google Assistant on the Android phone.
Po said that all of these SDKs are optional for developers, and while he expects many to use them, companies building something like a basic Matter-compliant light bulb or a low-cost outlet may not need or want them.
It’s a little disconcerting to see Google’s emphasis on software development kits designed to extend the Matter protocol because it indicates how much developers may still have to tweak their apps and code for individual smart home platforms — something Matter was supposed to help with. But I think it’s even more disconcerting that we still haven’t heard much from Amazon about how it plans to implement Matter, nor have we seen any related developer tools from the company. Even Apple has been downright chatty about helping developers understand how it wants to work with Matter.
It’s possible Amazon just wants to wait until the Connectivity Standards Alliance formalizes the Matter specification. It’s also possible that Alexa will work with Matter devices, but that Amazon isn’t going to put a lot of effort into helping those focused on Matter build the best Alexa experiences. And that would be a loss for consumers and a blow to the promise of the standard.