Now that the official Matter rollout has come and gone, more and more new devices will start to support the multiplatform standard. So too will some older smart home products, with software upgrades. If you were a bit casual or cute with your device-naming approach, you might want to revisit those names before they start being shared with things like voice assistants and apps.
So let’s talk about how to name devices. First things first: I don’t know about you, but no one in my family is what you’d call an early adopter. And because they don’t get excited about new technology, I need their buy-in if I want them to use something like a smart home device. To get their buy-in, I first get their input — especially when it comes to device naming.
Take the Hue Play Light bars behind the television. I would have been inclined to simply name them “TV left” and “TV right.” However, my wife and daughter, knowing that the bulbs add synchronized ambient color behind the TV, preferred “Color Bulb left” and “Color Bulb right.” So those were the names the bars were given. I subsequently put both lights in a group so they work together with a single voice command, “Color on,” and now everyone is happy.
I took the same approach when it came to naming rooms in our house. We have two main rooms on the first floor, plus a dining room and a kitchen. Most people would name the two main rooms “Living Room” and “Family Room,” respectively. But my wife and daughter weren’t sure which name to use for the room where they spend the most time, to which they typically gravitate and watch television.
After a short conversation, they decided to use “Family Room” for the one that contains the TV and sofa because that’s the room where we as a family sit, chat, and watch television together. I’m the primary user of the room off the kitchen; it’s where I sit on my recliner and code, read, or watch streamed content on my iPad Pro 12.9 tablet. So we all agreed to let me call that the “Study.”
As you will have noticed by now, I also employ a second strategy. I urge everyone in my family, including myself, to name devices based on what they are and, often, what they do.
For example, I have a WiFi-enabled reading lamp that works with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. I initially used it on my desk in the upstairs office, so I gave it what I thought was the most appropriate name: “Desk Lamp.”
However, I later moved it to a small side table near my recliner downstairs, where I read books on an e-Ink tablet. Obviously, it’s not a desk lamp anymore, so I changed the name to “Reading Lamp.” That name not only signifies what the device is but what I use it for.
My naming convention is further illustrated with some additional examples. We call the garage door “Garage Door,” the outside light near the front door “Porch Lamp,” and my wife’s new smart kettle “Kettle.”
Names that are specific to a device’s function, usage, and location are ideal for older devices as well as new Matter devices. But what’s especially nice about Matter is that once you change the name of a device using one of your Matter-supported smart home apps, the name is then replicated across all Matter controllers. And that’s super helpful. After all, you don’t want to ask Alexa to turn on the “Reading Lamp” but have to later ask Siri to turn the same device on with a different name, such as “Desk Lamp.”
I verified this capability recently with the TP-Link Tapo Smart Plug with Matter support. I initially added it to my house using Google Home. It appeared in my Apple Home app right away. Then, as part of my test, I changed the name from “Matter Outlet” to “Tapo Outlet” in Apple Home. As soon as that name change was complete, it filtered through to the Eve app.
However, the experience wasn’t perfect.
That name change should have also filtered through to my Google Home app. It did not, which left me with the dreaded situation of Siri knowing the plug as “Tapo Outlet” and Google Assistant thinking its name was still “Matter Outlet.” I attribute this to the early days of Matter, which clearly still has some challenges to overcome. You may run into this problem, too, and end up throwing your device naming strategy out the window in the process.
In my case, the fix was an easy one. But I didn’t come up with it right away. First, I unlinked my Tapo account from Google Home and then relinked it, hoping that would solve the issue. No such luck. Only then did I manually change the name to “Tapo Outlet” in the Google Home app. Should I have to do this? No. However, it’s a minor inconvenience compared to the much larger one of having a single device with multiple names.
I imagine that eventually this issue will be resolved, and that Matter device names for one ecosystem will automatically be consistent across all of them. But until that happens, you’ll want to pay closer-then-usual attention to your smart home apps when adding or modifying a Matter device. Even before that, be sure to check in with anyone you share your home with to ensure the names being chosen work for everyone.
JD Roberts says
At our house, where we are three adult housemates, and have lots of friends and other people coming over, our savior for all of this was Alexa groups.
Alexa allows you to put the same device into multiple groups, so you can have as many different names for the same thing as you like. Hugely helpful.
For example, there is a small room in our house. One of us calls this the den, one of us calls it the study, and one of us calls it the office. We all know which room anybody means whichever of these they say, and we could force ourselves to use the name which is less natural, but we don’t have to. And we certainly don’t have to take a vote on what to call it.
We just set up three Alexa groups: study, den, and office, then put the devices in that room into that group.
Instant household harmony. Now everyone can say what is natural to them, and everything just works.
We also do this for things like “air conditioning“ versus “air conditioner“ where people may not even realize they say it differently, but they do. Instead of making, the people become more disciplined in what they say, we just create an Alexa group with the variant.
So, since matter will allow us to eventually use multiple controllers with the same devices, you can, if you want, take advantage of Alexa’s more flexible grouping architecture with any of your matter compatible devices.
Just another option.
Stacey Higginbotham says
This is great. Thanks JD
R Martin says
As this is an article about naming for a “Matter” smart world, how does this Alexa grouping work across homekit, google, etc? Or is this a solution for a single assistant?..
Google does “smart” grouping so if you name things consistently like Mainfloor bathroom, mainfloor hallway, mainfloor kitchen then you can use phrases like “Turn off the mainfloor” and it will turn off everything on the mainfloor, or you can say “Turn on kitchen” and it will turn on the kitchen without needing to say mainfloor. Not sure how this translates to other assistants through Matter though.
The article itself only briefly touched on how matter propagated names, but was a good guideline for setting up names that work (and hopefully propagate across assistants). I wonder if Google’s “Sync Devices” command would have solved that sticky name for you..
JD Roberts says
At this stage, Matter only shares the physical device characteristics between Matter controllers, and the initial name. Scenes, groups, and rooms are NOT shared: you have to set those up individually in each app that you want to use. Since the Alexa names I mentioned are group names, they are not shared with any of the other apps at this time. The main thing is that since matter would allow you to control the same device from, say, both Apple Home and Alexa, you could use Alexa as the voice interface to allow for multiple names for the same device, while using Apple Home to create your rules. Your choice.
Matter specifically does NOT define a standardized User Interface (“UI”) and likely never will – – that was one of the agreements among the founding members to help get the big companies on board. They would still be able to create market differentiation through their own app’s features and presentation. Matter only standardized how one device talks to another: not how the human sees information about the device.
So it’s a little confusing to talk about naming conventions with regard to Matter to begin with, since there isn’t a common UI. It’s really about choosing the user interfaces that will work best for your household. Including the voice interfaces. But Matter should greatly simplify this particular customization choice, since you’ll be able to use any of several apps in any of several voice assistants with the same device, something which has been much more challenging without matter.
(At our house, we did try the Google assistant voice interface, but found that it continually got the groupings wrong because it was selecting them for itself. If we had Michael’s bedroom and JD’s bedroom, and somebody said “turn off the bedroom“ it was quite likely to turn off the lights in both of those rooms, which wasn’t what we wanted. The Alexa interface lets you put one device into multiple groups, and you are doing that yourself as a manual process. Yes, it’s a little more setup, but much more control. So it worked better for us.)
R Martin says
So how did you solve the “Turn off the bedroom” turning off both rooms with Alexa?
We have a google assistant device in most rooms (Lenovo Smart clocks in the bedrooms) and with room placement GA has been smart enough to only turn off the lights in the room you are in when you say “Turn off the lights”, or if you are in a bedroom and say “turn off the bedroom” it will turn off the bedroom you are in, or “Turn on the reading light” will turn on the reading light in the current room. But if you say ALL with it, then it will turn off all the bedrooms, or all the reading lights.
And when I say “Goodnight” it responds with “Turning of 68 lights”, sets the temperature down, turns on the outside lights to 50% and closes the blinds.
The issue I still struggle with is getting multiple ecosystems to understand that each has a connection to the same device. So I have smartthings (mostly depreciated for me), HomeAssistant, Homekit (so my apple watch can control things) and Google Home. Google Home is connected to my Hue and Lutron hubs, and so is homekit, homeassistant and smartthings. GA is connected to HA and smartthings. So GA was seeing my hue lights three times (directly, and as presented by smartthings and HA). HomeAssistant has much greater control around true automation, GA is a decent voice assistant and has good displays.
But it ends up being hard to choose best of breed for portions of your smart home, and I am hoping that Matter will slowly resolve this.
JD Roberts says
Agreed— hopefully matter will solve the multiple connections issue at least for some integrations. I also run a lot of different platforms.
As far as the multiple bedrooms turning off at the same time, we did find a practical difference in our home. Alexa would say “ you have multiple devices with the name bedroom, which one did you want?“ Google would just turn them all off.
For us, the former approach is preferable, but choice is good. I know a number of people who prefer Google assistant over Alexa for any of several different reasons. It’s up to each household to figure out what will work best for them.
For us, the Alexa capability of being able to name our own groups and to put the same device into multiple groups has been really helpful. But it might not be of use to a different household.
R Martin says
Having items in multiple groups that you define yourself is definitely an area where Google Assistant lacking.