If you know where to look, the Matter smart home protocol is already here. At the IFA show in Berlin which took place this week, Eve Systems is showing off its sensors interoperating with other Matter-compatible devices, while Google has a sign-up sheet for people to access Matter as part of a private developer preview program. If you can get access to that SDK it’s likely you could run Matter in your own home before the official launch.
I also just got a notice from Shortcut Labs, the maker of Flic smart buttons and a connected dial, that its second-generation buttons and its Flic Twist product would support Matter. This was terribly exciting to me because it opens up a new world of devices that I can control with my Flic buttons, likely without needing to go through IFTTT, like I currently do for certain use cases.
None of this should come as a surprise. Back in March, the Connectivity Standards Alliance, the organization that controls the Matter protocol, said it would delay the release of the standard until the fall. It’s not quite meteorological fall, which occurs on the autumnal equinox, but it is technically September.
In the meantime, I’ve heard from a dozen different sources that the plug fests and testing events held over the summer went really well, with most devices interoperating and needing only a few tweaks. This is great news for those of us who have been eagerly waiting for Matter since it was first announced in December of 2019.
Matter was created to address the interoperability challenges of the smart home. The last decade has been full of frustration for users as they wondered whether their Nest thermostat would work with their Alexa speaker or their Eve sensor might work with their Hue light bulbs. The answer to the first one was yes, and the answer to the second one is no, unless you’re running it through HomeKit. You can see why people were hesitant to spend hundreds of dollars on these gadgets.
With the full standard expected some time this month, it’s probably time to clarify what Matter will and won’t do. For example, Matter is only going to cover a small subset of devices at first. Big devices that aren’t covered include video cameras, video doorbells, appliances, and robotic vacuum cleaners. It will also likely cover a small set of use cases as part of the data models associated with individual devices.
For example, devices such as light bulbs might share state, light level, and color using Matter, but not full-on scenes. In other cases, a smart plug might share state, but not electricity usage, with Matter devices. We’re going to talk about some of this during the panel I’m hosting at Silicon Labs’ Works With event on Sept. 13. (Silicon Labs is a sponsor, but this panel will be essential for anyone who cares about Matter.)
I also have some concerns about how easy it will be for developers to build for Matter and have it work seamlessly with Google and Alexa. Both tech firms have additional programs and SDKs that developers will want to use to troubleshoot their device integrations with each digital assistant, and also to implement additional functionality associated with setting up a device to work with voice assistants.
And when it comes to troubleshooting, I’m curious how consumers will be able to find problems in their Matter smart home and assign those problems to the right vendor to fix. For example, if I have a Matter light bulb that turns on with Google, but not Alexa, is the issue with Amazon or the light bulb maker? For more complex routines, finding broken links could be even more frustrating.
So while I am really excited to be able to take my Flic 2 buttons and have them work with more devices, I’m also preparing for some inevitable glitches as the technology rolls out at scale. Maybe I should sign up for that private beta to see what works and what doesn’t.