The Connectivity Standards Alliance has certified and released the first version of the Matter smart home interoperability protocol Tuesday and I couldn’t be happier. This means that member companies can now put their devices through the certification protocol and get a badge showing that their products are Matter compliant.
Matter is an application level protocol that will let smart home devices talk to each other no matter their maker or ecosystem. So if a light bulb is Matter-certified it will be able to share a few basic facts about itself to other Matter devices, such as whether it is on or off, its dimming capabilities, color, etc. Matter uses Bluetooth Low Energy for provisioning via a QR code, while it relies on Wi-Fi for high-data rate connectivity and Thread for low-data-rate communications.
Matter is an important standard for the smart home as it will enabled basic functionality for low-level devices including lighting and electrical, HVAC controls, window coverings and shades, safety and security sensors, door locks, media devices including TVs, controllers as both devices and applications, and bridges. It also has a security element that will use certificates to authenticate a Matter device before it joins the network. Matter also requires encryption between device communication in the home.
Also important, Matter lets devices communicate with bridges and controllers locally, which means that your smart home will still work when the internet goes down, and some devices may still have basic functionality even if they lose their cloud connection because the device maker goes out of business. Users are also excited by the multi-admin feature of Matter, which should let consumers with multiple controllers (such as Siri or Alexa) attach devices to their smart home once while sharing control between multiple controllers. As someone who has a smart home with SmartThings, Amazon and Google, this feature will be very helpful.
Those new ease of interoperability and the security that Matter brings to the smart home will be important. However, there is a lot that it won’t do, especially at first.
Originally, Matter was supposed to handle enough elements of provisioning and functionality so users wouldn’t have to download an app. In most cases, users will still need to do so. Additionally, it’s clear that to get Matter out the door without any more delays that the working group has left some of the more complicated use cases for later.
At a panel I moderated last month, Jim Kitchen of Comcast pointed out that for complicated smart home installations the experience might not be that great. I also had plenty of my sources warn me that porting all of my smart home gear to Matter was going to create problems. I expected as much and listed some of the problem areas in this story.
There are 550 members of the CSA participating in the Matter standard development, and this summer 280 companies including Amazon, Signify, Google, SmartThings, and more met up to test their products working together in a series of test events. The people who participated in those testing events were surprised at how well things worked out, but in the run up to the official launch it was clear that Matter would not be the panacea it was touted as back in Dec. 2019 when the standard was first announced.
The pandemic and a ballooning member group led to delays in the standard, while the continued frustration with smart home devices led to Matter becoming both more important in the minds of consumers, and ultimately less relevant as the bare bones functionality that Matter promised was overshadowed by the rise of services. With Amazon focused on delivering ambient intelligence through a software development kit and Google focused on “intelligence clusters” in its own SDK, it’s clear that developers building for the smart home are still going to have to develop for specific ecosystems, even if the low-level stuff is taken care of by Matter.
We’ll also see makers of commodity devices struggle to differentiate their devices and software so as to entice users to download their apps and buy their hardware as opposed to other Matter-capable door locks or light bulbs. So while Matter makes it possible for Eve, a sensor and device company that historically only worked with Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem, to finally work on Android devices, it also means that Eve’s competitors can work with the same ecosystems while offering cheaper devices that may not cover all of Eve’s cool features such as energy monitoring.
However, today is still a good day for the smart home and users should look for devices with the Matter badge in time for the holidays. Already many popular device makers have announced their intentions to support the standard, and those such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Signify and Samsung SmartThings will be quick to market with approved devices.
For more on Matter check out the following stories:
- 5 ways Matter will disappoint users at launch
- A level set on Matter and its future
- Thread gets an update ahead of Matter
- The new Matter details you need know
- Google and Amazon speak very differently about Matter
- What Matter means for digital assistants and the smart home