Given the smart home successes of Amazon, Apple, and Google, I’ve generally considered Samsung to be an also-ran in the consumer IoT space. Yes, I used Samsung SmartThings hardware and software to power my smart home in the past. Yes, it worked. But Samsung’s innovation levels seemed to lag and then it got out of the SmartThings hardware business. Based on what Samsung announced this week at its Samsung Developer Conference, however, I’m having second thoughts. Since leaving the smart home hub hardware business, Samsung is continuing to make all the right moves.
This week’s announcements illustrate the point.
For starters, Samsung reiterated that the SmartThings platform will officially support Matter, the application layer standard that will bring improved device interoperability. Essentially, Matter-compliant devices will work with other Matter devices across any supported smart home platform or voice assistant.
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise as Samsung is one of the founding members of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which is the new name for the original Zigbee Alliance effort, which developed Project CHIP, now known as Matter. Still, it’s nice to hear, considering Samsung, Apple and Google are touting Matter while Amazon has been silent on the matter, er… subject, until recently. This past weekend, Eero, owned by Amazon, said that it would support Matter.
And Samsung brings much to the table when it comes to the Matter standard. The company is integrating its SmartThings platform, and therefore Matter, into “Samsung’s Galaxy devices, televisions, and Family Hub appliances.”
While the big-three platforms certainly sell a large number of smart speakers and displays, Samsung sells an equally impressive number of Galaxy phones, televisions, and appliances. That can help quickly expand Matter support beyond the traditional speakers and displays, bringing a cohesive smart home experience to more consumers. Of course, that is dependent on Matter support for smart appliances, which are not currently part of the protocol specification. However, you should be able to control Matter devices from supported appliances, even without an updated Matter spec.
Speaking of smart speakers and displays reminds of Samsung’s digital assistant, Bixby. Here too the company appears behind its consumer IoT rivals. Let’s just say Bixby isn’t the most loved digital assistant out of the bunch. The company isn’t giving up on Bixby, however. Instead, it’s doubling down in an effort to improve the Bixby experience.
Leveraging what it has learned from having Bixby on more than 300 million Samsung devices, the company has implemented on-device AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) with Bixby. That’s important for privacy reasons as well as for quicker voice interactions: Samsung says Bixby is now 35 percent faster on its newest devices.
The digital assistant is also the centerpiece of a new piece of the SmartThings puzzle: The Bixby Home Platform. Samsung introduced this news to developers so they can better connect voice commands with the SmartThings ecosystem. Samsung says with the Bixby Home Platform “voice commands can now be executed more intelligently, taking into account state and context of various devices.”
Along the same lines, Samsung reiterated news it first announced in August: SmartThings Edge will enable hub-connected devices to execute actions locally. Stacey rightly praised Samsung when this news first landed, saying “This shift puts Smartthings much more in line with some hardcore smart home automation platforms such as Home Assistant or HomeBridge.” Not only will DIY automation experiences improve, but those automations will still work, even if your home internet service is down.
Add it all up and you can see Samsung’s vision.
Without making its own smart home hardware, which is costly and not always profitable without subscription fees, Samsung is still very much a player in the smart home game.
With the compute capability in its phones, televisions, and appliances, it really doesn’t need to produce single-purpose smart home hubs. Instead, the company can use the chips inside its other product lines, along with an extra radio or two when needed, to connect consumers with their smart homes.
This also helps developers because they don’t have to modify or create software specifically for “Samsung’s” version of the smart home. Adoption of the Matter standard nullifies most of that time-intensive work while also expanding the potential audience for their respective brands, products, and services. And although I’m still not sold on talking to Bixby on a daily basis, Samsung is smartly advancing the capabilities of its digital assistant in ways that will benefit smart home owners.
I admit I had my doubts about SmartThings when Samsung hinted at getting out of the hardware business. However, the choices Samsung has made since then, punctuated by this week’s announcements, have given me a new perspective. Samsung SmartThings is here to stay.
Rick Bullotta says
Does Matter matter?
JD Roberts says
Hmmm…I’ve been a SmartThings user since 2014 and and am still active in the community there. And I think most of the power users had a somewhat different reaction than this article when they looked into the details of what was announced.
The following blog does an excellent job of discussing the issues.
The most important thing to understand is that so far Samsung has only announced that the smartthings hub will act as a “controller“ not as a “bridge.“ That’s a huge difference under the matter standard, essentially the difference between a one-way and a two-way matter integration. (The Internet articles saying “Samsung is all in on matter“ would more accurately be written as “Samsung is halfway in on matter.“)
What this all means is that matter-certified devices should be able to show up in the smartthings app, but the smartthings hub with its connected devices will NOT show up in other matter-compliant apps, such as Apple’s Home.
This is in sharp contrast to the Phillips hue hub and the Aqara hub, both of which WILL be Matter bridges, and so many of their attached Zigbee devices will show up in each other’s apps as well as Apple Home.
Want a Zigbee motion sensor that works with Apple Home and Google’s smart speakers? Hue and Aqara will deliver: SmartThings/Aeotec will not. That’s hardly committing fully to Matter.
Not being a Matter bridge means consumers will still buy something with a SmartThings logo and not be sure whether it will work with their smart speaker of choice. 🥺
It’s also annoying that Samsung is announcing that they are going to put “hubs” into their future televisions and refrigerators, but these are also not going to be matter bridges. And they aren’t going to have any smart home radios other than Wi-Fi. No thread, no Zigbee, no zwave. So once again, consumers are going to have to figure out for themselves whether that motion sensor will work with the hub in the Samsung television or whether they also need the standalone hub.
If it’s not a hub, don’t call it one. And it’s not.
So… I am actually less optimistic than I was last week. I had high hopes, as I have written elsewhere, that Samsung was going to step up and offer equal Matter functionality to Apple. But based on this week’s announcements, they aren’t. Lots of marketing speak, but not the same functionality.
I know all of this is getting deep into the technical nitty-gritty, but it is going to make a real difference to consumers, as the motion sensor example shows.
Thanks to JD Roberts for this detailed clarification and explanation regarding SmartThings and Matter! Very helpful and informative.
Kevin C. Tofel says
You’re absolutely correct that Samsung is incorporating Matter controllers. Remember though: Samsung SmartThings is no longer a hardware business for the company. Yes, there are old (what I’ll call “legacy”) Samsung SmartThings lights, sensors, buttons, etc…. But those won’t be upgraded for Matter support anyway. Meaning you’ll need to use the SmartThings software platform to control them, which you can do today.
Put another way: By not making SmartThings hardware, it doesn’t really need to do anything more than Matter controllers.
There is a risk that consumers buy older SmartThings hardware but if they want Matter compliant devices, they should be looking for the Matter logo on those devices. And they won’t find them on SmartThings devices, save for the appliances, TVs, etc…
I’m not suggesting this won’t be an issue for people with lots of SmartThings hardware in their homes. But this transition has been well over a year in the making.
JD Roberts says
Samsung selected Aeotec as its zigbee partner for the US, UK, and Europe. Right now they are rebranded versions of the ST originals.
These devices, like the Aeotec zigbee multipurpose sensor, have both the Aeotec and SmartThings logos on the box. These are brand new models just introduced in the last few months.
But they won’t work with the new refrigerator or television hubs.
And even if you have the newest Aeotec/SmartThings stand-alone hub, the sensor won’t show up in other matter-compatible apps like Apple Home.
The sensor box may not have the Matter logo, but any typical consumer reading blog articles will think SmartThings logo items work with Matter, without understanding the details.
Which is exactly the kind of consumer confusion we have today.
So I stand by my original statement that Samsung went half in on Matter. And I’m still disappointed.
YMMV, of course.
You’ve hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned, JD.
And, as the DMZ article originally cited lays out:
“The only currently existing products that will get a Matter update are the SmartThings hubs. It’s also worth noting that Samsung is integrating Matter as a controller. That means Samsung products will not be exposed to other Matter controllers and a SmartThings hub will not act as a Matter bridge. No Samsung TV, soundbar, Zigbee, or Z-Wave device will be exposed to other Matter controllers like Apple HomeKit.”
That ‘Hub’ being built into future Samsung TVs and fridges? The hub label is a misnomer [and this REALLY grinds our gears]. It doesn’t have any smart home radios like Thread, Zigbee, or Z-Wave. IT’S PURELY A MATTER BRIDGE TO THE SMARTTHINGS CLOUD.” (emphasis supplied)
The promises made about “Matter” went way beyond this.