This story originally ran on Friday, July 28, 2023 in my weekly IoT newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter here.
Update on Wednesday, August 2, 2023: I spoke with Tuo CEO Sam Gabbay to get more information about what is going on with relation to the button and Amazon’s and Google’s ecosystems. So I have updated the story throughout with more information.
This week, I’ve been testing an attractive smart button from a new company called Tuo. The smart button has a lovely click-feel (a sharp noise and a bouncy pushback) and theoretically works with the Matter smart home interoperability standard. It’s that last part where I am having some trouble.
Tuo is the brainchild of first-time entrepreneur Sam Gabbay, who wanted to build attractive smart home devices with a “minimalist, modern design that fits into your home.” Gabbay created the company in November of 2022 thinking he would want to build HomeKit devices before deciding to use Matter instead. Thus, Tuo is one of the first smart home device companies of the Matter era.
Unfortunately, Matter may not be ready for a startup to place all of its bets on the ecosystem. When my button arrived I was impressed by the heft (there’s a metal mounting plate that provides weight) and the click-feel. The button was expensive at $34.99, but also in range with the Flic buttons ($29.99), the Hue smart button ($29.99), and other buttons I’ve purchased.
But it doesn’t work on all of the advertised platforms. I tried multiple times to get it loaded as a Matter device using Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and SmartThings as my controllers. With Google I managed to get the device all the way through the pairing mode, only to have the connection fail after I selected a room and named the device. Gabbay told me he’s working with Google on the issue.
With Amazon Alexa, I was able to get to the point where it tried to pair onto the Thread network before it failed. I completed a hard reset of the Tuo button after each failed attempt. Update: Gabbay said that neither Google nor Amazon support generic switches, which would allow this button to work on those platforms. He is taking the “Works with Alexa and Works with Google badges off of the box as a result.
With SmartThings, I did manage to get the device paired and working. The button uses Thread to communicate, so latency is negligible, and the performance consistent.
I plan to use the button to control some Matter/Wi-Fi smart plugs in our combo office/guest bedroom to shut off the electronics that light the room at night. Currently you have to crawl under a desk to turn off the surge protector and unplug another device. Then you have to go to another surge protector and turn it off. It’s a lot of moving all over the place, so a single button press would be a massive improvement.
With this use case, latency isn’t really an issue and the Matter capabilities are irrelevant, but I do like that Gabbay has built a company that aims to use Matter to appeal to the widest smart device-buying audience. Originally, he created Tuo with a plan to build a nice-looking HomeKit-enabled smart lock because he was struggling to find one in stock.
Then as he worked on the lock, he learned about the Matter standard, and after a meeting with Chris LaPré, head of technology at the Connectivity Standards Alliance, he decided to join. To get a product out quickly, he decided to build the simplest Matter product he could think of — a smart button.
The button will be followed by a contact sensor and then by the lock. The company relies on the Matter ecosystem for the software for the button, and Gabbay said that over time he might add an app or services as Tuo releases products that could benefit from them. But for now, the focus is simply on beautiful smart home devices that just work.
I do wish that mine would just work for me. The fact that it doesn’t feels like a knock on both Tuo and Matter. It also exposes some of the challenges a company that hopes to rely solely on Matter might face as it builds out products. As a user, if everything worked as intended, I’d love the fact that there isn’t an app to turn to.
But with the button not working, I was frustrated trying to figure out how to reset the device and how to generate new pairing codes after a failed attempt. In order to control the button, you need to have connected the button to something. This isn’t the first struggle I’ve had getting a Matter device on my network, so I don’t know if the fault lies with the Tuo button or the general challenges we’ve seen with Matter.
Update: Gabbay says that his frustration isn’t with Matter, but with the uneven implementation of Matter by the smart home platforms. “When Matter works across the entire spectrum of platforms, it really is a beautiful thing,” he said. “From the platform side, if you are going to have a smart home hub and be in the smart home space, you should support smart buttons. They are such a simple device, it should just be native.”
It almost doesn’t matter, because no normal consumer will tolerate this level of frustration. With Tuo, Gabbay is betting everything on the standard, so I’m curious to come back in a few months with a new Tuo device to try the experience again.
Tuo is based in New York City, and builds and designs the hardware itself. The company is bootstrapped, with nine employees, and Gabbay said that he was surprised by the demand for the smart buttons. Look for more products, and maybe a working button, in the near future.