This connectivity protocol from Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung, and others promises to make all your smart home devices work together
By Daniel Wroclawski
The way you shop for, set up, and use connected devices in your home is likely to change this fall with the arrival of the Matter smart home standard. It will enable individual devices to work with the smart home system of your choice, be it Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or something else entirely.
“If it succeeds, this new standard will be a huge improvement, and will allow consumers to choose models based on features and price rather than compatibility with a specific system, free from the worry that they may stop working due to inevitable changes in the industry,” says Bernie Deitrick, who has tested a variety of connected devices at Consumer Reports.
Because of these compatibility issues, Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung, and other companies came together through the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), a standards-setting organization for the Internet of Things industry, to create a new connectivity standard—called Matter—for smart home devices. The effort began over two years ago as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) and its supporting companies have grown from a few dozen to over 200.
The goal of the standard is to make all smart home devices interoperable. That means if you buy a product emblazoned with the Matter logo, you can use it with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, or any other ecosystem that joins the standard.
The first version of Matter has been delayed a few times, but it’s currently set to launch in the fall of 2022. The CSA says it expects to start with 130 compatible products from more than 50 companies. And in recent months, many companies—including Arlo, Belkin/Wemo, Comcast, Eve, GE Lighting, and Yale—have announced plans to support the standard.
While the end goal of the Matter standard is simplicity, the questions it raises in the interim are pretty complex. We’ve created an FAQ for consumers. We cover everything you need to know—including the benefits of the standard, the types of devices that will work with it, and its privacy and security issues. We’ll continue to update this FAQ with more information as it becomes available ahead of the standard’s launch.
Why Does Matter, Ahem, Matter?
When you shop for a connected device—say, a smart TV, thermostat, or door lock—you’ll see a number of different badges on the packaging or website description: Works With Alexa, Works With Apple HomeKit, Works With Hey Google, Works With SmartThings.
Each represents a different smart home ecosystem (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, and Samsung SmartThings, respectively) that you can use to connect these devices so you can control them from a single app or smart speaker.
But this seemingly simple approach quickly becomes cumbersome as you build out your smart home. Some devices, such as the Schlage Encode smart lock, work with some systems (Alexa and Google Assistant) but not others. Not all ecosystems offer the same types of devices. For example, large appliances like washers and ovens are supported by Alexa, Google, and SmartThings but not Apple HomeKit. And each subsequent device you purchase makes it more expensive and prohibitive if you decide to change ecosystems in the future.
All these problems go away if Matter succeeds in making interoperability a given for smart home devices.
What Are the Benefits of Matter?
The main goal of Matter, as we’ve said, is interoperability. All Matter-compliant devices will work together no matter which brand makes them. Matter promises three big benefits for consumers, says Michelle Mindala-Freeman, the CSA’s head of marketing: greater choice in the products and ecosystems they can use, a simplified user experience (in terms of setup, security, and more), and lower costs (thanks to greater efficiencies in engineering, manufacturing, and more by not having to support multiple “works with” programs).
“Matter makes it easier for a consumer to experiment and enter the smart home market,” Mindala-Freeman says. “So choice, simplicity, and cost are great for both current users and for new users.”
Another big benefit is that control of devices will happen locally on your home network rather than over the internet, which involves each device manufacturer’s servers. That means interactions with your smart home devices, such as turning lights on or off, should happen much faster and keep working in the midst of an internet outage.
Finally, Matter allows you to control devices from multiple smart home systems at the same time through its Multi-Admin feature. That means you could turn on your lights from the SmartThings app on a Samsung smartphone, dim them by asking Alexa on an Echo speaker, and then turn them off from the Apple Home app on an iPad.
Which Types of Smart Home Devices Will Work With Matter?
At launch, Matter will support lighting products (plugs, bulbs, switches, etc.), door locks, thermostats and HVAC controllers, blinds and shades, home security sensors (such as door and window sensors, motion sensors, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors), garage door controllers, wireless access points and bridges, and televisions and streaming video players.
Future iterations of Matter are expected to add support for home appliances, robot vacuums, and energy management products (such as solar panels, EV chargers, and home battery packs). According to Chris LaPré, the CSA’s head of technology, cameras are likely to be included in a future version, thanks to camera manufacturers like Arlo, Eve, TP-Link, and Wyze joining the CSA, but no formal effort has started yet.
Will Your Existing Smart Home Devices Work With Matter?
It depends. In its current form, Matter supports devices that connect to the internet via WiFi, Ethernet, and a new low-power wireless network called Thread. (The standard also supports Bluetooth, but only for the initial setup of a device.)
If an existing device uses one of those connectivity methods and has enough memory and processing power to support Matter, it could support the standard via a software update. If a device doesn’t use one of those connectivity methods, the manufacturer could create a bridge (or update an existing one) to support Matter.
For example, Signify (maker of Philips-branded lighting products) has announced that it’s updating the bridge for its Philips Hue smart lights to support Matter. But Belkin (maker of Wemo smart home devices) announced that it would be releasing new versions of its smart plug, smart light switch, and smart dimmer switch to support Matter over Thread. Existing Wemo products that don’t use Thread will not be upgraded to support Matter.
Here’s a list of existing devices that will be updated to support Matter: Newer Amazon Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers; all Amazon Echo Flex, Echo Plus, Echo Show, and Echo Studio smart speakers and displays; all Apple devices running iOS 15, iPad OS 15, HomePod OS 15, tvOS 15, and watchOS 15; all Eero Beacon, Eero Pro, Eero Pro 6, and Eero 6 mesh WiFi routers; all Eve devices with Thread; all Google Nest smart speakers and displays; Google Nest WiFi routers; Google Nest Thermostat; all Nanoleaf Elements, Essentials, and Shapes lighting products; Philips Hue smart lights; and Yale Assure smart locks (via a new plug-in module). We’ll update this list as we learn more.
What the Heck Is Thread?
Thread doesn’t have the name recognition of WiFi or Bluetooth, but the relatively new wireless network is likely to play a big role in the future of the smart home. Thread is a low-power wireless mesh network. That means it’s very energy-efficient (helping to preserve the battery life of devices) and creates a network where smart home devices can relay information back and forth for other devices on the network. This extends the reach of the network and keeps it working even if a device goes offline.
Thread devices connect to the rest of your home network (and subsequently, the internet) through what’s called a Thread Border Router, which is a device that acts as a bridge between the Thread network and your home WiFi network. Unlike other bridges and hubs, though, Thread Border Routers can be built into other devices. The following products will, or are likely to, act as Matter-compatible Thread Border Routers: Amazon Echo (4th gen.) smart speakers; Apple HomePod Mini smart speakers; Apple TV 4K (2021) streaming devices; all Eero Beacon, Eero Pro, Eero Pro 6, and Eero 6 mesh WiFi routers; Google Nest Hub Max smart displays; Google Nest Hub (2nd gen.) smart displays; Google Nest WiFi routers; and all Nanoleaf Elements, Lines, and Shapes lighting products.
For a deeper dive into how Thread networks work, see Eve’s approachable explainer on Thread networks.
What Companies Are Supporting Matter?
There are about 220 companies currently in the Matter Working Group of the Connectivity Standards Alliance. We won’t list them all here (for that, go to the Matter website), but we will highlight some of the more notable members. In addition to Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung, and other companies we’ve mentioned, the group includes ADT, Assa Abloy (maker of August Home and Yale smart locks), Ecobee, Facebook, Haier (parent of GE Appliances), Ikea, iRobot (maker of Roomba robot vacuums), Kwikset, LG, Panasonic, Resideo (maker of Honeywell Home products), Roku, Schlage, SimpliSafe, Tesla, and Whirlpool.
How Will You Know If a Device Supports Matter?
For existing products that are updated to support Matter, you’ll probably receive a notice from the manufacturer via email or an in-app notification. Once Matter launches, new products you buy will feature the Matter logo on the packaging or online store listing.
Will You Need a Smart Home Hub?
Yes, but it’s not likely to be a stand-alone hub like in the earlier days of the smart home. Matter hubs—or controllers, as they’re called in the standard—can be built into other devices. For example, Amazon Echo and Google Nest smart speakers will be able to act as Matter controllers. But why stop there? At CES, Samsung announced that it’s building its SmartThings hub software into select 2022 Samsung Smart TVs, Smart Monitors, and Family Hub refrigerators, allowing them to control Matter smart home devices as well.
Will Matter Help Protect Your Digital Privacy and Security?
It will establish a good foundation for security, but how well it will protect your privacy is still a bit unclear. The Matter standard uses blockchain technology, the same tech behind cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, to verify that devices are legitimate and not potential bad actors. The standard also requires all data being transmitted between devices to be encrypted.
“Unless it’s secure, it’s difficult to say that you can exert privacy controls either by the consumer or by the manufacturer in an appropriate method,” says Tobin Richardson, the CSA’s CEO and president. “So our focus mainly right now on the privacy side is to make sure that it is as secure as possible.”
So for now, you should consider the privacy protections of the ecosystem(s) you choose to use to control your Matter devices. For example, Amazon and Google have faced criticism for logging the state changes (turning a light on or off, setting the thermostat temperature, etc.) of every smart home device connected to the Amazon Alexa and Google Home systems, even when you don’t control them from Amazon and Google devices. But Apple HomeKit is designed in such a way that device data can be accessed only from your personal Apple devices, even when stored on Apple iCloud servers.
“We strongly support the idea of interoperability, but in order for consumers to trust it, privacy values really need to be incorporated,” says Justin Brookman, director of technology policy at Consumer Reports. “It’s great if different devices can talk to each other, but if there aren’t limitations on what all those companies can do with your personal data, interoperability actually introduces a lot more privacy challenges.”
Brookman compares it to what happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. “Facebook used to be a lot more open, letting third-party apps collect and use all sorts of data,” Brookman says. “But if there aren’t rules and enforcement in place, bad actors can get access to information they shouldn’t have.”
Why Has Matter Been Delayed?
The Matter standard was first announced as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) in December 2019, just three months before the coronavirus pandemic would sweep the globe. As a result, much of the standard had to be created remotely because the standard’s developers had to work from home (just like many of us). Its first true release date was planned for 2021, but in August 2021, the standard was delayed to the middle of 2022. Then, in March 2022, it was delayed again to the fall of 2022.
What’s behind the delays? Aside from the pandemic, the first delay was prompted by continued work on the Matter software development kit, which companies will use to make their products work with the standard. The second delay was due to continued work to make the standard’s software code as stable as possible and to accommodate more development platforms, which are sets of software and hardware offered by various vendors that allow companies to build new smart home devices. In the end, this should allow more Matter-compatible devices to come to market faster.
What About Z-Wave and ZigBee?
Z-Wave and ZigBee are two somewhat older wireless networks used by certain smart home devices, such as smart locks, sensors, lighting products, and more. For example, the CR-tested Kwikset Obsidian 954OBNZW500 uses Z-Wave. Devices that use either network also require a Z-Wave or ZigBee hub to control them, such as the fourth-generation Amazon Echo, Ring Alarm system, or Samsung SmartThings hub.
Z-Wave and ZigBee devices can’t work with Matter directly, but they could be connected to a Matter system with a bridge. For example, the Philips Hue smart lights mentioned earlier use ZigBee, and their ZigBee hub is being updated to bridge them into Matter. No Z-Wave bridges have been announced yet.
This map shows how WiFi and Thread devices will connect in a Matter network, as well as how Z-Wave devices could be bridged into the Matter network.
Source: Z-Wave Alliance
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