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The ideal smart home seamlessly anticipates your needs and instantly responds to commands. You shouldn’t have to open a specific app for each appliance or remember the precise voice command and voice assistant combination that starts the latest episode of your favorite podcast on the nearest speaker. Competing smart home standards make operating your devices needlessly complicated. It’s just not very … well, smart.
Tech giants try to straddle standards by offering their voice assistants as a controlling layer on top, but Alexa can’t talk to Google Assistant or Siri or control Google or Apple devices, and vice versa. (And so far, no single ecosystem has created all the best devices.) But these interoperability woes may soon be remedied. Formerly called Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP), the open source interoperability standard known as Matter is finally here. Some of the biggest tech names have signed on, like Amazon, Apple, and Google, which means that seamless integration may finally be within reach.
Updated October 2022: Added news of the Matter 1.0 specification release, the certification program, and some additional details.
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Matter promises to enable different devices and ecosystems to play nicely. Device manufacturers need to comply with the Matter standard to ensure their devices are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and others. For folks building a smart home, Matter theoretically lets you buy any device and use the voice assistant or platform you prefer to control it (yes, you should be able to use different voice assistants to talk to the same product).
For example, you’ll be able to buy a Matter-supported smart bulb and set it up with Apple Homekit, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa—without having to worry about compatibility. Right now, some devices already support multiple platforms (like Alexa or Google Assistant), but Matter will expand that platform support and make setting up your new devices faster and easier.
The first protocol runs on Wi-Fi and Thread network layers and uses Bluetooth Low Energy for device setup. While it will support various platforms, you’ll have to choose the voice assistants and apps you want to use—there is no central Matter app or assistant. Overall, you can expect your smart home devices to be more responsive to you.
What Makes Matter Different?
The Connectivity Standards Alliance (or CSA, formerly the Zigbee Alliance) maintains the Matter standard. What sets it apart is the breadth of its membership (more than 550 tech companies), the willingness to adopt and merge disparate technologies, and the fact that it is an open source project. Now that the software development kit (SDK) is ready, interested companies can use it royalty-free to incorporate their devices into the Matter ecosystem.
Growing out of the Zigbee Alliance gives Matter a firm foundation. Bringing the main smart home platforms (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings) to the same table is an achievement. It is optimistic to imagine a seamless adoption of Matter across the board, but it has enjoyed a rush of enthusiasm with a range of smart home brands already signed up, including August, Schlage, and Yale in smart locks; Belkin, Cync, GE Lighting, Sengled, Signify (Philips Hue), and Nanoleaf in smart lighting; and others like Arlo, Comcast, Eve, TP-Link, and LG. There are more than 280 member companies in Matter.
Matter has been in the works for years. The first release was due in late 2020, but it was delayed to the following year, rebranded as Matter, and then touted for a summer release. After another delay, the Matter 1.0 specification and certification program is now finally ready. The SDK, tools, and test cases are available, and eight authorized test labs are open for product certification. That essentially means you can expect to see Matter-supported smart home gadgets going on sale as early as October 2022 after they’re certified.
The CSA says the last delay was to accommodate more devices and platforms and ensure they all work smoothly with one another before release. More than 130 devices and sensors across 16 development platforms (operating systems and chipsets) are working through certification, and you can expect many more soon.
What About Other Smart Home Standards?
The road to smart home nirvana is paved with different standards, like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Samsung SmartThings, Wi-Fi HaLow, and Insteon, to name a few. These protocols and others will continue to exist and operate. Google has merged its Thread and Weave technologies into Matter. The new standard also employs Wi-Fi and Ethernet standards and uses Bluetooth LE for device setup.
Matter is not a single technology and should evolve and improve over time. It won’t cover every possible use case for every device and scenario, so other standards will continue to develop. The more platforms and standards merge with Matter, the greater its potential to succeed, but the challenge of making it all work seamlessly also grows.
Will Matter Work With Existing Devices?
Some devices will work with Matter after a firmware update. Others won’t ever be compatible. There’s no simple answer here. Many devices that currently work with Thread, Z-Wave, or Zigbee should be able to work with Matter, but it’s not a given that they will get upgrades. It is best to check in with manufacturers about specific devices and future support.
The first specification, or Matter 1.0, covers only certain categories of devices, including: