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What is 'Matter' and what does it mean for your smart home?

Smart devices from Amazon, Apple, and Google may soon play nice.

Smart bulbs Credit: Connectivity Standards Alliance / Reviewed / Rachel Murphy

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To date, smart home devices haven't all played nicely together. Currently, if you want to fully kit out your smart home with the latest and greatest tech, you first have to check whether each and every new smart plug, lightbulb, video doorbell, and so on is compatible with the smart technology you already have. Otherwise, you could find yourself managing and controlling your devices from half a dozen different apps.

A new alliance among smart home devices makers may change all that with Matter. Matter is a forthcoming protocol that will let you mix and match Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit, and Google Home products, among others and—if all goes to plan—control them from one hub and one app.

What is Matter?

A door lock and smart bulb are among the products that work with Matter, a new smart home alliance
Credit: Connectivity Standards Alliance

The Matter logo will be displayed on products that work with the smart home alliance.

Matter is an open-source interoperability system that many smart home device makers have agreed to use as an industry standard for their products. The potential result is a more seamless experience for customers when it comes to buying and integrating smart home devices, as well as increasing security and reliability among the internet of things (IoT).

While some products made by different companies can already work together, the experience is not always stellar. For example, if you want to control a few smart light bulbs with an Amazon Echo device, you might not be able to access all the settings for your lights via Alexa voice commands or the Amazon app. Depending on the brand of bulbs, you might need separate apps for each one to reach all the features and options. With Matter, everything would be streamlined. That's the hope, anyway.

Additionally, Matter could help smaller companies create new products to assure they work with all the other smart home devices and hubs. And because Matter is open-source, no one owns it, so there are no licensing fees associated with using it either.

This collaboration isn't wholly new. It's largely built on previous work done by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly known as the Zigbee Alliance). A previous iteration of the effort was called Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP). The big news as of late is that the three most significant companies in this space, namely Google, Apple, and Amazon, have announced that they're on board.

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What does Matter mean for you?

If you have a smart home, Matter could make it easier for you to shop for products, set up new products, and manage your devices. It could also give you the freedome to choose the products and features you want, rather than what’s compatible with what you already have. Instead of making sure that every new smart home item you buy works with Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or whatever your preferred hub may be, you can instead simply look for the Matter logo. Any product with that logo should be able to integrate with most smart homes and apps.

Another advantage is that your smart devices might require less maintenance. For example, currently, when you run a firmware update on a device, you might find that you need to reconnect it to your hub. That shouldn't be necessary once Matter comes into play, with a rollout expected sometime in 2022.

Which smart home devices work with Matter?

Amazon Echo (4th gen) smart speaker sits on a wood table
Credit: Reviewed / Sarah Kovac

Most Amazon Echo speakers and displays will support Matter, including the fourth-generation Echo (pictured).

As mentioned, Amazon, Apple, and Google have all announced that their smart home hubs will be compatible with Matter. While those are the most prominent companies, more than two dozen companies have signed on so far.

Some companies that have joined will be familiar to smart home users. Others are less well recognized because they don't make products that you see advertised, but rather essential components for smart home devices, such as motors, biometric readers, software, and so forth.

Here’s a list of the companies that have announced supports so far are:

  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Assa Abloy
  • Comcast
  • Google Nest
  • Huawei
  • IKEA
  • Kroger
  • Leedarson
  • Legrand
  • NXP
  • Resideo (which owns Honeywell Home)
  • Schneider Electric
  • Signify (which makes Philips Hue smart lightbulbs)
  • SmartThings
  • Silicon Labs
  • Somfy (known for its motorized window coverings)
  • STMicroelectronics (also known as ST or ST life augmented)
  • Texas Instruments
  • Tuya
  • Wulian

Will devices I already own work with Matter?

The short answer is probably, but maybe not all of them.

Based on how other new technology rollouts have gone, it would be reasonable to guess that devices released in the last few years will receive updates. Older devices might not be included. Until companies make firm announcements, it's impossible to know for sure.

Amazon has announced that it will send updates to most Amazon Echo devices, such as the Echo Studio, Flex, Plus, Show, and newer Echo Dots. Older devices, including the Echo Tap and first generations of Echo and Echo Dot, will not be updated, according to a report from The Verge.

Are there any downsides?

As much as Matter promises to make your smart home less siloed, you may also encounter limitations in terms of what some devices will be able to do. Will every device with controls be able to maneuver every security camera in your home, for instance? Probably not.

Additionally, smart home devices that use a low-power alternative to Wi-Fi—specifically, Zigbee and Z-Wave devices—will still require a bridge to connect to the network.

Matter could certainly improve smart homes in the future, although the scale of improvements may be minor. The best news is, your smart home shopping experience would at least get easier, which may make smart home technology ever so slightly more accessible for all.

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