The ideal smart home seamlessly anticipates your needs and responds instantly to commands. Do not open a specific app for each device or remember the exact voice command and voice assistant combination that launches the latest episode of your favorite podcast on the nearest speaker. Competing smart home standards make operating your devices unnecessarily complicated. It’s just not very… yes, smart.
Tech giants try to cross-border standards by offering their voice assistants as a controlling layer on top, but Alexa cannot 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 that may be changing. Formerly known as Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP), the open source interoperability standard known as Matter will finally launch later this year. Some of the biggest tech names have signed on, like Amazon, Apple and Google, which means seamless integration can finally be within reach.
You may also want to read our guides to the best smart speakers or the best smart lights and our guide to setting up your smart home.
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Matter promises to allow different devices and ecosystems to play well. Device manufacturers will adhere to the Matter standard to ensure that their devices are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and others. For people building a smart home, Matter should allow you to purchase any device and use the voice assistant or platform you prefer to control it.
The first protocol runs on Wi-Fi and wired network layers and uses Bluetooth Low Energy for device setup. Although it will support different platforms, select the voice assistants and apps you want to use. There is no central Matter app or assistant.
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, the willingness to adopt and merge different technologies, and that it is an open source project. Once the software development kit 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 solid foundation. Bringing the major smart home platforms (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home and Samsung SmartThings) to the same table is an achievement. While optimistic about imagining a hassle-free adoption of Matter across the board, it has enjoyed a rush of enthusiasm with a wave of smart home-brands signing 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 and LG. There are more than 240 member companies in total.
Matter has been going on for years. The first release was to be released in late 2020, but it was delayed until the following year, renamed Matter and then announced this summer. Now it has again been delayed until the fall. There is always the possibility of further delays.
The CSA says the latest delay was to accommodate more devices and platforms and ensure that they will all work smoothly with each other before release. More than 130 devices and sensors across 16 development platforms (OSs and chipsets) are working through certification, and more will come this fall.
If the specification comes in the fall, more companies can apply for Matter certification, and we could see the second wave of smart locks, smart bulbs and safety sensors in time for the holidays. Provided the release goes well, we expect several other smart home brands will climb aboard.
What about other Smart Home standards?
The road to smart home nirvana is paved with various standards, such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, Samsung SmartThings, Wi-Fi HaLow and Insteon, to name a few. These protocols and others will continue to exist and function. Google will merge its thread and weaving technologies into matter. The new standard also uses Wi-Fi and Ethernet standards and uses Bluetooth LE for device setup.
Matter is not a single technology and should be developed and improved over time. It does not cover all possible applications for each device and scenario, so other standards will continue to evolve. The more platforms and standards that merge with Matter, the greater the potential for success, 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 will never be compatible. There is no single answer here. While many devices currently working with Thread, Z-Wave or Zigbee should be able to work with Matter, it is not a given that they will get upgrades. It is best to check with the manufacturers about specific devices and future support.
The first specification, or Matter 1.0, only covers certain categories of devices, such as: