Nobody likes wasting money and the constantly shifting smart home landscape can give you the feeling that you’ll be left holding the bag. The Matter smart home initiative looks to bring order to the Wild West of smart home products.
Why People Are Reluctant to Adopt Smart Home Gear
While there are small frustrations that come with smart home experimentation, like your voice assistant interpreting your command to turn something off as a request to play a Spotify playlist instead, the biggest frustration comes from the lack of interoperability, the cost of buying into smart home platforms, and, all too, replacing smart home gear.
So if you’ve been reluctant to jump feet first into the smart home market, we can hardly blame you. By the very nature of the work we do here at How-To Geek we’re early adopters of technologies big and small—including all sorts of smart home tech—and we can certainly tell you it’s not always a smooth experience.
Outside of the smart home market, the majority of things we use in our homes are extremely standardized and interoperable. You can easily hook up some old speakers you scored off Craiglist to your stereo receiver, for example, because speaker cables and connectors are well hashed out.
In the same vein, swapping lightbulbs out is simple because the vast majority of residential light fixtures in the United States use the familiar E26 “standard” light bulb socket. If it fits, it works. And it doesn’t matter if the bulbs are made by different companies or if the company that makes the bulb didn’t also make the switch in the wall or the circuit breaker panel in the basement.
That “it just works” experience is the baseline expectation we all have when interacting with our homes, but it doesn’t usually work out quite that way with smart home tech. Instead, the last decade of smart home has been less like the ease of flipping a switch and more like the agony of getting stuck on the wrong side of the Betamax/VHS format war. Multiple times.
Even after years of developments and advancements in the smart home market, the experience is still messy, and far too many people are left with products that either don’t talk to each other at all or only work together through a patchwork of workarounds and their willingness to use multiple apps to manage everything.
Something has to change and, later this year, it will.
How Matter Will Reduce Smart Home Friction
If you read through the last section and it sounded exactly like your experience, either because you’ve been holding off on investing in smart home gear or you have invested and it’s been frustrating, there’s hope for you in an upcoming smart home protocol, Matter.
Matter is a smart home connectivity standard announced in 2019 as a joint effort between the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which includes Amazon, Apple, Google, and Comcast. Since then, hundreds of other companies and organizations have joined in like Samsung, Huawei, IKEA, Lutron, and more. The first Matter-certified products should begin shipping at the end of 2022.
You might not immediately think of Amazon, Apple, and Google as the type to cooperate on something but their smart home platforms, Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, are collectively the face of the smart home movement. Fragmentation and lack of interoperability make consumers skittish and that hurts the entire industry.
They, and every other smart home company that has joined in, have serious incentives to smooth things out and get you invested in the smart home experience. Here’s how Matter will help cure the fragmentation problem and significantly remove friction from the experience of installing and using smart home gear.
Matter Will Allow You to Expand on Demand
With the Matter standard, you’re no longer left researching whether the product you want is a “Works with Alexa,” “Works with the Google Assistant,” or a “Works with Apple HomeKit” product.
The goal of the Matter initiative is to create a smart home world where Matter is as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi. Nobody grabs a device off the shelf at Best Buy and thinks “Well I hope this works with the kind of Wi-Fi I have at home.” We’ve all grown used to just adding whatever device we want to our home network because Wi-Fi standards are well ironed out at this point.
Once Matter launches, you’ll do the same with smart home gear. Look for the logo, take it home, and with a step or two on your phone and simple Bluetooth exchange with the device it’ll be a part of your smart home system.
The days of seriously contemplating switching your entire smart home platform just to get the product you really want into your smart home will be over.
Matter Is Backwards Compatible
Anybody who has been dabbling with smart home long enough knows exactly how frustrating it is when the Next Best Thing comes along renders all your existing gear obsolete.
The folks behind Matter have gone to great lengths to create something that will siphon up as much existing smart home gear as possible. New products will be compatible by design and older products can be brought into the new smart home ecosystem via updates or by a Thread border router—a device that serves as a bridge between the Thread low-power mesh communication found in an increasing number of smart home products and the rest of your home network.
To that end, when Matter launches many existing products will be updated to serve as Thread border router. Products like Amazon’s current generation Echo speakers, Apple’s HomePod Mini speakers and the Apple TV 4K, Google’s Nest Hub (2nd gen.) and the Hub Max, and other devices like the Eero Pro and Eero Pro 6 mesh system, will all get software updates that enable them to function as border routers in your Matter smart home.
So if your current smart home product uses Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or Thread to communicate there is a good chance it will work with Matter. And if it doesn’t, there will likely be either a manufacturer-created or third-party bridge that will help bring it into the Matter ecosystem. The Philips Hue Bridge, for instance, will be updated in place to work with Matter whereas other companies, like Belkin, will release new inexpensive bridges that support Matter and bring all their older hardware into the ecosystem.
Matter Control Is Local
Right now whether an interaction in your smart home is local or cloud-based is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer and how they designed the particular product you’re using. Bouncing a request off of a remote server introduces lag and creates significant issues in the event of network disruptions.
Maybe that’s not a deal-breaker for you, living on the edge of smart home tech adoption, but there’s a good chance your spouse or kids don’t love the experience.
Matter shifts device control to the local network which offers significantly faster response times. Couple that with the shift towards Thread-based smart home control and making adjustments to your smart home becomes as instantaneous as flipping a light switch on.
Matter Unifies the User Experience
Currently, control of smart home devices through a uniform interface is a bit kludgy. There’s a variety of issues that can crop up ranging from syncing the state of a smart home device to accessing specific features. It’s not uncommon for many people to do broad control of their smart home through a particular dashboard but then still need to open up individual apps to access certain features.
In other cases, the two ecosystems might not even talk to each other so you’re left with a dashboard that handles 80% of your smart home needs and then a handful of apps you open to do certain things or set certain schedules.
Matter features a core element called “Multi-Admin” that lets you easily add products into the Matter system while linking them together in a way that works not just for you, but also for everyone else in your household. Everyone can interact with the different elements of the smart home the way that makes the most sense for their needs without a mess of apps, logins, and headaches.
Matter Lowers Costs for Everyone
Ultimately, one of the best things about Matter isn’t going to be the fancy under the hood protocol stuff that the average user is never going to dig into, it’s going to be the savings.
Across the board, everybody saves when systems become streamlined. You, the end-user, are going to save money because you’ll need to buy fewer products to achieve your smart home goals (and you’ll be replacing those products very infrequently once they become a part of your Matter smart home). Starting your smart home from scratch because a new product came out and your old platform doesn’t support it will be a thing of the past.
Further, companies big and small in the smart home market will be able to trim their costs and focus their energy on making interesting and useful things instead of devoting time to continually keeping up with multiple concurrent smart home standards. A product that might not have made it to the market five years ago because supporting multiple platforms was too costly might now have a chance because it can plug right into the Matter ecosystem.
We don’t know about you, but we’re pretty excited to not just save some money but also see even cooler and more diverse smart home products.
There’s still a bit of waiting left to do as the Connectivity Standards Alliance continues to refine Matter and manufacturers across the globe adopt and integrate the standard, but we’re more than a little bit excited about the future of smart home Matter offers.