(Pocket-lint) – If you’ve ever wondered why some smart home devices work with one another but not all, you’ll want to know about Matter – the latest wireless interoperability standard with the potential to shake up the industry.
In the works since 2019, with companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Zigbee at the heart, the protocol known as Matter has now formally launched.
The big names behind it have started certifying their products, and that inevitably has a knock-on effect for consumers.
So, what exactly is matter, what companies are on board, and what does it mean for you? We explain all.
What is Matter?
Matter is a new smart home interoperability protocol launched by the Connectivity Standards Alliance – a collection of the industry’s biggest players. Over 170 companies are involved, with Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Google and the Zigbee Alliance being the most prominent names.
So, why did they do it – what’s the point? Well, the smart home market has historically been a little messy.
Customers need to make sure dedicated hubs can link up with the right peripheral devices, and also make decisions about which devices work for their home based on which assistant and ecosystem they’re already embedded in.
It’s the equivalent of not being able to shift between a games console to play the same game, or being trapped into a music streaming platform because of your built-up library.
The smart home is a friendlier battlefield than those areas, though, which is why these companies have decided to make the whole system easier for both manufacturers and consumers.
The goal of matter, then, is to be an interoperability protocol with standard data models that ensure smart home devices can work across different ecosystems. So, an Amazon Echo Show display should hypothetically be able to work as seamlessly with a Google Nest doorbell as it does with its own Ring offerings, for example.
What will happen to Zigbee, Z-Wave and Thread?
If you’ve never realized it before, your existing smart home devices are all connected via the current dominating forces – Zigbee and Z-Wave. This pair, along with plenty of other, smaller radio protocols, as well as Bluetooth, won’t just suddenly stop connecting your devices now that matter is emerging.
However, given the Zigbee Alliance’s role in Matter’s creation – and, by proxy, the Zigbee wireless standard – it’s very likely it continues to develop alongside and perhaps even merge with Matter at some stage.
Z-Wave’s future is more interesting to observe. And, while it may not appear to be an active participant in Matter, it’s still involved to some degree.
“It’s incorrect to think that Z-Wave is sitting on the other side of [Matter]we’re not,” Mitch Klein, the Executive Director at Z-Wave Alliance and Director of Strategic Partnerships, Silicon Labs, told The Ambient in 2021.
“I’m not going to get into some of their challenges, because we all have them. But CHIP is focused on IP. Show me a device that can use IP on a battery. Avoiding that rabbit hole, just saying that it’s not just Z-Wave, it’s also Zigbee that needs to develop some type of communication pathway to CHIP, and therefore we are actually in communication and working with them.”
Thread, meanwhile, is another radio protocol that’s set to hand out certifications for some Matter-approved devices. We’ve detailed the nature and benefits in our complete guide to Thread, but expect it to play an increasingly important role as Matter develops further.
How are Google, Apple, Samsung and Amazon involved?
Matter has been spearheaded by these large smart home brands and each of them play a big role in what this means moving forward.
Google was one of the first to outline its plans in detail – even before Matter launched. As part of a blog post in spring 2021, it revealed that all Nest displays and speakers will be updated to enable them to control Matter-approved devices. That means Google Assistant will be able to control any device with the Matter stamp on it.
At Google I/O 2022, the company revealed exactly which devices are being updated to become Matter controllers, allowing them to connect to all Matter products and be controlled by the Google Home app, Google Assistant and Android smart home controls. The devices set to get the update include the original Google Home speaker, Google Mini, Nest Mini, Nest Hub (1st and 2nd gen), Nest Hub Max, Nest Audio and Nest Wifi.
Newer devices with support for Thread, like the Nest Wifi, Nest Hub Max and Nest Hub (2nd gen), will become Thread border routers, allowing you to connect to devices built with Thread throughout your home.
Interestingly, Google also noted that the Nest Thermostat will support Matter (meaning that, hypothetically, owners would be able to have the device controlled by a different smart assistant), although there was no word on the same for the older Nest Learning Thermostat.
Google will also be supporting Matter through Android phones and will allow Matter products to be paired “as easy as connecting a new pair of headphones” thanks to Google Fast Pair technology.
Not one to be upstaged by Google, Amazon is initially upgrading 17 Echo and other connected devices to work with Matter, with a further 13 to follow soon after, including its Eero mesh network.
“From the beginning, it’s been our goal to make Alexa compatible with as many smart home devices as possible – regardless of the protocols on which they’re built,” wrote the company’s director of smart home, Marja Koopmans, in a blog post
Apple has been vocal about Matter integration, too, saying that it’s going to be supported in iOS (from iOS 15 on), meaning you’ll be able to use the Home app to manage your Matter devices. Support for Matter accessories within the Home app should mean more flexibility in how you set up your smart home and how seamlessly it all works together.
Samsung has been a very keen party, and notes that the hubs in its SmartThings platform are being upgraded to support Matter. The standard will be able to act as a controller for its smartphones, TVs and smart appliances.
What happens to existing smart home devices?
The all-important question, then, is what this actually means for you and your smart home.
We’ve been over how Matter should simplify the decision-making around ecosystems and new devices, but what about your existing devices? Are they getting support?
Well, while many have already announced certification (over 190 products), for others, this really depends on their hardware. Fairly new devices that run via Wi-Fi or Thread should upgrade to Matter reasonably easily, either via a software update or through a bridge.
However, a fair few devices – especially older ones – appear unlikely to be upgraded individually, given that IPv6 carries a heavy software burden that for the majority of products. The silver lining for these devices is that the hubs they communicate through are more likely to be upgraded or bridged to matter.
For example, Signify – the company behind Philips Hue and WiZ – is updating old and new Hue gear to work with Matter via the Hue Bridge. This will be in the form of a software update in Q1 2023.
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Smart lighting maker Nanoleaf also recently announced that it will be bringing Matter support to both current and future devices.
And, as we detailed in the section above, Google will also bring support to the Nest Thermostat, but not older versions of the device.
Long story short, any smart home devices that won’t receive an update to provide Matter support will still likely be active for a good while yet and work as they currently do.
Should you wait to buy new smart home gadgets?
So, we’re currently in the awkward period before Matter’s full rollout. It has been announced but will take a few months to a year to hit most products. Consumers may be wondering whether or not to press ahead with smart home purchases or wait, therefore.
When we asked the Connectivity Standards Alliance’s CEO Tobin Richardson on the Pocket-lint Podcast in January 2022, he suggested that customers continue to dive in and build up their smart homes.
“The important part is getting the experience you want today,” he said.
“I’m looking at a couple of new thermostats for our house right now. They aren’t Matter enabled, obviously, because it’s not out just yet, but we know that they’re Wi-Fi based – or the company has indicated that their products will be updated. Go out and get the one that makes sense for you. A lot of this will be worked out by the companies themselves, in terms of software updates.”
In addition, many products from the likes of Amazon, Philips Hue and Nanoleaf have now been confirmed as coming with Matter support. You can find out more on the official Matter certified products webpage.
Writing by Conor Allison. Editing by Rik Henderson.