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What is the Matter? Smart home standard explained

Apple talked a lot about the new smart home standard Matter during its WWDC 2022 keynote, but what exactly is it? Here’s all you need to know.

Matter is a new protocol and project designed to make it easier for devices to communicate. With support from Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung, among others, it’s got a real chance of succeeding where other attempts have failed. Here’s everything you need to know about Matter.

What’s the problem at the moment?

Today, the big problem is that it’s not always easy to connect devices together. Want to have your Nest Thermostat turn on when your Ring Alarm turns off? Tough, Nest doesn’t work with Alexa in that way and Ring won’t work with your Google Assistant system. The problem goes on and on, and often the most simple jobs are thwarted by compatibility issues between different systems. That’s what Matter is designed to solve.

What does Matter do?

Previously known as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP), the project is now known as Matter. Rather than a brand-new protocol that only new devices will use, Matter is a connectivity standard that will make it easier for devices to communicate with each other regardless of who makes the products.

As the official website puts it, the Matter “​​industry–unifying standard is a promise of reliable, secure connectivity. It is a seal of approval that devices will work seamlessly together – today and tomorrow.”

It’s built to remove those siloes, where one smart home system can connect to one set of products, and another system can connect to a different bunch of products. For us, it means that we’ll be able to buy any product that’s Matter certified and then control it in the way that we want, whether that’s via Alexa, Apple HomeKit or Google Assistant.

Matter defines a communication standard that will run over IP (the protocol that powers the internet). This certification states how devices can be communicated with and discovered, making interaction between devices from different brands easy.

How will Matter communicate?

Initially, the first version of Matter will use Wi-Fi and the new Thread mesh network for communication using Bluetooth Low Energy for commissioning. However, in the future, Zigbee devices will be able to communicate, and the Zigbee Alliance is part of the Matter group. It seems likely that Z-Wave will join in, too, as will any future smart home protocols.

Can you voice control Matter devices?

You sure can. As the Matter website states, “Matter makes it easier for device manufacturers to build devices that are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and others.’

Will only new devices support Matter?

New devices will support Matter, but the good news is that older products can be firmware updated to support the new standard. In fact, Google has said that the Nest Thermostat will be upgraded to support Matter, which should mean you could control it via Alexa or HomeKit.

As the standard roles out, expect lots of current devices to get firmware updates to make them compatible.

Who is involved with Matter?

Matter is an alliance of technology companies all shooting for the same goal: Smart home simplicity. The three key players are Amazon, Google and Apple, but Samsung has already promised its own SmartThings platform will be compatible with Matter. More than 170 other companies are also involved with the scheme, some of which you can see below.

Matter smart home companies

The “collaborative breakthrough” is also working closely with the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly known as the Zigbee Alliance) to ensure those standards are met. Across all of those companies and the products that they make, there’s going to be hundreds of Matter-compatible products at launch and the number will keep growing.

When will Matter be available?

Matter was originally slated to be available in late 2021, but it’s now been delayed until 2022. According to the team behind it, they need more time finetuning the software and checking compatibility because interest had been so great. As a result, Matter will come as a series of updates.

This will include software updates to applications, such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa and SmartThings in order to build in support for the standard. Apple has announced that the Home App in iOS 16 will get a fundamental redesign, both in terms of its interface and the underlying technology. However, as iOS 16 will be out before the official launch of Matter, there will be a further update that turns on Matter support. This update is slated for Autumn, with a final date to come closer to the time.

Firmware updates will also be required for existing devices to make them Matter compliant. Again, as we get closer to the official launch, we’ll have more information about which devices will get support, and how that will be delivered.

It’s about time smart home users’ lives were made easier

I wanted to do something fairly simple: turn off my Ring alarm and Arlo cameras when my Yale smart lock unlocked; then do the same in reverse when the door locked. Can I do, yes? Was it easy, no? I have to use a combination of SmartThings, IFTTT, HomeKit and the HomeBridge add-on to achieve this task, which is frankly ridiculous. Matter should make life easier, making devices work with each other. In future, when we buy devices, we won’t have to think about which systems they work with, they’ll just work with all systems and we can choose the systems we want to use.

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