My entire house is “smart:” I remotely control when lights turn on and off, when plants get watered, when humidifiers and air conditioners turn on, and even what I listen to as I go to sleep. There are few things as satisfying for an ‘80s kid as speaking commands into the air and having stuff magically happen. But there’s a problem: All these devices use different standards. As a result, you end up with various hubs throughout your house, tons of apps, and devices that can be onerous to set up. A new technology standard for smart home devices, Matter, is seeking to change that. Here’s why it’s important.
What is Matter?
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No one company services all of your smart-home needs. My lightbulbs are from Philips, my plugs are from Meross, my watering system is from Hunter, and my air conditioners are from Midea. In some cases, these products require you to purchase a separate hub from them, which acts as the controller, and almost all have an app you need to download as well. They use a few different connectivity standards like Zigbee, Z-wave, Ha-low and others, and no one standard dominates the market share.
Once the products are up and running, you can simply add them to a home control hub, like SmartThings or Google Home (and, in limited cases, Apple HomeKit or Alexa). The majority of the time, you interact with the home control, so you don’t need to think about the jumbled spaghetti of tech underneath it, but you still need all those random apps on your phone and extra hardware hanging out in your house. When your power goes out, it’s notification chaos, and it’s an extra hurdle when shopping to ensure the device you’re buying uses a standard that’ll be accepted by your home control hub.
In a Matter standard future, there are no separate hubs and apps—just one accepted standard used by everyone. No more having to decide between Apple or Google for home control: You can use whatever you want. The universality of Matter means you choose one home control hub and stick with it, aggregating everything else to it. Most importantly, any company can build a Matter home control hub, and it will work with all Matter devices. The devices work over wifi, ethernet and Thread, but you may need a bridge for Thread. (Some Matter home control hubs have that bridge, but some don’t—yet.)
Additional benefits of using Matter
Matter devices should work even when your internet is down by operating on your local network. This is a big deal. While most smart devices can also be operated manually (you can flip the switch and the light goes on, or turn on your air conditioning by hitting a button), homeowners often bury switches and such away and rely exclusively on the smart features. In a Matter setup, scenes and automations will continue to run.
Is Matter ready to go?
Matter 1.0 was released last year, and since it’s a technology standard, features and support will be expanded incrementally. The first release covered some basic smart devices and commands for lights, switches, etc. Version 1.1, released this past spring, fixed some bugs, and made it easier for developers to work with, but didn’t expand the device list. That said, the roadmap includes the entire range of devices, with the next set to expand to home appliances like vacuum robots, washers, dryers, and refrigerators.
The best part? Almost all the major players in this space have agreed to sign onto this standard, and it seems to be universally accepted. Ring is the only major company that hasn’t signed on, and while most security device producers are committed to Matter, it’s going to be a whole journey to reach compatibility. Here is a list of all currently compatible devices.
What about all my existing devices?
All the devices that currently exist fall into a few categories:
- Devices that will receive software updates via wifi that help it conform to the new Matter standard.
- Hubs will be updated (instead of the devices on them), which means that the devices will work with Matter, but you can’t ditch the extra hub.
- There’s speculation that Zigbee devices might also be able to get updates.
- All other devices will still continue to work with their existing systems. It’s expected that Bluetooth devices will fall into this group.
While that last one sounds like a bummer, it’s really not. First, you’re likely to continue using the same home control hub you already are, like Apple HomeKit or Google Home. Everything will continue working with it, the way it always has, and you may be able to ditch the extra hubs and apps for any devices that update. You’ll just have to hold onto the ones that don’t.
As you acquire new products, you won’t have to add new hubs or apps. As devices age out, you’ll replace them with Matter-compliant devices. Eventually, your whole system will be made up of Matter devices, everything working together in harmony.
Your house and phone may get to lighten up from a few existing hubs and apps in the future, but any new devices shouldn’t need that additional hardware and software, as soon as that device group is supported by Matter. Don’t buy new smart devices unless they have Matter support baked in, and check to see if existing devices can receive a Matter update. In those cases, if every device on a hub is updated, you can try ditching the hub and app.