Smart Home’s Biggest Problem Might Get Better. Here’s What You Need to Know About Matter. – The New York Times

There’s a tradition among electronics companies: With the launch of any new type of product, a years-long battle ensues in which customers are expected to swear brand allegiance to a format or operating system or some other tech specification—all just to get the devices they buy to work right. The smart-home industry has done a bang-up job of following that tired plotline, and as a result, buyers are stuck worrying whether the smart bulbs they want will be compatible with their switches, and their thermostat, and maybe their sensors and smart speakers, too. But a potential savior is on the horizon, a much-ballyhooed “connectivity protocol” dubbed Matter. If all goes according to plan, Matter will make it so that most new, and many existing, mainstream smart-home devices will be compatible with one another and even easier to set up and use—while also being more secure.

If you find terms like “connectivity protocol” to be little more than eye-glazing techno-melatonin but still want to have cool, convenient, energy-efficient devices in your home, here’s the TL;DR takeaway:

  • Matter is really just a bunch of technical standards, so you won’t have to interact with Matter directly—it isn’t an app or other software, it’s just a set of rules.
  • When you install a Matter-compatible device, it will automatically connect to and work with other Matter devices in your home network.
  • If you already use a smart platform and/or smart speaker like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, or Samsung SmartThings, you can still use any (or all) of them to control your smart devices.
  • Most newer devices, but even many older ones, may be upgradable to become Matter compatible, especially those that use a hub, like the Philips Hue line.
  • This isn’t happening tomorrow. Although products that will be compatible have been announced, it’ll be mid- to late 2022 before Matter “goes live,” and possibly later before a wide selection of devices is available.
  • There is a logo, of course, to help you find Matter-compatible devices. This is what you’ll soon see on device boxes:
Matter logo and Matter wordmark.
Image: Matter

What Matter does

Matter is a technical protocol—in other words, a set of agreed-upon standards—that specifies how smart devices connect to one another. It is based on contributions developed by a who’s who of electronics companies, from Amazon and Apple to Z-Wave Europe. The guiding principle of Matter, based in large part on Apple’s HomeKit as well as Amazon’s Frustration-Free Setup, is that it will allow you to set up and connect devices to work together and communicate with one another through any Matter-compatible app without any tedious registration processes, and that it will accomplish this while still maximizing security and reliability.

So you won’t be downloading a special app or having to register anything—if you’re already using Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, or another Matter-compliant platform, you will continue to use your pick of those to manage your smart home. If you prefer using an Alexa smart speaker and setting up Routines using the Alexa app, go for it. But you can also choose to access your devices through Siri or Google Assistant, as well as to create Automations using the companion apps for those platforms. (Note, though, that while you can use any device for a Routine or Automation, you won’t be able to access a Routine created on one platform using another platform.)

The process for setting up a smart device will be familiar to anyone who has used HomeKit. Using either the Alexa, HomeKit Home, Google Home, or SmartThings app (or any other Matter-compatible app), you’ll pair your new device by scanning a code or in some cases simply holding your smartphone nearby. You’ll then fiddle with a few settings to decide what you want to call the device and where it will be in your home. And that’s it—you’ll be up and running.

The plan, according to an executive with the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which is developing Matter, is that in the near future you will be able to simply buy a device that has the Matter logo, and you will no longer have to look at any of the other brand badges to confirm your new device’s functionality. It will, as the saying goes, just work.

What devices will work with Matter

More than 220 companies are involved in developing and testing Matter, including, as we’ve noted, thousands of engineers from the biggest names in tech, so it’s safe to say that Matter’s widespread adoption is a foregone conclusion.

Going forward, you will find products manufactured to be Matter compliant, but some older devices that can have their firmware updated may also be upgraded to Matter compatibility. And a CSA spokesperson noted that devices that rely on proprietary hubs may gain Matter compatibility if the hub can be updated (or replaced with a new hub that is compatible).

As of yet, Matter doesn’t provide potential buyers a comprehensive list of compatible brands and devices, but following are some of the more prominent names that have pledged or already offer devices that are compatible.

  • Newer Amazon Echo, Show, and Studio devices, as well as most Eero devices, will support Matter devices on a network.
  • All HomeKit devices (minus some category exceptions, as we describe in the next section), including iOS, macOS, and iPadOS devices, will support Matter.
  • Aqara hubs
  • Belkin WeMo devices
  • New Eve devices (that are Thread-enabled)
  • GE Cync lighting
  • Google Nest and Android devices (but not all Nest devices)
  • Nanoleaf Thread over HomeKit devices
  • Philips Hue bulbs and lighting
  • Samsung SmartThings Home Hub and Samsung Galaxy devices and TVs

What Matter won’t do (at least not yet)

Matter should go live in late summer 2022, and throughout the year we expect to see the availability of compatible devices continue to ramp up. It is inevitable, however, that many existing smart devices will never be Matter compatible. That doesn’t mean they won’t continue to work as normal: A CSA source confirmed that if you have a device that works with any of the major platforms, you’ll still be able to use that device as you already do—the only difference is that you won’t benefit from Matter’s cross-compatibility or security features.

At launch, Matter devices will be available in most home-use categories, but there will be some conspicuous absences, at least initially. One major omission: There won’t be any Matter devices with cameras, such as smart doorbells or indoor and outdoor security cameras. Smart speakers aren’t an official device type in the Matter standard, though you will be able to use them to set up and control Matter devices. But a CSA representative confirmed that those categories, as well as other types of smart devices—appliances, energy-management devices, and robot vacuums, for example—will be added in near-future Matter updates.

Should you wait to buy?

There is no drawback to having a non-Matter device in a smart-home system so long as it does what you want it to do. Since Matter and non-Matter devices should be able to continue working together going forward, we can’t see a downside to continuing to buy devices as you see fit. If you already have a smart platform you like to use, you will be able to use Matter and non-Matter devices at the same time with no issues.


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