What Is Matter? We Explain the New Smart Home Standard (2024)

What Is Matter? We Explain the New Smart Home Standard (2024)

The ideal smart home seamlessly anticipates your needs and instantly responds to commands. You shouldn’t have to open a specific app for each appliance or remember the precise voice command and voice assistant combination that starts the latest episode of your favorite podcast on the nearest speaker. Competing smart home standards make operating your devices needlessly complicated. It’s just not very … well, smart.

Tech giants try to straddle standards by offering their voice assistants as a controlling layer on top, but Alexa can’t talk to Google Assistant or Siri or control Google or Apple devices, and vice versa. (And so far, no single ecosystem has created all the best devices.) But these interoperability woes may soon be remedied. Formerly called Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP), the open source interoperability standard known as Matter arrived in 2022. With some of the biggest tech names, like Amazon, Apple, and Google, on board, seamless integration may finally be within reach.

Updated May 2024: Added news of the Matter 1.3 specification release, progress with the major players, a section on what you can do with Matter, and more details on potential functions.

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Table of Contents

What Is Matter?

Matter enables different devices and ecosystems to play nicely. Device manufacturers must comply with the Matter standard to ensure their devices are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and others. For folks building a smart home, Matter theoretically lets you buy any device and use the voice assistant or platform you prefer to control it. (Yes, you can use different voice assistants to talk to the same product.)

For example, you can buy a Matter-supported smart bulb and set it up with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa—without having to worry about compatibility. Right now, some devices already support multiple platforms (like Alexa or Google Assistant), but Matter will expand that platform support and make setting up your new devices faster and easier.

The first protocol runs on Wi-Fi and Thread network layers and uses Bluetooth Low Energy for device setup. While it supports various platforms, you must choose the voice assistants and apps you want to use—there is no central Matter app or assistant. Because Matter works on your local network, you can expect your smart home devices to be more responsive to you, and they should continue to work even when your internet goes down.

What Makes Matter Different?

The Connectivity Standards Alliance (or CSA, formerly the Zigbee Alliance) maintains the Matter standard. What sets it apart is the breadth of its membership (more than 550 tech companies), the willingness to adopt and merge disparate technologies, and the fact that it is an open source project. Interested companies can use the software development kit (SDK) royalty-free to incorporate their devices into the Matter ecosystem. This is much simpler than certifying devices individually with each smart home platform.

Growing out of the Zigbee Alliance gives Matter a firm foundation. Bringing the main smart home platforms (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings) to the same table is an achievement. It is optimistic to imagine a seamless adoption of Matter across the board, but it has enjoyed a rush of enthusiasm with many smart home brands jumping aboard, including August, Schlage, and Yale in smart locks; Belkin, Cync, GE Lighting, Sengled, Signify (Philips Hue), and Nanoleaf in smart lighting; and others like Arlo, Comcast, Eve, TP-Link, and LG.

When Did Matter Arrive?

Matter has been in the works for years. The first release of Project CHIP was due in late 2020, but it was delayed to the following year, rebranded as Matter, and then touted for a summer release. After another delay, the Matter 1.0 specification and certification program opened in 2022. The SDK, tools, and test cases were made available, and eight authorized test labs opened for product certification.

The first wave of Matter-supported smart home gadgets went on sale in the fall of 2022, and we have seen a steady trickle since then. The first update to the specification, Matter 1.1, arrived in May 2023 and consisted largely of bug fixes. Announced in October 2023, Matter 1.2 added support for nine new device types, including refrigerators, robot vacuums, and air purifiers, alongside improvements to existing categories.

The Matter 1.3 specification was published in May 2024, adding energy management, EV charging, and water management alongside support for new devices, including ovens, cooktops, and laundry dryers. It also brought improvements to Matter Casting, so on top of being able to cast from your phone to your TV, other smart devices—like your robot vacuum—can send messages to your TV to warn you if they’re stuck, for example.

It’s important to note that the release of each new specification simply means that the SDK (software development kit) and test procedure are available for developers and manufacturers to integrate with their devices. Unfortunately, the actual integration from big players like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Samsung has been slow. Only Apple’s iOS fully supports Matter 1.2 so far. Google Home currently supports a subset of Matter devices up to Matter 1.2.

We asked the other two about a timeline for Matter 1.2 and beyond, but only Amazon has responded so far saying, “We’re working to roll out Alexa support for more device types and features included in the latest version of the Matter spec. In fact, right now, we’re rolling out support for humidity sensors, ambient light sensors, and fans, as well as Matter Casting to compatible Fire TV devices.”

What About Other Smart Home Standards?

The road to smart home nirvana is paved with different standards, like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Samsung SmartThings, Wi-Fi HaLow, and Insteon, to name a few. These protocols and others will continue to exist and operate. Google has merged its Thread and Weave technologies into Matter. The standard also employs Wi-Fi and Ethernet standards and uses Bluetooth LE for device setup.

Matter is not a single technology and should evolve and improve over time. It won’t cover every possible use case for every device and scenario, so other standards will continue to develop. The more platforms and standards merge with Matter, the greater its potential to succeed, but the challenge of making it all work seamlessly also grows.

What Devices Does Matter Work With?

Some devices will work with Matter after a firmware update. Others won’t ever be compatible. There’s no simple answer here. Many devices that currently work with Thread, Z-Wave, or Zigbee should be able to work with Matter, but it’s not a given that they will get upgrades. It is best to check with manufacturers about specific devices and future support. According to the Alliance, 1,135 unique products, apps, and platforms have passed certification, though not all are available to buy yet. Look for the Matter logo to find compatible devices.

The first specification, or Matter 1.0, only covered certain categories of devices, including:

  • Light bulbs and switches
  • Smart plugs
  • Smart locks
  • Safety and security sensors
  • Media devices including TVs
  • Smart blinds and shades
  • Garage door controllers
  • Thermostats
  • HVAC controllers

With Matter 1.2, nine new categories were added to the list:

  • Refrigerators
  • Room air conditioners
  • Dishwashers
  • Laundry washers
  • Robotic vacuums
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Air quality sensors
  • Air purifiers
  • Fans

Matter 1.3 added eight new categories to the list:

  • Energy management (devices can report usage or generation)
  • Electric vehicle chargers
  • Water management (leak and freeze detectors, rain sensors, controllable water valves)
  • Microwave ovens
  • Ovens
  • Cooktops
  • Extractor hoods
  • Laundry dryers

Sadly, there is still no support for home security cameras and video doorbells.

What Can You Do With Matter?

The functionality supported by Matter is mostly pretty basic for now, limited to on/off, start/stop, and notifications from devices like sensors and smoke alarms. For example, you can turn smart lights on or off and change the brightness and color, turn smart plugs on or off, lock and unlock smart locks, and open and close smart shades.

Matter casting enables you to cast content from supported smartphone apps to TVs or smart displays, though Amazon seems to be the only company using it so far (Prime Video). Matter 1.3 allows multiple clients to connect to a screen, so could be used for multiplayer gaming. It also enables devices like robot vacuums, smart locks, or dishwashers to send notifications, so you might get a pop-up on the TV when the dishes are done. But none of this is available in a device you can buy yet. We hope to see more functionality rolling out soon, but it is up to the platform providers and device manufacturers (see next section).

While the new functions in Matter 1.3 are just potential for now, some are very exciting. Energy management enables devices to report on their energy usage or generation in real time and to track it over time. That could give you much deeper insight into your power usage. Additions like EV charging might allow you to ask Google to charge your car for a set time next morning or to automate charging based on other conditions (solar panels, battery levels, current usage in the household, or even electricity prices). Current systems that allow this are proprietary and often require expensive installations.

Will Manufacturers and Platforms Limit Functionality?

While the big platform providers can see the benefit in a common standard, they are not going to open up full control of their devices to their competitors. There is a gap between the walled garden ecosystem experience and Matter functionality. So far, Matter functionality is limited, and manufacturers are keeping certain features proprietary.

For example, you may be able to turn an Apple device on or off with a Google Assistant voice command, but you will have to use Siri or an Apple app to tweak some settings or access advanced features. Manufacturers signing up to Matter are under no obligation to implement the entire specification, so the extent of support is likely to be mixed.

How Do Smart Home Hubs Fit In?

To achieve compatibility with Matter, some brands, like Philips Hue, Aqara, and SwitchBot, have updated their hubs or bridges. This is one way to sidestep the problem of incompatible older hardware. Updating hubs to work with the new Matter standard enables you to connect older systems, which will demonstrate that standards can coexist. But getting the full potential benefit of Matter will often require new hardware.

The underlying Thread technology in Matter allows devices, like smart speakers or lights, to act as Thread routers and create a mesh network that can pass data, increasing range and reliability. Unlike traditional smart home hubs, these Thread routers can’t see inside the packets of data they exchange. Data can be sent securely end-to-end by a network of devices from different manufacturers.

What Do I Need to Use Matter?

You need a Matter controller and a smart home platform app to use Matter. Any Matter controller can control any Matter device, and you can pick the smart home platform app that suits you best. You likely already have a Matter controller, since most of the smart speakers, displays, and hubs from major players like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung are also Matter controllers. The Matter standard is also built into Android and iOS, so you can use smartphones and tablets to control your Matter devices.

For the best experience with Matter, you need a Thread border router. Some devices are both Matter controllers and Thread border routers, including:

What About Security and Privacy?

Fears about security and privacy have cropped up frequently on the smart home scene. Matter is designed to be secure. The CSA has published a set of security and privacy principles and plans to use distributed ledger technology and public key infrastructure to validate devices. This should ensure folks are connecting authentic, certified, and up-to-date devices to their homes and networks. Data collection and sharing will still be between you and the device manufacturer or platform provider.

Where before you had a single hub to secure, Matter devices will mostly connect directly to the internet. That makes them potentially more susceptible to hackers and malware. But Matter also provides for local control, so the command from your phone or smart display doesn’t have to go through a cloud server. It can pass directly to the device on your home network.

Will Matter Succeed?

Matter is presented as a smart home panacea, but only time will tell. Few, if any, innovations get everything right out of the gate. But there is potential value in seeing a Matter logo on a device and knowing it will work with your existing smart home setup, particularly in households with iPhones, Android phones, and Alexa devices. The freedom to be able to mix and match your devices and voice assistants is enticing.

The reality is sadly falling somewhat short of the promise so far. Setup of Matter devices is easy, but there are issues with multiple Thread networks, and we have experienced glitches when trying to use more than one platform simultaneously to control devices. No one wants to have to select devices based on compatibility. We want to choose devices with the best feature set, the highest quality, and the most desirable designs. Matter is slowly making that easier, but it still has a way to go.


Simon Hill

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