What is Matter, and why the new smart home standard should matter to you

What is Matter, and why the new smart home standard should matter to you

Ecosystem lock-ins aren’t always bad, but when it comes to smart homes, the landscape is messy. Currently, there are different standards, countless brands, and even platform plays like Alexa, Google Home, and HomeKit. It seems everyone wants a piece of your home, but rarely does all this tech play nicely together.

That’s why Matter, er, matters.

There are ways and means of making all your smart home tech work sort of together. You can go all in on Alexa, for example, allowing Amazon’s assistant to act as the go-between. But you can’t use something that supports Alexa with something that supports HomeKit and not Alexa. Projects like the excellent Home Assistant exist to get you some of the ways towards a cohesive smart home, but it’s not the most consumer-friendly solution.

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Matter is, apparently, just around the corner and it should completely change the smart home landscape for the better. Here’s the brief rundown on the what, the why, and hopefully the when.

So what is Matter?

Apple announces new Matter standard

Currently, there are different protocols, standards, and companies doing their own thing in the smart home space without much thought to supporting others. Matter is the smart home industry’s big play to come together behind a single standard, making for better interoperability between hardware. It was formerly known as Connected Home over IP (CHIP). Matter is also designed to be open, so you can pop along to its GitHub repository and have a nose around for yourself.

Matter truly is a joint effort to unify the industry with over 170 different brands involved including the biggest names. Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung, Philips, Huawei, and even Zigbee, are all involved in Matter. Google is one of the biggest drivers alongside Amazon, and Apple has committed to full HomeKit integration into Matter. It isn’t an entirely new protocol though, instead focusing on being a connectivity standard to make it easier for devices to communicate.

Right now you can’t directly communicate a HomeKit device with something such as an Amazon Echo. The cloud can do some of the lifting, but the idea behind Matter is that all these devices will “just work” together natively. Your HomeKit sensor could trigger your regular old Wi-Fi light bulb, for example. Or your Ring doorbell could trigger an action on your Google Nest hardware. Or that’s the plan at least. This is how Matter is described on its official website:

Matter is a unifying, IP-based connectivity protocol built on proven technologies, helping you connect to and build reliable, secure IoT ecosystems.

Products from companies supporting Matter should all operate seamlessly with each other. Until Matter actually launches we won’t see how easy (or not) it is, but the theory is sound.

Support for hardware old and new

Google Home supporting Matter

Matter won’t just apply to new hardware, either. Some, not all, existing hardware may well be updated to support Matter. Amazon, for example, will be updating the latest Echo devices. Likewise, Google’s Nest products will support Matter, too, going right back to the original Google Home speaker. Samsung has also committed support to its SmartThings ecosystem. Likewise, you would expect a good outlook for current HomeKit devices.

Because Matter is being developed as an IP-based connectivity standard, there is more scope to backport it to existing hardware. In theory, if a smart home device can connect to a wireless network it could be compatible with Matter.

You shouldn’t presume that all your existing hardware will be updated to support Matter, but there’s also a good chance it might.


How will Matter work?

Fast Pair Android TVs, Chromebooks and Matter devices

Initially, Matter will use Wi-Fi and the Thread protocol to connect between devices. Thread is a low-power wireless protocol that creates a mesh network and allows devices to talk to each other. It’s already in use in some of the most popular products out there, including the HomePod Mini and the Google Nest Hub Max. To you, it won’t really matter, you shouldn’t see any difference in the end result. But it shows how Matter is embracing already established technology to make everything work a little easier.

Bluetooth Low Energy will also be a part of Matter to help with commissioning. Future plans seem to include making Matter and Zigbee talk to each other as well, with the Zigbee Alliance already involved in the cooperation. Zigbee isn’t an IP-based protocol, so there’s work to be done on making it talk to Matter.


Why should Matter matter to you?

From a consumer perspective, we’ve seen glimpses of how setting up Matter-enabled devices could be getting improved. Google’s Fast Pair feature in Android is set to be updated to add support for Matter. It looks like a HomeKit-esque setup process could be in order, where simply scanning the QR code on your smart home device will initiate a swift setup process.

Existing voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant will still be a hands-free way to interact with Matter devices. Apple is also completely rebuilding its Home app for Mac and iOS, with Matter support to be a part of that once the standard has officially launched. All-in-all, this will vastly simplify the process of building and maintaining a smart home, with consumers no longer needing to be bogged down by compatibility issues between their devices, in an ideal world.


When will Matter be available?

The $64,000 dollar question. Right now everyone is told to expect Matter in the latter portion of 2022. Beyond that, there is nothing much to go on. Once it gets the go-ahead you can expect to see a slew of new products, alongside updates for existing ones.

The good news is that you don’t really need to wait. Assuming you buy from a company committed to supporting Matter you can get going at any time and everything should fall into place after launch.

About author

Richard Devine
Richard Devine

Editor at XDA, I've been covering tech for over a decade from mobile to gaming and everything in between. Direct enquiries to [email protected]

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