What is Matter and how will it affect your smart home?

Everything you need to know about the tech formerly known as Project CHIP

What is Matter?
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If there’s been one problem with the rise of smart home tech over the past 10 years, it’s that devices don’t always like talking to each other.

Even with the introduction of user-friendly smart speakers from Amazon, Google and Apple that could also act as hubs, not all smart home devices were supported, so you could end up with bulbs that did work but a thermostat that didn’t.

Matter wants to change that.

So what exactly is Matter?

Matter started life in 2019 as Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP), a collaboration between some of the biggest player in tech; Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, the Zigbee Alliance, and various other tech brands, which aimed to create a unified smart home standard.

If you're not familiar with the Zigbee Alliance, it itself is pretty much a who's who in the smart home world with the likes of Ikea, Legrand, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify, Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian all involved - so the new project really does cover a massive spectrum of the market.

The idea was that this would make it easier for manufacturers to develop products that work both with all three major voice assistants and also each other.

Consumers would be able to pick up two smart home products from two different brands and as long as they both had the relevant logo on the box the buyer would know they were compatible.

Back in May, the name was changed to Matter, while the Zigbee Alliance was rebranded as the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which sounds much less like a collective of heroic bumble bees. Shame.

matter router

How does Matter work?

Rather than introducing any entirely new technology, which would slightly defeat the object of being a unifying force, Matter uses only existing standards: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy for initial pairing, and Thread – a relatively recent networking protocol that connects products from different brands without the need for a hub.

Like Zigbee and Z-Wave, Thread can connect all your devices together in a giant mesh. Unlike Zigbee and Z-Wave, Thread doesn't require a smart home hub to connect them.

Explainer: What is Thread

So far, Thread has been built into Google’s Nest Wifi and Nest Hub Max, the HomePod Mini and the new Apple TV 4K, and various products from Nanoleaf and Eve, but Samsung, D-Link, LG, Eero and Tado are among the other names set to come onboard.

As well as making things simpler and improving interoperability, Matter also wants to make the smart home more reliable and more secure – and the inclusion of Thread will be key to that.

Its low-power mesh technology means that if one device in the network goes down the rest can carry on functioning, plus it uses AES encryption, which is backed-up by banking-standard, public-key cryptography.

The list of devices that Matter will cover is pretty exhaustive – lighting and electrics, heating and cooling, locks and security devices, windows and blinds, and TVs are all included – and the line-up of alliance members and participants reads like a who’s who of the tech world: Huawei, Oppo, Logitech, Xiaomi, iRobot and Panasonic are just some of the names on the 159-strong list. In short, it should have your whole smart home covered.

matter smart home device

What about existing kit?

This very much depends on the manufacturer and the device, but some companies have already come out and said they will update their existing products to support Matter.

Philips Hue, Yale, WiZ and Nanoleaf will do so, as will Google with its Nest Thermostat. Apple’s iOS 15 will support Matter too, so it should just be a case of updating your iStuff when it’s released in the autumn.

The fact that Matter works with existing tech standards (and can be implemented with a simple software update) should help on this front, although the inexorable march of capitalism teaches us that many brands are likely to use Matter compatibility to flog you new stuff instead.

Does it have any rivals?

With Zigbee and Samsung’s SmartThings part of the Matter family, that leaves Z-Wave as its main competitor – and the Danish tech has quite the head start.

Z-Wave went live way back in 2001, when the idea of a smart home was still the stuff of sci-fi to most people, but there are now over 100 million Z-Wave devices in use worldwide, with over 3,300 Z-Wave-certified products available to buy.

While Z-Wave isn’t on Matter’s list of partners, the outbreak of a good old-fashioned format war seems unlikely. “It's incorrect to think that Z-Wave is sitting on the other side of this,” Mitch Klein, Z-Wave’s executive director, told The Ambient back in April. “We are actually in communication and working with them.”

Phew.

matter smart light bulbs

When will we see Matter logos on smart home kit?

Compatible products were due to start appearing before the end of 2021 but that has now been delayed.

Google also announced at its I/O keynote back in May that one of its first steps would be to allow Google Assistant to control Matter-certified devices, whether you’re using an Android phone, smart speaker or smart display.

With Apple’s iOS 15 also bringing Matter support to iPhones, you could soon be able to control your Nest Thermostat via Siri for the first time ever.

But all of this is now not likely until 2022.

TAGGED    smart home

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