Two years ago, on the floor of CES 2020, there was a lot of buzz about a chip — not the latest AMD or Intel announcement, but a new alliance of major tech companies that called itself Project Connected Home over IP, or CHIP for short. Its promise was to develop an open-source smart home standard that would make every connected home device work together, simply and securely, regardless of who made them. The buzz was: “That’s never gonna happen.”
Fast forward to CES 2022 (yeah, we all skipped 2021) and Matter — as CHIP is now called — was the darling of the show, with a full dance card and a line of admirers that stretched to the virtual Starbucks.
Practically every smart home device announcement this week had the tagline “and we announce our support for Matter.” Plus, the infrastructure gained significant support. There were new chips designed for Matter, Amazon announced device makers can now add Frustration-Free Setup on their Matter-certified devices with just the Matter SDK— no Amazon-specific SDK required. And Google showed off its own version of a simplified setup, Fast Pair with built-in support for Matter. Both these announcements mean that as developers build new smart home products, all you’ll have to do once you get them home is plug them in and they’ll be ready to go.
“The wave of Matter news at CES from our CSA members is a testament to the hard work that has gone into the development and testing of Matter in 2021,” Tobin Richardson, president of the Connectivity Standards Alliance that oversees Matter, told me during the show. “Hundreds of companies and thousands of engineers are at the heart of this global solution, creating a more open and innovative IoT, and I’m really excited by what is to come in 2022.”
The other interesting announcement was confirmation from Amazon that Alexa will share your smart home with other voice assistants. The main promise of Matter has been cross-platform compatibility, that you will be able to control your smart devices with the app or voice assistant of your choice. Now we’re seeing exactly how that will be done.
Amazon introduced new tools for developers that let them add Alexa as an additional way to control a device already set up in another system. While today you can control, say, a Philips Hue lightbulb with multiple apps and voice assistants, you currently have to set it up with each one individually. With Matter, it’ll be one and done. As a nice bonus, this new capability also adds local connectivity to the device, allowing for quicker response times and the chance to use your devices even if the internet is down.
In all, close to 30 companies showcased their involvement and / or pledged their support for the new smart home standard backed by Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, and others. Many of whom represent a broader slice of the industry — Tuya Smart, an IoT development platform service provider based in China that supports over 446,000 developers with over 1,100 smart home products, said it will support Matter. We also saw a number of new products debut with Thread, one of the main protocols of Matter.
All of this gives us a much better feel for what Matter will bring with it when it finally arrives, it’s currently scheduled for June 2022. But let’s take a step back and assess now that CES is over and we’re faced with a bleak mid-winter before Matter gets here.
It seems like there is significant momentum, minimal in-fighting (that we’ve seen), and a clear directive from the consumer and direction for the manufacturers and platforms: We want smart home products to work together. Now make it happen.
The momentum is big enough that it appears to have convinced the major appliance companies of the world to do the same thing. They went off and created their own alliance aimed at making sure your Samsung dishwasher can talk to your GE Appliances fridge. The Home Connectivity Alliance, announced at Samsung’s CES keynote, was specifically formed to make sure legacy home appliances can move into the IoT future, Yoon Ho Choi of Samsung and president of the HCA told me at CES.
This issue of upgradability of existing devices is still an area Matter has largely skirted and one that it really needs to address. There’s been talk about firmware updates for existing hubs and bridges, and we know that the newer Amazon Echo smart speakers and Google Nest Hub devices have an upgrade path.
But, based on many of the announcements coming out of CES this week, it is looking increasingly like creating a Matter smart home is going to require users buying a fair number of new gadgets. As Mitch Klein of the Z-Wave Alliance told me late last year, “We can’t leave devices behind, or this whole program won’t work. The idea that everyone has to throw everything out and start again is just not going to work.” It remains imperative that Matter doesn’t leave existing smart homes in the dark.
Which will be the lucky lock?
August and Yale committed to making their smart locks work with Matter. Jason Williams, president of August and Yale Real Living, told me they plan to bring the first Matter lock to market when the standard launches in 2022. The company already has one Thread-enabled lock, the aging Nest x Yale smart lock, and is looking at other ways to introduce the technology, says Williams. While he said its Wi-Fi powered August locks won’t be among the first to be updated (Matter over Wi-Fi is only for hard line-powered devices currently, not battery-powered devices), they are actively looking at ways to bring their existing products into the new smart home standard.
Schlage may beat Yale to the punch with its new Schlage Encode Plus lock, the company’s first Thread-enabled product. While the Thread radio supports HomeKit over Thread specifically, Donald Beene of Schlage told The Verge that the hardware is there for Matter. “This will be the first [lock] product with the hardware on board to support something like that, but we still don’t know where those tech specs will land,” he said.
All the lights
If you make smart lights, switches, and plugs, Matter was on your mind this week. Belkin Wemo announced its working on Thread versions of the Wemo Smart Plug, Wemo Smart Light Switch, and Wemo Smart Dimmer that will support Matter over Thread. Cync, the GE Lighting company, told me that its color A19 bulb and light strip will be Matter-compatible over Wi-Fi, and smart lighting company Sengled said that it will have its first Wi-Fi A19 bulb ready to go when the standard launches. Nanoleaf, which has been all-in on Thread for over a year now, confirmed at CES that its mains-powered lighting panels, the Nanoleaf Shapes, Elements, and Lines, will become Thread border routers, initially for Thread over HomeKit but with an eye to Matter-compatibility.
Smart home hubs are still here
While Matter should mitigate the whole multiple hub / gateway / bridge issue down to one teeny little box that’s hopefully also your router, that is going to take a while. In the meantime, we’ve still got hubs galore, and going forward, we will need Matter Controllers to act as remote controls for your home (think Google Nest Hub smart displays, but hopefully better).
There were a few new hubs announced this week, including the new Samsung Home Hub, Samsung has committed to adopt Matter across Samsung devices, so when this smart home controller makes it to the US (it’s launching in Korean in March), it’s likely to be part of that. Aqara, makers of inexpensive Zigbee sensors and decent HomeKit cameras that double as hubs, said it will update its M2 and the M1S hubs, making all compatible connected sensors move over to Matter. It also announced it’s developing Thread versions of its popular motion and contact sensors.
Smart home security camera company Arlo announced its home security system, which is based around its “modular hub.” The word modular has us intrigued, as does the company’s decision to finally join Matter. While we’d love to think this is a sign of cameras coming into Matter sooner (they’re currently not part of the Matter spec), the first product of Arlo’s to get Matter support is more likely to be those spiffy new all-in-one sensors.
Speaking of modular, edge-computing company Veea showed off an intriguing smart home hub that it announced will be Matter compatible. The Veea STAX Smart Hub is a Wi-Fi 6 Mesh router and smart home hub in one, with the option of adding LTE or 5G cellular connection through stackable modules. A smart speaker module with directional mics is in the works, and STAX modules also feature Lutron and Philips Hue bridge tech (among others), along with HomeKit and Alexa compatibility. While the initial launch is targeted at communications companies as a white label SHaaS (Smart Home as a service) solution, the company says it will soon be available directly to consumers.