What is Matter and why is it crucial for the future of smart homes?

Smart tech expert Britta O’Boyle explains why Matter matters for the smart home future:

Smart home tech has boomed over the last decade, but there’s still a huge frustration among consumers who adopt various elements, whether that’s smart thermostats or smart lighting –incompatible devices.

Smart bulbs might be working perfectly, but the smart stat refuses to cooperate – or requires a separate system. It’s a scenario that’s all too common for those on the smart home path. But all is not lost. The time is coming when smart device installation is something you can really stand behind, and Matter is an essential part of the journey.

Matter of fact

Matter is a unified standard that officially launched in 2021 after starting out in 2019 as Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP). It aims to revolutionise the smart home. Some of the biggest companies in the world (and those that also provide a range of smart home devices) like Apple, Google, Samsung and Amazon collaborated to create this standard with the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly Zigbee Alliance) to eliminate compatibility woes.

If devices have the Matter logo on the box, they should interact seamlessly regardless of brand. Forget hubs and bridges, Matter works with existing standards like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (for initial pairing), simplifying the connection between the products that make up a smart home.

Matter also works with Thread, a networking protocol that connects different products from different brands without the need for a hub, and it uses AES encryption for security. Thread can already be found in various smart home devices, including Google’s Nest Wifi, Amazon’s Echo (4th generation) and Apple’s HomePod mini. Its low-power mesh technology means that if one device within a smart home goes down, the rest can still operate.

Think of Matter as the translator for smart home devices. The devices you’re installing speak different languages, but Matter bridges the gap, enabling communication and automation regardless of manufacturer. This interoperability means consumers can mix and match devices, creating a truly customised smart home with devices that work in harmony with each other.

Why Matter matters

The beauty of Matter for both consumers and installers of smart home products is that there’s no need for a dedicated Matter hub. Instead, devices like smart speakers, digital displays and routers can become what are effectively Matter controllers which commands, automations and remote access run through.

Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung have all already updated some devices to become Matter controllers. If a customer has any compatible products, they are well on their way to having a smart home that’s closer to the ideal rather than a mess of different apps and systems.

These Matter controller devices also double up as a Thread bridge, allowing other protocols, like Zigbee or Z-Wave, to be supported. Users probably don’t want to know what happens under the hood of these products –they just want things to work – and this all works towards that, delivering a better smart home experience overall. Matter is a little like a duck – calm and contained above the surface, but working furiously beneath.

Heart of the Matter

Matter is supported by a huge range of devices, including lighting and electrics, heating and cooling, locks and security devices, windows and blinds, and TVs and speakers. Huge smart home players like Amazon, Apple, Google, Philips Hue, iRobot, Logitech, Aqara and Panasonic are among over 600 companies on board, ensuring extensive compatibility.

Matter 1.2 launched in October 2023 and there are now more than 17 device types, which include recent additions such as refrigerators, room air conditioners, dishwashers, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, air quality sensors, air purifiers and fans. These join the original types that included light bulbs, light switches, plugs, thermostats and HVAC controllers, meaning the entire home is now covered. Over 1,200 devices have been Matter certified, which is a significant increase on the 190 compatible devices Matter launched with in 2022.

The ecosystem is growing rapidly and many companies are updating existing products to embrace the standard. The Philips Hue Bridge, for example, now supports Matter, allowing consumers with older Philips Hue bulbs to join the Matter party.

Bridges or hubs compatible with both Matter and other standards can connect legacy devices too, meaning early adopters of the smart home aren’t penalised if they want to have newer products installed in their home and have them all work together.

A Matter of time

Matter is changing the smart home landscape rapidly. With its focus on interoperability, security, and reliability, it promises a future where devices work seamlessly together, finally fulfilling the true capabilities of smart homes.

It might still be a couple of years off, but there are plenty of reasons why the future of the smart home relies so heavily on Matter. The fact that it is designed to work alongside existing smart home standards like Z-Wave, and with existing technology standards like Wi-Fi. That manufacturers can implement support with a software update rather than having to launch new hardware – although they may do that anyway – all works in Matter’s favour.

As the ecosystem expands and existing devices are updated, Matter is poised to become the standard for connected homes – simplifying lives and allowing smart homes to realise their potential.

A host of exhibitors at InstallerSHOW offer Matter-compatible devices. Register for your free ticket to this year’s event here