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Matter smart home standard explained: Here's why Google, Apple and Amazon are backing it

Matter smart home protocol
(Image credit: Google)

Matter is an emerging smart home interoperability protocol supported by Apple, Google, Amazon and other major smart home players in the Connectivity Standards Alliance. These companies are collaborating on the platform with the goal of making all the best smart home devices work better together.

While Matter might not matter all that much to most people right now, it’s a big deal for the immediate future of the smart home industry. As a unifying connectivity certification, Matter will allow smart home devices from all different manufacturers to thrive in a singular ecosystem.

Many smart home devices can already cooperate with each other through Alexa, Google Assistant and other providers of multi-device smart home routines. But most users still require several apps to achieve their ideal settings and controls — and still, not all products will cooperate.

Matter should help all these devices play nice with each other. You can expect Matter to roll out soon to the best smart lights, best smart locks, best smart thermostats and all other popular IoT devices. Here’s what that will mean for you, and for your smart home.

What is Matter?

Matter is the name of a unifying connectivity standard that will be supported by a majority of smart home devices in the near future. According to the Matter website created by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, Matter is essentially a "seal of approval" that means smart devices work reliably together.

Built upon Internet Protocol (IP), Matter will enable IP-based networking between both smart home devices and the smartphone apps or cloud services that make those devices useful. At first, devices with Matter support will connect via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to Thread and Wi-Fi networks, although that could change down the line as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology advances.

Which smart home devices work with Matter?

Smart home devices made by Apple, Google and Amazon will all work natively with Matter's protocol. That means speakers like the Apple HomePod Mini, Google Nest Audio and Amazon Echo (4th Gen) will be popular products for hands-free smart home control in a Matter system.

Beyond the best smart speakers, devices from over 100 different companies are already committed to Matter support. You can see the entire list of participants here, but names you’re more likely to know include ecobee, TCL, Wyze, SmartThings, iRobot, Facebook and Signify, the parent company of Philips Hue lights.

That means new smart home devices from these companies will feature a label touting Matter compatibility, the same way they might for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant support. Many existing smart home devices will be able to support Matter, too, so it’s not like you’re going to need to replace your entire setup to be up to par. In fact, Google confirmed a number of the best Nest devices with Thread are ready to become “connection points for Matter devices” at Google I/O.

Matter vs. existing smart home protocols

If you’re familiar with the smart home space, you might know Matter isn’t the first attempt to unite devices. Zigbee, Z-Wave, Samsung SmartThings and all the best smart home hubs are still going strong, but none are the direct result of the major smart home leaders working together.

More importantly, none have caught on enough to make smart home systems as effortless as they’re expected to be. There’s not much new technology involved in getting Matter live — look at it as a rebranding, but with all the companies you care about collaborating to agree on privacy and interoperability standards.

Matter: Outlook

Thanks to Matter, customers won't need to be as preoccupied with shopping for only the best Alexa compatible devices, best Google Home compatible devices or any other assistant-specific product. Instead, any devices you purchase from a reputable smart home brand should simply be prepared to work together. With all the major smart home players involved, Matter will look to inspire trust in filling your house with internet-connected devices.

It’s unclear yet what navigating a Matter-connected smart home system will look like, but a mobile app is reportedly in the works. We'll know more as the Connectivity Standards Alliance gears up to send Matter live. When it does, we're hoping it lives up to promises of making the smart home experience more seamless.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.