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What is Matter? How the connectivity standard can change your smart home

If you're a smart home user, you may be familiar with 'Matter' but don't quite understand what it does. We'll cover what Matter is and how it affects your smart home products.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Echo Hub

Amazon's Echo Hub is a smart home panel with Matter support.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

What is Matter?

Matter is a relatively new open-source IP-based connectivity standard for smart home technology. The Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), comprised of Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech companies, first announced Matter as a joint project called CHIP (Connected Home over Internet Protocol). Matter runs on Wi-Fi and Thread network layers and uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for commissioning.

Consider that your devices can communicate with each other via Bluetooth -- Matter is another way for devices to connect and communicate. Unlike other connectivity protocols, Matter can be brought to older devices with over-the-air (OTA) updates, giving it far more reach. Amazon, for example, took advantage of this capability a few years ago by updating existing Echo devices to support Matter, and other tech companies followed suit.

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With extensive support across technologies and manufacturers, Matter can let you natively add a SwitchBot device to your Apple HomeKit ecosystem, for example, which wasn't possible before the protocol launched.

Instead of devices listing all their supported home assistants, many now simply come with a Matter logo.

When was Matter launched?

The CSA launched Matter 1.0 on October 4, 2022.

The CSA released Matter 1.1 in April 2023, with incremental improvements, and Matter 1.2, with support for nine new device types, including home appliances, in October 2023. 

The CSA released the latest version, Matter 1.3, in May 2024, adding support for additional major appliances, energy and water management solutions, EV chargers, scenes, and command-batching.

Why was Matter created?

Matter has received plenty of attention in the Internet of Things (IoT) arena since its announcement in late 2019. The CSA, the organization that created Matter and Zigbee, wants to make Matter the connectivity standard for smart homes.

Since smart home devices and hubs started appearing on the market, the lack of compatibility between brands and devices has been a big problem. For years, you had to choose your home automation systems carefully, otherwise you might end up with incompatible devices and have to juggle multiple apps to control your home.

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The CSA aims to change this situation by having Matter diminish interoperability woes in home automation systems.

Tech companies have got involved quickly. Apple's Corey Wang, a producer in Human Interface Design, mentioned Matter during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2022), pointing out the need to have more compatibility across brands in smart home devices for a truly connected home. In 2021, Amazon announced that almost all Echo devices would support Matter and later made OTA updates to existing devices. In 2022, Google added Matter-over-Thread support for its smart home hubs with Thread built-in.

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Many other tech companies have since launched smart home devices with Matter support, including Eve, Switchbot, Aqara, Govee, and Roborock.

What devices work with Matter?

Matter support is available for the basic function of many smart home and IoT devices. The following device types can support Matter, as of version 1.3, released in May 2024:

  • Air conditioners (HVAC and room air conditioners)
  • Air purifiers
  • Air quality sensors (supported sensors can capture and report on PM1, PM2.5, PM10, CO2, NO2, VOC, CO, Ozone, Radon, and Formaldehyde)
  • Bridges and hubs
  • Blinds
  • Cooktops
  • Dishwashers
  • Energy management (energy consumption monitors and devices with energy-reporting capabilities)
  • Electric vehicle (EV) chargers
  • Extractor hoods (cooker hoods and vent hoods)
  • Fans
  • Laundry dryers
  • Light bulbs
  • Light switches
  • Locks
  • Microwave ovens
  • Outlets
  • Ovens
  • Plugs
  • Refrigerators
  • Robot vacuums
  • Security sensors
  • Shades
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Speakers
  • Televisions
  • Thermostats
  • Washing machines
  • Water management devices (leak and freeze detectors, smart valves, and rain sensors)

What is a Matter controller?

A Matter controller is any device or application that controls Matter-certified devices within a network. The controller can be a smart home app, like Apple Home, or a device, like an Amazon Echo Hub.

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Matter controllers let users command devices to perform tasks, like asking your Alexa device to turn smart lights off or on, or using your Google Home to adjust the thermostat. 

How does Matter benefit me?

Matter simplifies the smart home business for both manufacturers and consumers. The standard means you don't have to worry about which brands work together or which devices support a specific assistant when you choose a video doorbell or a security camera.

Matter also allows you to adopt a smart home automation system, like Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, or Google Home, without having to juggle extra apps on your smartphone to control the devices that are incompatible with the system. 

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Aside from universal compatibility, Matter features strong security protocols to protect smart homes from unauthorized access. The standard also makes for a simplified setup of new devices that will get easier over time, with devices being recognized and controlled by existing systems once they join a network.

Matter also makes for a reliable connection in your smart home, reducing the likelihood of devices disconnecting or not responding. 

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