Matter, the home automation standard that unites Apple, Amazon and Google

When we hear “smart home”, we often think of the thermostat which allows better management of the heating or of the light bulbs which we control thanks to an application. But we rarely wonder how all these devices work, let alone how they work together.

Some tech giants, including Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung, already have apps that let you turn off the light from your iPhone or ask Alexa to turn up the heat without having to spend long hours doing everything. configure. But for that, you have to check that the devices you buy are compatible with those you already have.

Complexity and compatibility thus remain two obstacles to the generalization of the smart home. Called Matter, a new standard could change everything.

Launched at the beginning of the year, it acts as a lingua franca spoken by all recent connected devices, and a good part of those who are less so. It is therefore now possible to buy a new accessory and connect it to the application you prefer, give it orders with any voice assistant, or even use several apps and several assistants.

“We all came to the same conclusion, that if we didn’t solve some fundamental problems, the sector would never take off”

Thanks to this standard working behind the scenes, cheaper and easier to configure connected objects could arrive on the market and work harmoniously.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about it all is that all the big names in smart homes are taking part, which means that in the future, it won’t be necessary to choose one forever. Fed up with Alexa, want to try Apple’s HomePod Mini? This will normally be possible without having to change the electric blinds as well (to draw a historical parallel, it’s a bit like the day the entire cinema industry switched to VHS).

“We all came to the same conclusion, that if we didn’t solve some fundamental problems, the sector would never take off,” summarizes Michele Turner, head of Google’s smart home ecosystem.

In addition to tech giants, more than 220 companies have joined Matter. By the end of the decade, more than 5.5 billion devices compatible with this standard should be sold, according to ABI Research.

The protocol is designed to provide more security and privacy than other smart home systems, especially because it can perform some basic tasks without sending messages to the cloud. Another good news: it will not be necessary to change all the smart devices already purchased.

There’s nothing to say, though, that companies using Matter won’t somehow try to stop their customers from fluttering from brand to brand. Indeed, while Matter is about basic functionality, in the same way that AirPods work best on Apple devices, more advanced stuff will be left to companies.

“Super easy”

Initially, Matter will be used for locks, motion and air quality sensors, thermostats, lighting, opening garage doors, blinds and shutters, smart plugs and smart televisions. For more complex devices like security cameras, robot vacuum cleaners and household appliances, you will have to wait a bit.

Until now, when a developer wanted to add a feature to a connected device, he had to fund the software update for all platforms. With Matter, most of the changes can be made in one go, which will reduce development costs.

On the customer side, once the devices compatible with Matter have been brought home, the configuration will be child’s play: as soon as the QR code is scanned, the new gadget will be connected to the network. “The goal is that for most of the devices, i.e. bulbs, sockets, switches and sensors, it’s super easy, that the connection is done in a few seconds”, explains Michele Turner.

It will be possible to authorize the other inhabitants of the house to access the system so that they can turn on the lights with Alexa, even if the main user has chosen Siri, and to coordinate all the devices, regardless of the manufacturer. Right now, people are buying connected devices to meet “a very specific need”, but that could change with Matter compatibility, said Adam Wright, an analyst at technology research firm International Data Corp.

Bye bye the cloud

Devices sold by Google and Amazon regularly communicate with the cloud, while Apple’s HomeKit is designed to work without depending so much on the internet. The orders sent do not leave the homes, which allows more responsiveness and confidentiality. Matter was inspired by Apple, so in the event of a power outage, devices that use the protocol continue to work, like connected printers that work even without wifi.

“All smart devices will have the same level of security, privacy and ease of use that Apple customers enjoy today with HomeKit,” said Apple spokesperson Jacqueline Roy. Apple.

Until now, Eve Systems has refused to tie its smart plugs and sensors to Google and Amazon because it means relying on the cloud, says Tim Both, the company’s senior brand and product manager. No way to be responsible for the use of customer data. But with Matter, data will stay inside homes, even if Google or Amazon systems are used.

Amazon and others will continue to use the cloud for some aspects, however. Some Alexa-configured speakers can’t process commands without going through the cloud, explains Chris DeCenzo, principal engineer at Amazon and specialist in smart home and Alexa devices, who adds that the cloud is “an essential component of the infrastructure of many, many contemporary smart home devices and services.

All new, all beautiful ?

Good news for those who have already adopted the smart home: you don’t have to start from scratch, or at least not completely.

All Philips Hue bulbs work with Matter once the device controlling them is updated, says George Yianni, co-founder of Philips Hue and now head of R&D at parent company Signify. “Even the ones we sold ten years ago,” he says.

Most new products from major brands will be compatible with the new protocol. At Google, the Nest Wifi and the Nest Hub will serve as the anchor point for Matter; all devices in the Nest range will be updated to work with Matter. The new Nest Thermostat will also be compatible.

Almost all Amazon Echo devices should be too. Likewise, Apple’s HomePod Mini and the second generation of Apple TV 4K will be able to serve as a hub for Matter, as will Samsung’s SmartThings Hub v3.

Devices that cannot be updated will continue to work, but without this increased compatibility. Assa Abloy will fit some Yale locks, but cannot do anything for the August range. Matter was not designed “to be reliably used on a battery-operated Wi-Fi lock,” says Jason Williams, president of the smart locks business. Indeed, the batteries would run out too quickly, which is unlikely to please customers.

On the other hand, a module can be added to Yale locks: no need to buy everything, but it will still be necessary to provide for a small expense. Assa Abloy’s goal is for its future locks to be compatible with Matter, adds Jason Williams.

Despite not always easy beginnings, Matter could well become the star of smart homes, even if their occupants do not have a doctorate in electrical engineering.

“We know that we are in competition with traditional switches, admits Samantha Fein, vice-president in charge of development and marketing of SmartThings. So if it’s not childish to use, you know you’re not going anywhere. »

(Translated from the original English version by Marion Issard)

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