Matter — the IOT connectivity standard with ambitions to fix the smart home and make all of our gadgets talk to each other — has hit version 1.2, adding support for nine new types of connected devices. Robot vacuums, refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers are coming to Matter, as are smoke and CO alarms, air quality sensors, air purifiers, room air conditioners, and fans. It’s a crucial moment for the success of the industry-backed coalition that counts 675 companies among its members. This is where it moves from the relatively small categories of door locks and light bulbs to the real moneymakers: large appliances.
The Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), the organization behind Matter, released the Matter 1.2 specification this week, a year after launching Matter 1.0, following through on its promise to release two updates a year. Now, appliance manufacturers can add support for Matter to their devices, and ecosystems such as Apple Home, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings can start supporting the new device types.
Yes, this means you should finally be able to control a robot vacuum in the Apple Home app — not to mention your wine fridge, dishwasher, and washing machine.
You should finally be able to control a robot vacuum in the Apple Home app
The initial feature set for the new device types includes basic function controls (start / stop, change mode) and notifications — such as the temperature of your fridge, the status of your laundry, or whether smoke is detected (see sidebar for more).
Robot vacuum support is robust — remote start and progress notifications, cleaning modes (dry vacuum, wet mopping), and alerts for brush status, error reporting, and charging status. But there’s no mapping, so you’ll still need to use your vacuum app if you want to tell the robot where to go.
Air purifiers and air quality sensors are also interesting additions. Currently, support across platforms for air purifiers is spotty, and products are expensive. Matter supports a wide range of air quality sensors (see sidebar) plus location for sensors, so individual sensors placed around a home can feed data to a device like an air purifier, HVAC system, or a connected oven hood.
What do these new Matter devices mean for your smart home?
Most smart appliances already provide most functions Matter supports, but they’re siloed in each manufacturer’s app. With Matter, you should be able to connect them to your smart home platform of choice, unlocking intriguing automation options.
While it’s possible today to get your lights to flash when your laundry is done, turn a light red when your fridge’s temperature rises, or shut off the HVAC system if the smoke alarm goes off, it can be complicated to set up and often wholly unreliable. You need to download multiple apps, maybe buy a sensor or two, deal with laggy cloud integrations, and worry about whether your washer is even compatible with your smart home app in the first place. With Matter support, this type of simple command and control should be much easier to implement in any ecosystem.
The future potential is also interesting, bringing into play the ambient smart home many companies are pursuing, where devices can talk to each other to take action on our behalf without us really having to get involved.
Tobin Richardson, president and CEO of the CSA, gave this example: “With more aggregate data and more information, we can see more interaction between devices,” he says. “With an edge AI engine to take care of it, if an air quality sensor senses something, then your favorite voice assistant platform can kick off the robot vac, boost the air purifier, and maybe hold off on the laundry and the dishwasher to save energy while the other devices are working.”
With manufacturers like Whirlpool, Panasonic, LG, Haier (which owns GE Appliances), and more all part of Matter, the potential is there for a broad implementation across home appliances. In particular, backward compatibility. I, for one, am not planning on buying all new appliances.
David Bean of Whirlpool tells me it plans to implement Matter across all its connected products in its brands, which includes Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Maytag. While, initially, the ability to get notifications from your appliance across your smart home will be useful, “for us, it’s all about the possible abilities that are going to exist once we get Matter out there,” he says. “How we work with automations and scenes and how we build upon those and take digital experiences in the home to the next level.”
However, he didn’t share a timeline for when Whirlpool will implement Matter in any of its products. And while it’s just fridges, dishwashers, and washers today, “we see Matter going across the whole kitchen and laundry space,” he says.
More Matter, but no new products
A benefit of Matter for manufacturers is being able to focus efforts on products and features and not having to build support for multiple protocols or ecosystems or even necessarily make an app. (If you’ve spent much time with the app for your dishwasher or coffee maker, you’ll know what a blessing that will be.) An appliance can work with one or multiple Matter ecosystems with just Matter connectivity built in.
It’s not a requirement of Matter to support every device type
Assuming, that is, that the smart home ecosystems support the new device types. It’s not a requirement of Matter to support every device type, and while most currently support most devices, not all support all functions.
We don’t know yet if or when Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Home, and Samsung SmartThings will add support for everything Matter has announced with 1.2, but judging by the responses I got when I asked them, it’s not going to be anytime soon.
Amazon’s Chris DeCenzo tells me the company plans to add support “over time.” “We’re working with partners to support the new device types included in the Matter 1.2 spec while maintaining our high bar for the customer experience with Alexa,” he says. Taylor Lehman at Google Home says, “We’re working hard to add more support for Matter devices to our ecosystem … this will take time.” I also reached out to Samsung SmartThings and Apple but neither provided an answer.
However, Paulus Schoutsen of Home Assistant tells me he expects support to be added to his platform soon. “We’ve already started testing with the new 1.2 version and working with the community and Matter device manufacturers,” he says. He also added that each new device type Matter supports “can be the reason for a manufacturer to adopt Matter, resulting in another private option for our users.” While manufacturers and ecosystems can leverage the cloud for additional features and remote control, it’s not a requirement.
The launch of Matter 1.2 isn’t coming with a slew of device announcements. I reached out to several companies that are members of the CSA and make products in these categories to see if they were announcing any new integrations. iRobot (makers of Roomba robot vacuums) and Resideo (owners of First Alert smoke alarms) said they had nothing to share, and Dyson (vacuums and fans), Google Nest (Nest Protect smoke alarm), and Samsung didn’t respond before publication.
Even the ever-eager Eve, which has been at the forefront of Matter adoption, told me it had nothing to announce. All this means we’ll probably not get new devices until 2024. While it’s possible that over-the-air updates to existing gadgets could be implemented sooner, it’s not likely. Many of those updates promised with 1.0 took a long time to arrive, and some never did.
Robot vacuum maker Roborock did say it’s working to support Matter as a top priority. “Though the partnership is still ongoing and a timeline is not solidified, we foresee that Matter support will be integrated into our models as soon as the first half of 2024,” Marcus Lai of Roborock tells me.
He says the integration will roll out in phases, with certain models getting support sooner, either built in when you buy it or via a firmware update. The other big robovac manufacturer, Ecovacs, tells me it’s planning to add Matter to its new products. Spokesperson Daniel Turk says the company is “working hand-in-hand with the CSA to integrate Matter into upcoming Deebots.”
While more device types are a good thing to help push the standard forward, there are still several big holes to fill. Matter now supports over 20 categories, including door locks, thermostats, smart lighting, security sensors, and smart shades. But cameras are still missing, as are security systems, two large components of the smart home today. Plus, there are more home appliances that need to be added, including a big one: ovens.
One new feature and multiple more attempts to make Matter “just work”
Another important omission from the new release: new features for existing devices. We’re still waiting on support for dynamic lighting effects (including adaptive lighting) and energy management, both of which the CSA has said are on the roadmap. These are features that will really help make Matter, well, matter to smart home users.
The only notable new consumer-facing feature in Matter 1.2 is one that adds support for smart door locks that use a latch system, a common type in Europe. There are also several new building blocks that should make it easier for developers and platforms to work with Matter devices and add more device types in the future.
These include allowing devices to describe their appearance in Matter ecosystems (i.e., “I’m a bronze door lock” or “I’m a brown light switch”), the addition of semantic tags (which could help with things like energy management and support for smart buttons), and support for generic operational states (to make it easier to add certain new device types in the future). The full spec can be viewed here.
Along with the new spec, the CSA also announced an effort called Ecosystem to Ecosystem that will address the “initial challenges” of multi-admin, the biggest being that it doesn’t work half the time.
Chris LaPré, head of technology at the CSA, explained to me that the effort is designed to fix the problem of ecosystems not directly communicating, i.e., an Apple HomePod won’t talk to a Google Nest Hub. “Currently, the solution is multi admin, where, say, I’m a smart switch, I’m going to talk to both separately,” says LaPré. “With Ecosystem to Ecosystem, if I pair my smart switch to both sides and then I change it to ‘kitchen light’ on this side, it should make it ‘kitchen light’ on the other side.” The groundwork is in place to allow this better interoperability, says LaPré, but they are still working on its implementation.
Will more device types move Matter forward?
New device types should bring much-needed momentum to Matter and address the complaints of some existing smart home users that it has yet to add much to the experience other than headaches. But this hinges on manufacturers adding it to their products.
The resistance to adopting Matter seems to be growing. We’re a year in, and companies that initially said they would keep an eye on Matter with a view to adopting it still haven’t (Lutron being a notable one here). Some that seemed fully on board from the outset have slowed down or even completely stopped their development, pulling a Wemo.
Despite being a top-tier Matter member, Resideo still hasn’t adopted Matter in its products, such as the Honeywell Home T9 thermostat. It also owns one of the largest smoke alarm companies, First Alert, and I would love to see some better connectivity options in smoke alarms.
One issue is the inherent tension between Matter’s role in creating an even playing field — it’s removed interoperability as a hindrance but also a selling point. Companies now need to create enough differentiation to compel the customer to pick them.
Matter also has competition. Resideo is very active with the Home Connectivity Alliance (HCA), a rival / potentially symbiotic organization to Matter working to have large appliance manufacturers connect and control each other’s devices through their own apps. It has wide adoption among the big appliance manufacturers, including LG, Haier, Samsung, and Electrolux. (Whirlpool is not a member; Bean told me they are watching it closely.)
The HCA’s approach is more appealing to these companies, as it keeps everything in the manufacturer’s proprietary ecosystems and maintains the cloud connection, a valuable funnel for data.
When I asked LG which product categories it planned to add Matter support to, Léa Lee of global corporate communications told me she couldn’t share any specifics but that “we’ll keep working closely with members of industry groups to create positive impacts for customers.” Like Samsung’s TVs, LG’s webOS-based TVs are capable of being Matter controllers but not Matter devices controllable by other ecosystems.
Samsung is leading the HCA. When I spoke to Jaeyeon Jung, global head of SmartThings, at the IFA 2023 tech conference, I asked if the company planned to make any of its appliances Matter device types. “Samsung devices already connect to SmartThings, and with HCA we give an option for others to use Samsung devices through our partners’ apps,” she said. “So, we’ll see, we’ll wait and see.”
Samsung is one of Matter’s biggest supporters through its smart home platform SmartThings, and LG has “played a key role in the development and standardization of Matter,” according to Lee. But if neither company adds its large suite of connected appliances to Matter, they’ll kneecap the initiative before it’s jumped its first hurdle.
Correction Monday, October 23rd, 9:30AM: A previous version of this article listed Hotpoint as a Whirlpool brand working on Matter integration. Whirlpool reached out after publication to clarify that “the Whirlpool Corp. brand portfolio, including Whirlpool, Maytag, and KitchenAid, is committed to Matter.”