The smart LED strip in my office doesn’t feel smart. That’s because I can’t easily control it from my phone or my smart speakers. And with every new device, I have to learn a new setup process. If setting up a smart home feels painful to you, too, then pay attention to Google’s promises for the Matter smart home standard.
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In case you missed it, Matter is the new name for Project Connective Home over IP (CHIP). While I’m not sure the name change is a good one, the promise behind the smart home standard is … well, promising. Amazon, Apple, Google, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly known as the ZigBee Alliance), the Thread Group, and more have pledged support to work with the new standard.
The Matter standard proposes a loft goal—let smart home users buy any gadget and connect it over nearly any protocol, then control it from nearly any digital assistant. It will support Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Bluetooth, Thread, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and more.
Regardless of what company made the device, or what setup you prefer in your home—as long as all the things are Matter certified, they should instantly work together. Setup should be more or less the same and just require a few taps. Smart home companies like Philis Hue (Signify), Nanoleaf, and SmartThings already promise to support the standard.
That gives Matter a lot of clout that no other smart home standard can stand up to. And even better, it promises to simplify smart home setup so that any certified device can work with or control any other certified device. That’s a big deal because right now, the smart home is a bit like the wild wild west—no unifying laws and everyone doing whatever they want.
Take my smart LED strip, for instance. It’s a Nanoleaf Essentials LED strip, both beautiful and affordable (watch for our review!). But if it weren’t for the controller built into the thing, I wouldn’t be able to turn it off and on at all. See, Nanoleaf chose to support Thread for its main connectivity option, with Bluetooth as a backup. That means it currently works with Echo or Google Assistant—it only works with Apple Home Mini. Spoiler alert: I don’t have an Apple Home Mini.
Bluetooth SHOULD be a viable option, but Nanoleaf uses a strange setup procedure unique to the company. You have to scan a QR code found in the box or on the back of the built-in remote, which is stuck to my wall. I paired it with my smartphone and then changed smartphones. And now I can’t find the QR code to pair it to my new OnePlus 9. So I can’t control it through my phone, and I can’t control it through a voice assistant. I have to reach out and turn the thing on like a dumb light switch which defeats the point of a smart LED strip.
If I used iPhone and an Apple Home Mini, I wouldn’t have all these issues. But I don’t use those devices, so I do have issues. And that’s the smart home problem. In a nutshell, change any one of the many variables that go into a smart home, and the whole can break. But if Nanoleaf follows through on its promise to support Matter, which should be an easy jump since Thread will support Matter and Nanoleaf supports Thread, then all of that could change thanks to Google.
At its 2021 I/O Developer conference, Google explained its plans for the Matter smart home standard. If the company didn’t go all in, Matter probably would be another failed standard that promised more than it delivered. But the good news is, it appears Google will, in fact, go all in. Google says every one of its Nest Display devices will get an update (someday) to control Matter-compatible devices. That means I won’t have to buy an Apple Home Mini to control my Nanoleaf LED strip (or any other Matter device).
Additionally, The Nest Wifi, Nest Hub Max and Second-Gen Nest Hub will get updates turning them into connection points for other Matter devices. If you have a large home, you may rely on a Mesh router system to connect all your internet devices. Think of Matter connection devices as a similar concept—Mesh for your smart home. But without the need for a Z-Wave or ZigBee hub.
Just by placing Nest Hub Max or the Second Gen Nest Hub around your home, you’ll create mesh points for all your Matter devices to connect to. That should strengthen the signal and speed up response times. And if you’re an Android user, you’ll benefit as well.
Google promises a future Android update will integrate Matter into the OS. With that integration, Android can control any Matter-compatible device in Google Assistant—even if it couldn’t before. To go back to my Nanoleaf LEDs, once all the updates are in place, I’ll be able to control the LEDs with my Android phone, and I won’t even need to use Bluetooth as a backup. Once I get it all set up again, I shouldn’t have to worry about losing the QR code one more time.
And since Android will control any Matter-compatible device, that means someday you could buy products originally designed for HomeKit and Thread, or Echo devices. If you’re an Alexa user, the opposite should be true as well. That’s if the Matter pulls off its promise and all the associated companies that pledged support follow-through.
It’s an exciting time for smart homes—the wild wild west is finally getting some law and order. We could finally see the end of a million different setup processes for a million different smart home devices. This could be just the thing to bring smart home gadgets to the mainstream, drive up adoption, and drive down prices. Or the whole thing could flop and never get off the ground. Only time will tell.