Amazon wants every smart home device to work with its Alexa ecosystem and says Matter is the key to that goal. “We really believe in ambient intelligence — an environment where your devices are connected by artificial intelligence, so they have much more to offer than any device on its own,” said Maria Koopmans, Alexa smart home director. edge in an interview.
“Matter provides interaction, and the interaction between all these devices in the house is necessary for the realization [our] vision of the surrounding intellect”. The more devices that can communicate with each other, the more “experiences” platforms can create with them. For example: “If I leave the house and forget to turn off the lights or adjust the thermostat, Alexa will do it for me, including locking the doors,” says Koopmans.
Matter is the new standard coming to the smart home near you later this year. This will allow connected devices to communicate using existing wireless protocols based on IP Thread and Wi-Fi. It’s not a smart home platform like Apple HomeKit, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa. As such, you will still need to select one of these platforms to run your Matter-enabled devices, but you are not limited to one.
Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung use Matter because it will allow any device to run on their smart home platforms, no matter who made it, and doesn’t require the developer to do any platform-specific programming. If it works with Matter, it will just work—at least for the categories of devices that Matter will natively support: smart lighting, sockets, locks, sensors, thermostats, blinds, and Wi-Fi routers.
Of course, this means that these devices “just work” on their competitors’ platforms as well. You can add devices to multiple platforms at once and then control them with any Matter controller. The Matter controller can be a smart display or speaker, a voice assistant, or a smartphone app. For example, this means that if you add a Matter device using Alexa, you can also control it using Apple HomeKit or Google Home.
But the theory is that, under equal conditions, each platform believes it can offer the best “experience” for the client. And if not, you can switch all your Matter devices to another platform—without hours of tedious effort—and test it out.
Can we have more Matter devices please?
For all this to work, many devices of Matter are needed. At this week’s Alexa Live developer event, Amazon announced a host of tools and features to help developers build Matter devices, similar to Google at I/O, Apple at WWDC, and Samsung at SDC. And these tools will help developers create Matter-enabled devices that work with any platform, not just Alexa.
Koopmans emphasized that Amazon is also helping developers add Matter compatibility to existing products through the bridge. “It’s not about another protocol reset,” she says. “Customers don’t have to replace their existing devices; Matter is designed with investments already made by customers and device manufacturers.”
Another big promise of the Matter standard is to simplify the smart home experience, making it much easier to add devices to your smart home. On that front, Amazon touted their frustration-free setup process that adds the device automatically as soon as it’s turned on – no pairing required.
Amazon says it has donated FFS to the Matter SDK as a developer option. Sengled and TP-Link use it in their Matter-over-Wi-Fi devices, and Eve and Nanoleaf use it in their Matter-over-Thread devices. “Adding FFS right into the Matter SDK means developers don’t need the Amazon SDK at all,” Koopmans explained. This is where Eve stands out: until Matter became a reality, its products only worked with Apple HomeKit.
The new Ambient Home Dev Kit allows device makers to take deeper advantage of Alexa’s capabilities to create more of the “experience” that Koopmans says will help differentiate the Alexa platform. These include a new Home State API with Home, Vacation, Dinner Time, and Sleep modes that smart devices can sync.
Currently, you can run Alexa Routine or tell Alexa “I’m leaving” to lock the door, turn off the thermostat, turn off the lights, and turn on the security system. But with the new Home States, Koopmans says, the experience will be more “ambient and proactive” and you won’t have to say “I’m leaving.”
“But it’s up to the developers to develop that experience,” she says. Amazon is also expanding routines so that device manufacturers can create them for you, which is another step towards making the smart home more automated and less complicated (read more about this in an article by my colleague David Pierce).
It’s all part of Amazon’s attempt to create a context-aware smart home where, with input from all your devices, your home “just knows” what you’re doing and can automatically adjust. Alexa currently has a version of this with her Hunches where when the assistant “has a hunch” you want to do something, like turn off the porch lights after 9pm, it will do it for you.
But responding correctly to the context is a difficult task. Google Nest has struggled for years to get its Home and Away modes to work without any user interaction, and so far it has failed. Apple didn’t even try. Matter will be of great help to everyone here, as the more devices you have connected to your home, the easier it will be to create a context.
How Matter will improve Alexa
Amazon hasn’t provided any updates on how Alexa devices themselves will integrate with Matter. Koopmans just repeated edge that existing Echo devices will receive OTA updates to work with Matter over Wi-Fi, and Eero Wi-Fi routers and the fourth-generation Echo smart speaker will also act as Thread edge routers to connect any Thread devices to your home network. But she talked more about how Alexa and its app will work with Matter devices and other Matter-compatible ecosystems once the standard is launched.
Matter will add Alexa local control, making the voice assistant respond faster to smart home requests such as “Turn off the lights.” “And with a Thread edge router in your home, your smart home will work whether or not the internet is up,” Koopmans confirmed.
She also confirmed that Alexa would work well with other Matter-enabled ecosystems such as Google Home and Apple HomeKit. You can add devices to Alexa and then control them with any Matter controller. “[A customer] can add new Matter devices or additional Matter administrators [controllers] seamlessly in the background without having to generate and enter a Matter setup code for each one,” says Koopmans.
You can also add Alexa as a Matter controller when you set up your device with the manufacturer’s app, so you don’t have to go to the Alexa app to add it separately. Another new feature across multiple apps is device group sync, which means that when you add a group like “kitchen lights” to either the Alexa app or the device app, it will show up in both apps. This is similar to how the Apple HomeKit app works with device apps today. Apple said it donated the core infrastructure of its Home app to Matter.
This whole collaboration may seem highly suspicious to people who have seen companies like Amazon and Google fight tooth and nail over every little thing. (Is there a YouTube app for Amazon Echo smart displays? I don’t think so.) But there’s a collective reckoning in the industry when it comes to the smart home; it’s time to cooperate or die. “I don’t believe smart home has a future if the industry doesn’t work together to create great experiences for our mutual customers,” says Koopmans. And she’s not wrong.
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