Amazon wants every smart home device to work with its Alexa ecosystem, and it says Matter is key to achieving that goal. “We truly believe in ambient intelligence – an environment where your devices are woven together by artificial intelligence so they can deliver more than any device could on its own,” said Marja Koopmans, director of Alexa smart home. The edge in an interview.
“Matter brings interoperability, and interoperability between all these devices in the home is essential to achieve [our] vision of ambient intelligence. The more devices can communicate with each other, the more “experience” platforms can create with them. For example, “If I leave the house and forget to turn off the lights or adjust my thermostat, Alexa will do that for me, including locking the doors,” says Koopmans.
Matter is a new standard coming to a smart home near you later this year. It will allow connected devices to communicate using existing IP Thread and Wi-Fi based wireless protocols. It is not a smart home platform like Apple HomeKit, Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa. So you’ll still have to choose one of these platforms to run your Matter-enabled devices, but you’re not limited to just one.
Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung are embracing Matter because it will allow any device to run on their smart home platforms, regardless of who created it, and without requiring special platform-specific programming on the part of from the developer. If it works with Matter, it just will — at least, for the categories of devices Matter will initially support: smart lighting, outlets, locks, sensors, thermostats, shades/blinds, and Wi-Fi routers.
Of course, that means these devices “just work” on their competitors’ platforms as well. You’ll be able to add devices to multiple platforms at once, then control them with any Matter controller. A 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’ll also be able to control it with Apple’s HomeKit or Google Home.
But the theory is that on equal terms, each platform thinks it can deliver the best “experience” to the customer. 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 of this to work, there must be a lot of Matter devices. At its Alexa Live Developer event this week, Amazon announced a slew of tools and features to help developers build Matter devices, just like Google did at I/O, Apple at WWDC, and Samsung at SDC. . And these tools will help developers create Matter-enabled devices that work with all platforms, not just Alexa.
Koopmans says Amazon is also helping developers add Matter compatibility to existing products through bridging. “Matter is not another protocol reset,” she says. “Customers don’t need to replace their existing devices; Matter is designed to build on the investments customers and device makers have already made.
Another big promise of the Matter standard is to simplify the smart home experience, making it easier to add devices to your smart home. On that front, Amazon touted its frustration-free setup process that automatically adds a device as soon as it’s turned on – no pairing required.
Amazon says it has donated FFS to the Matter SDK as an option for developers. Sengled and TP-Link use it in their Matter-over-Wi-Fi devices, and Eve and Nanoleaf in their Matter-over-Thread devices. “By adding FFS directly into the Matter SDK, it means developers don’t need an Amazon-specific SDK at all,” Koopmans explained. Eve is particularly notable here: until Matter became a reality, its products only worked with Apple HomeKit.
A new Ambient Home development kit allows device makers to tap into more of Alexa’s capabilities to create more of those “experiences”, according to Koopmans, that will help differentiate the platform from Alexa. These include a new Home State API with Home, Vacation, Dinner Time and Sleep modes that can sync smart devices.
Currently, you can run an Alexa routine or tell Alexa “I am” to lock your door, let your thermostat down, turn off your lights, and arm your 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 design that experience,” she says. Amazon is also expanding Routines to allow device makers to create them for you, another step to making the smart home more automated and less complicated (read more in my colleague David Pierce’s article).
It’s all part of Amazon’s attempt to create a context-based smart home experience, where through input from all your devices, your home “just knows” what you’re doing and can adjust automatically. Alexa currently has a version of this with its Hunches, where when the assistant “has a hunch” you want something done, like turning off the porch light after 9 p.m., it does it for you.
But responding correctly to context is a complicated effort. Google Nest has struggled for years to get its Home and Away modes to work without any user input, and it still hasn’t succeeded. Apple didn’t even try. Matter will help everyone here immensely, because the more devices connected to your home, the easier it will be to create context.
How Matter will improve Alexa
Amazon hasn’t provided any updates on how Alexa devices themselves will integrate with Matter. Koopmans simply repeated to The edge that existing Echo devices will receive OTA updates to work with Matter over Wi-Fi and that Eero Wi-Fi routers and the fourth-generation Echo smart speaker will also act as Thread edge routers to connect all Thread devices to your home network. But she shared more about how Alexa and her app will work with Matter devices and other Matter-enabled ecosystems once the standard launches.
Matter will add local control to Alexa, allowing the voice assistant to respond more quickly to smart home requests, such as “Turn off the lights”. “And with a Thread border router in your home, your smart home will work whether the internet is up or down,” Koopmans confirmed.
She also confirmed that Alexa will work well with other Matter-enabled ecosystems, such as Google Home and Apple HomeKit. You’ll be able to 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 the need to generate and enter a Matter setup code for each,” says Koopmans.
You can also choose to add Alexa as a Matter controller when setting up a device using a manufacturer’s app, so you don’t need to go to the Alexa app to add it separately. Another new feature across multiple apps is Device Group Sync, which means when you add a group like “kitchen lights” to either the Alexa app or a device app, it will appear in both apps. This is similar to how Apple’s HomeKit app works with device apps today. Apple said it donated the underlying infrastructure of its Home app to Matter.
All of this cooperation may seem very suspicious to people who have seen companies like Amazon and Google fight tooth and nail over every little thing. (Is there a YouTube app on Amazon Echo smart displays? I don’t think so.) But when it comes to the smart home, there’s been a collective reckoning in the industry; it’s time to cooperate or die. “I don’t believe there’s a future for the smart home if the industry doesn’t work together to create great experiences for our joint customers,” Koopmans says. And she’s not wrong.
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