Why Matter matters

by: | Jun 14, 2022

Those of us building connected products for the IoT (Internet of things) have been evangelizing the promise of the “smart home” for a long time. Our app development team was thinking even bigger when we wrote about the concept of “smart communities” for TechCrunch, all the way back in 2015.

Smart products can be lovable

Sometimes it takes a while for the promise of technology to become reality. As consumers, we’ve been buying an increasing number of smart products, but the industry has been slow to align on a single standard for managing these devices. Amazon’s Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Home are the most popular home automation hubs. But very few smart products support all three major protocols, let alone the dozens of others that exist. As a result, we need many apps on our phones and multiple accounts to control the current generation of smart lights, thermostats, sprinklers, and appliances. When smart products work well they’re useful and delightful — a perfect mix for what we’d call a lovable product. But with so many competing standards for setup and management, the user experience is often poor.

The promise is that with a unified standard we could control all our smart home devices within a single interface. The devices would work cohesively with one another — and this “interaction of things” could drive truly smart (and lovable) experiences. Instead of playing a single instrument, it’d be more like conducting an orchestra.

All of this is the context for why we’re so excited about the emerging smart products standard, Matter. First introduced in 2019 — then known as project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) — Matter has been gathering momentum and the backing of the heavyweights in the industry.

Last week, Apple confirmed its support of Matter during the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference. And just a few weeks ago, Google did the same at its I/O event. Amazon also announced its continued support of Matter. In all, there are more than 240 supporting companies, according to Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which oversees Matter.

So let’s answer a few questions about why Matter matters.

What exactly is Matter, from a technology point of view?

Matter is a protocol that allows connected devices, phones, and apps to interact with each other. Matter is IP-based and will initially support Wi-Fi and Thread for operational communications, and Bluetooth LE for device commissioning and setup.

The CSA and its members are in the process of creating a series of open-source Matter SDKs that device makers, firmware engineers, and app engineers can leverage in their projects. Among them is an SDK that will help create a consistent user experience for device onboarding

Which types of devices will support Matter?

Initially, Matter will support smart lights, thermostats, locks, TVs, outlets, switches, fans, and blinds. As an open-source standard, many more devices will be added in the future. In particular, connected cameras for security and other camera-based applications are expected to be supported soon.

Why does Matter matter for app engineers and designers?

Simply put, user experience.

With Matter, the onboarding and first-time setup process for any supporting device can be dramatically simplified. If someone is already using one of the smart home apps that support Matter — such as HomeKit, Google Home, or Alexa — it’ll be much easier to add the next device. For example, adding a new device might be as simple as scanning a QR code and naming it — with no Wi-Fi credentials needed.

This allows smart product app developers like ArcTouch to focus on the features that add deeper levels of control and delight that go beyond the basic controls that Matter offers. It’s a win-win for users. We’ve written previously about how Bluetooth is a software standard that works with hardware to create a “whole product experience” for consumers. We expect Matter to be similar — it will be a software framework that makes smart products better for everyone.

Why should smart product companies support Matter?

Companies that are launching products for the smart home will greatly benefit from Matter. Those companies can join the CSA to gain access to the Matter SDK and documentation. Adopting a standard such as Matter can reduce development complexity and the time to market. Matter also should help with user adoption and increase sales. Products that are Matter-certified can use the logo on marketing and packaging, to give buyers comfort the products will be easy to use.

What are Matter’s member organizations working on?

This past month has been a big one for Matter and the IoT community — especially because of the Google I/O and Apple’s WWDC developer conferences. Both companies publicly pledged their support and showed how they will approach device onboarding and interactions.

Meanwhile, we are now transitioning from testing early iterations of the code to finally previewing the official SDKs and APIs for Android and iOS — and seeing how production-ready apps will interact with Matter.

At I/O, Google unveiled the new Google Home Developer Center website to help explain Matter to developers. The Google Home Mobile SDK is due out later this month.

As part of the WWDC keynote address, Apple provided an update on how HomeKit’s contribution to Matter was used as the “foundation of this new standard.” Among the key points, Apple emphasized that Matter, like HomeKit, includes the highest levels of security and privacy. Much of the supporting technology is already available through Apple’s HomeKit developer documentation and the iOS 16 beta. Our iOS development team has been actively testing Apple’s APIs, SDKs and prototype Matter devices — and we look forward to bringing these innovations to our client’s apps.

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ArcTouch creates lovable apps for smart home products and the IoT — including the Filtrete smart home app. Let’s build something awesome together! Contact us to get started.