Creating a recent buzz in the world of “smart home” advancements has been the release of something called Matter, which is defined by its developers as “a protocol to connect compatible devices and systems with one another.” Why is that important? It means that someone operating smart-home tech across multiple ecosystems that don’t usually work together will now have a mediator that can go between the various systems and help them communicate with one another.
Many of the largest manufacturers of smart-home devices, especially in the “do-it-yourself” category you’ll find at the big-box home improvement stores, have begun promoting gear that’s “Matter certified.”
So the obvious question is (pardon the pun): Why does that matter?
What’s a Protocol?
The first thing to understand is that Matter is a protocol. It isn’t a platform or an operating system.
Think about it this way: Let’s say you’ve purchased a smart thermostat from company A and a motion sensor from company B. They work well on their own, but they can’t communicate with each other because they don’t speak the same language.
As a result, when your motion sensor realizes that you’re home, it tries to wake up your thermostat by speaking in its own language to bring the temperature down, but your thermostat speaks another language, so it has no idea what the motion sensor is saying—and nothing happens. As a result, you have to manually change your thermostat once you get home
In comes Matter, which teaches both of the devices a third language so they can communicate with one another. Now, when you come home, the motion sensor realizes you’re in the building; it translates the motion sensor’s signal to the thermostat’s language and, since the thermostat can understand the new signal, it knows what to do.
And because Matter is backed by companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google, it’s likely to have widespread adoption in the future.
The protocol offers manufacturers—and homeowners who DIY their smart-home tech—a solution to the problem of interoperability by providing a way for various devices on a home network to play well with one another.
“If someone has a handful of devices in their home that they’ve installed themselves, then Matter will likely have a positive impact for that consumer,” says Doug Jacobson, Crestron’s senior director of product management for residential solutions.
There are a few fundamental ways that Matter is limited when it comes to delivering a complete smart-home experience.
“Matter enables devices to speak the same language, but doesn’t dictate the nature of the conversation, nor does it dictate the overall user experience,” says Jacobson. “That’s kind of the point of Matter: Enable more devices to live on a given platform, but don’t specify what that platform can or cannot do.”
And that’s where a protocol such as Matter diverges from a platform such as Crestron Home, for example. Crestron Home provides one completely customizable platform for the end user so that every feature for every device can be customized to the user’s liking. Crestron Home works with indoor and outdoor devices and security systems, all in one platform.
While Matter deals with many types of devices, including lights and thermostats, it currently does not define a protocol for communicating with other critical device types such as security systems, video cameras and audio/video distribution.
And because Matter simply defines the common language that devices use, the actual user experience is left up to the platform. The best experience comes with an interface that’s intuitive and easy to use. Because matter is a protocol focused as a DIY solution, it also lacks Crestron’s network of technicians and installers and tech support.
“A proper smart home operating system provides installers and technology integrators with tools for documenting and troubleshooting. It gives them the ability to rapidly deploy systems, including very large ones. It enables complex interactions between devices. It provides critical failsafe mechanisms,” Jacobson explains.
Still, Matter should be seen as a net positive. It solves a rather large problem in the smart home world, and that’s that devices on different systems don’t talk to each other. Matter provides a bit of the seamlessness a homeowner has come to expect from smart home technology.
“Anything that enables our industry to integrate devices more easily should be considered a win,” says Jacobson, “and it gives consumers a glimpse of the true potential of the connected home. I certainly expect Crestron installations will include Matter devices in the future, and that’s exciting.”