A handful of new Matter smart home gadgets were launched at the IFA 2023 tech conference last week, including an intriguing ceiling light from Aqara, fun RGB light bars from Yeelight, a line of Matter-ready appliances from Midea, and stylish new smart security cameras from Philips Hue, which the company says will work with Matter when the standard supports cameras.
It’s great that more Matter-compatible gadgets are rolling out, bringing the promise of secure local control and cross-platform interoperability into the smart home. But we need more progress behind the scenes.
While I saw some of that coming out of Berlin, including full platform support for bridges so your existing smart home gadgets can work in Matter (yes, including Amazon!) and strong indications that camera compatibility is on its way, some of Matter’s key features are still missing.
As of this week, Amazon and Samsung have finally added support for bridging
In particular, the promise that our new Matter-powered smart homes wouldn’t be dependent on hubs, as devices should be able to talk directly to one another without an intermediary. It turns out that’s still technically true, but because the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which manages the standard, hasn’t mandated that every platform implement every part of the Matter spec, consumers aren’t getting some of the best features.
Here’s a look at the Matter news coming out of IFA and where the new smart home standard now stands.
Philips Hue gets Matter, which means the bridges are finally being built
The popular Philips Hue smart lighting ecosystem is finally adding support for Matter via a firmware update to its bridge starting this month. Hue got a lot of stick for delaying its rollout, but the reason for it was simple and understandable: not all Matter platforms supported bridging. Now they do.
Hue’s existing lighting products work in Matter through the bridge, and if Hue had added Matter support last month, it would have only worked with Google Home and Apple Home through Matter. As of this week, Amazon and Samsung have finally added support for bridging.
“We recently completed rolling out support for Matter hubs and bridges,” Amazon spokesperson Connor Rice told me. “Now, customers can connect Matter-enabled hubs and bridges, like the Philips Hue Bridge, to Alexa through any Matter-enabled Echo device.” Samsung also confirmed to me it started rolling out a firmware update to its SmartThings hubs last month that added support for third-party Matter bridges.
Bridging in Matter is how devices that use different protocols, such as Zigbee and Z-Wave, can work in a Matter ecosystem. The manufacturer just updates its bridge, and every compatible product connected to that bridge can now be used by Matter platforms.
For Philips Hue, it means that “every past Hue lighting product will be supported, making this by far the largest Matter-capable install base,” George Yianni, Hue’s head of technology, said at IFA. A firmware update this month will bring the capability, allowing you to add your Hue lights to any Matter platform. Other companies with Matter-compatible bridges include SwitchBot and Aqara, who have already updated them, and platforms like Ikea’s Dirigera hub and Bosch’s Smart Home controller.
Bridge support took a long time, longer than it should have. But it is important since it helps deliver on Matter’s promise of backward compatibility with existing devices in our homes. With this update, every Hue product ever made, going all the way back to 2012, now works with Matter. And the door is now open for more companies with bridging solutions (*cough* Lutron) to get in the game.
Binding should be the next big thing for smart home devices
Now on to the next battle. There’s a little-known but crucial part of Matter called binding — this allows devices to be bound directly to one another so they no longer need an intermediary or hub.
You know how, when Matter launched, it was all “Hey, you don’t need hubs anymore!”? This is what was meant. Devices could talk directly to one another without the ongoing need for an intermediary hub.
For example, if you have a motion sensor, it could be bound to a smart switch or smart lights via a Matter controller (also known as a hub) to tell them when to turn on. Once bound, the two devices are independently connected — even if you remove the hub.
Now, if you get rid of your Matter controller or replace it with a newer one, the motion sensor should keep turning on that light. Plus, if you decide to switch to a new Matter-smart home platform, your lights would still turn on when you want them to, without you having to reprogram the motion sensor.
No Matter platform currently supports binding
Eve demonstrated this binding function at IFA with its new Thread-based Eve Thermo Control (€79.95, EU only), a wireless E Ink display that can be bound (or associated, as Eve calls it) with its Eve Thermo radiator control system. This lets it feed the temperature from a different part of the room to the radiator, similar to how an Ecobee thermostat works with its room sensors.
However, no Matter platform — such as Apple Home, Home Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Google Home — currently supports binding. Eve’s Tim Böth told me they can only get this feature to work in Apple HomeKit using its Eve app, not the Apple Home app. This means the function is only available to Apple Home users using Eve’s iOS app, which is not the promised cross-platform functionality Matter should bring.
While we won’t see camera support this year, mid-2024 could be a possibility
We’ve only just got bridging on all the platforms, so it’s not surprising that binding — a more complicated advanced feature — hasn’t been priority No. 1 for the engineers. But it’s one of those features that will make the smart home “just work.” Imagine buying a motion sensor and a pack of light bulbs, plugging them in, and they work together right out of the box — even without an internet connection! That’s what binding would bring.
But that’s not happening because, right now, you have to use the platforms to set up this type of automation, and they would very much like to stay between you and your sensors and devices so that you are more inclined to stay with them. For example, you might use an Alexa routine to tie this motion sensor to that bulb. With binding, that relationship won’t be controlled by Amazon anymore, which means, for the time being, you’re stuck with workarounds like the one Eve introduced.
Cameras are coming to Matter, probably next year
What every platform is working furiously on is cameras. There were a number of new cameras announced at IFA, including several from companies who said their new product would work with Matter once the spec supports it.
This included the new Philips Hue Secure line of cameras and Aqara’s new entry-level Camera E1. Jasper Vervoort of Signify (owners of Hue) and Filipp Shved of Aqara both told me that their new cameras would support Matter, and both seemed confident that would be sooner rather than later, although neither offered an exact timeline.
The Connectivity Standards Alliance has made it clear that cameras are coming to Matter, and I heard a lot of talk at IFA about this being priority No. 1 for the organization and its members. We’re not going to see it this year, is my guess, but mid-2024 could be a possibility.
As Matter is a standard and not a platform, the implementation of support for cameras will be around how to livestream video from point A to point B — say, from your video doorbell to your smartphone’s smart home app or your smart display.
The more complicated and more lucrative side of cameras — subscriptions for recording and storing video and features such as person detection — will remain with the platforms and manufacturers.
Here’s what Matters
It’s clear from my conversation at IFA that the industry is still aligned on Matter as the best solution to the big interoperability problem in the smart home. They know that if devices can’t work together seamlessly, people are not going to want them in their homes.
But right now, devices still don’t work together seamlessly — not because the technology doesn’t work but because some platforms and companies are hesitating or hedging their bets. It’s understandable that everyone is jockeying for the best position here, looking to get the most out of Matter when it is fully deployed. But they still have to deploy it fully. You can’t win a race when the track isn’t even finished.