With Matter, Apple HomePod 2 speaker aims to connect to devices no matter who makes them
Apple’s relaunch of its HomePod smart speaker includes not just upgraded acoustics but a new feature: support for a thing called Matter that Apple describes as “the new smart home connectivity standard.”
Samsung may not agree with Apple on many things, but it’s in accord with its rival about Matter, commending it on its SmartThings page as “an industry-changing connectivity standard.”
The idea behind this project of an industry group called the Connectivity Standards Alliance is to get different gadgets to get communicate – even if they’re from Apple and Samsung, and without customers having to buy new hardware or install new software.
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“It’s taking away the guessing game from a consumer perspective,” said Carolina Milanesi, president and principal analyst of Creative Strategies.
“You don’t have to have 15 apps on your phone to manage 15 different types of devices,” said Mark Vena, president and principal analyst at SmartTech Research. That, he hedged, assumes that you don’t need to fall back to a device manufacturer’s app to access a higher-end feature, a possibility that Milanesi also mentioned.
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In addition to its interoperability provisions, the Matter specification comes with baseline security requirements that include encrypted device-to-device communication via WiFi, Bluetooth and a newer wireless protocol called Thread – meaning that one gadget doesn’t have to pass messages through a cloud service to reach another sitting one room away.
Gadget exhibits at CES featured an impressive array of devices sporting the Matter logo – it looks a little bit like three stylized arrows facing each other–accompanied by pledges by their vendors to push this standard. The Alliance now lists 520-plus members, including such major tech firms as Amazon, Apple, Google, LG and Samsung.
At Samsung’s press conference, for example, executive vice president and head of SmartThings Jaeyeon Jung offered this endorsement of Matter: ”It's all about interoperability, so your smart home just works.”
Some of your devices may have already received Matter updates, not that they would have made a fuss about it. In December, Amazon announced that it was rolling out support for 17 Echo devices, including most recent versions of the Echo itself, Echo Dot and Echo Show.
What about older devices? A November post from Amazon pledged Matter support “across 30 Echo and eero devices” – fewer than the number of Echo devices Amazon lists–but the company did not offer more details.
Shoppers looking for Matter-compliant gear in stores may also feel a little lost for a while longer. Searches for smart light bulbs at Amazon and Best Buy’s sites Monday did not reveal any way to specify Matter-ready devices–the works-with lists at each store only listed such older platforms as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s HomeKit.
“From a retail execution standpoint, Matter is still in a ‘Waiting for Godot’ state,” Vena commented.
Milanesi urged retailers to do better. “This is one of the big promises – it is about helping consumers at point of sale.”
In an interview at CES, Matter president and CEO Tobin Richardson
said Matter’s next steps include adding support for robot vacuums and major appliances, with connected cars and health devices next. “It has to be everybody's standard.”
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based in Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, email Rob at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Apple HomePod 2 could achieve new level of connectivity with 'Matter.'