Matter & Smart Home: How It Works and Which Devices to Buy
Guide to the discovery of Matter, the new "universal language" for the smart home 2.0, and the devices that support it such as smart switches, smart sockets and light bulbs, thermostatic valves, environmental and security sensors, motorized locks, smart speakers, and displays.
Published: 5th Feb 2024
Smart home solutions use connection technologies (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Zigbee just to name a few), control languages and tools (apps, smart speakers, etc.) of various types, often " closed " and therefore incapable of communicating between them.
This means that, for example, an app may be needed to turn on the lights in the living room, another app to turn on the lights in the bedroom, and a third app to control the fan. Fortunately, it is possible to control (almost) all devices thanks to voice commands (if supported) and multi-brand platforms such as Alexa, SmartThings, and IFTTT but with reduced functionality (on, off, dimming, temperature adjustment, and little else) and other limitations.
However, regarding the first configuration, i.e. when it comes to registering the device for the first time to automate lights, sockets, and various equipment, it is almost always mandatory to use the manufacturer's app. For some devices and functions these limits may be irrelevant (e.g. turning smart lights on and off) while for others they represent a major obstacle to the spread of the smart home and a complication for the end user who would instead like a simple, fast and open solution to any technology and brand.
It is no coincidence, in fact, that the war of standards, protocols, and languages has so far fragmented and slowed down the growth of the smart home, forcing manufacturers to invest resources for the development and integration of individual standards (time and money that inevitably reflect on the final price) and generating doubts and uncertainties in end users.
The creation of a single language associated with an open protocol, adopted by all device manufacturers, could instead represent the key to the success of the smart home, grow the market, and simplify the lives of manufacturers, system integrators, and users.
Matter, the universal language for maximum interoperability
The new open-source standard called Matter is inspired by these principles of universality, transparency, and simplification, developed by over 200 companies using already mature technologies and approved by the CSA (Connectivity Standards Alliance) which includes the main tech companies in the smart home world. Matter is a universal language (in technical jargon "application layer") that relies on the IP protocol and defines how home automation devices speak to each other.
It does not claim to replace the proprietary systems used for the control and configuration of devices but intends to work alongside it using operating mechanisms understandable by all products, brands, and hardware/software solutions.
To carry out this mission, it adopts widely used connections such as Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth, requires the presence of a compatible control device (e.g. smartphone, smart speaker/display, dedicated hub, etc.), and uses the same recording method (in technical jargon "onboarding") already seen on other smart electronic devices such as surveillance cameras.
For example, simply power the Matter-compatible home automation device, type a code (setup code) or scan the QR Code, bring the device close to your smartphone, or pronounce a voice command to automatically add it to the home automation system and configure it as illustrated in the following video tutorial.
Once connected and configured, the device is managed in all its functions both by the proprietary application and by the multi-brand ones installed on the smartphone (e.g.: Alexa, Google Home, SmartThings, Apple Home, etc.), through the commands vowels, routines, etc. All this even when the internet connection is offline (thanks to the LAN network) and regardless of the smartphone and tablet used (Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.).
Matter & Thread: what are the differences?
The matter should not be confused with Thread, the open-standard protocol created by Nest and other companies in 2014, based on Zigbee with a mesh network connection and also supported by the Matter language.
Unlike Zigbee, however, Thread does not require a dedicated hub but a border router (Thread Router) present, for example, in the Google Nest, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod Mini smart speakers/displays (see below).
Thread can also support multiple border routers so as to create redundancy in the event of faults or malfunctions, it is the ideal solution for large environments where Wi-Fi coverage is patchy and for battery-powered smart devices thanks to low energy consumption.
Compatible controllers, routers, and devices
There are already thousands of smart devices compatible with the Matter language on the market. To understand the difference between the various types and understand how they work it is necessary to establish some basic concepts.
First of all, there are the Matter controllers (also called "hub" or "gateway") which are used to connect and manage Matter devices such as, switches, sockets, LED bulbs, environmental and safety sensors (e.g. .: magnetic and presence contacts), thermostatic valves, etc.
Almost all smart speakers/displays, routers, and Wi-Fi extenders in the Echo (Amazon), Nest/Google Home (Google), and HomePod (Apple) ranges have already received a software update to operate as Matter controllers.
The same companies have also updated their respective apps such as Alexa, Google Home, and Home, the operating systems of smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, PCs, and smart boxes (e.g. iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS, Android, Android Wear, etc. .) to support Matter devices in combination with the controller.
The matter has also been integrated into the multi-brand smart home platforms of Samsung ( SmartThings ) and LG ( ThinQ ) but also in the new Smart TVs (2023-2024 ranges) of both Korean manufacturers (always with controller function ) and in many other devices and household appliances.
If, instead of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, the Thread protocol is used (see above), it is also necessary to have a Thread Border Router, i.e. an external or integrated device that allows Thread devices to communicate with "non-Thread" ones. ” can be conveniently controlled using various methods such as controllers, hubs, smartphone apps, voice commands, and similar methods.
Some Echo (such as the 4th generation smart speaker ), Eero ( Pro 6E, Pro 6, 6+, 6, Pro, and more), and Apple ( HomePod, Home Pod Mini, and Apple TV 4K ) devices include the Thread Border Router while others require a compatible external router.
Last (but not least) we find the Matter devices for the smart home which are managed by the Matter controller regardless of the type (switch, lights, sensors, etc.), manufacturer, etc.
Among the manufacturers of smart home devices that have included one or more Matter-compatible devices in their catalog, we find EVE, Meross, TP-Link (with the Tapo and Kasa brands) Nanoleaf, Philips (Hue), Onvis, Nuki, Sonoff, SwitchBot and Aqara.
The Eve range includes the Eve Energy smart socket, the Eve Thermo thermostatic head, the Eve Door and windows, and Eve Motion sensors, all “Matter ready” and also on sale on Amazon.
Meross and TP-Link offer various Matter smart plugs including the MSS315 and the Tapo P100M, P110M, and P125M models with double Schuko (P125M also double-pass), energy consumption measurement, and other interesting features starting from just 13 euros.
The new 4th generation Nuki Smart Lock smart locks (normal and PRO versions) also support Matter and allow you to automate locks with European cylinders in a simple, quick, and safe way.
Among the Matter-compatible smart switches, we highlight the new Sonoff Mini R4M with live output (220Vac - the same as the input), terminal for the switch, button, or external diverter (so as to maintain light/socket control with the already existing electromechanical control). It costs only 22 euros and can also be purchased on Amazon.
Aqara offers various smart devices with Matter including the P2 door/window sensor, the T1 RGB+IC LED strip, and the T2 double relay smart switch with energy consumption measurement for lights, sockets, curtains, and shutters.
Nanoleaf offers various smart lighting systems such as the RGB Lightstrip Starter Kit LED strip (2 or 5 meters) and the dimmable RGBW LED bulbs with B22 or E27 sockets. If you are looking for an external hub/gateway with an Ethernet socket to control Matter devices we suggest the A2ZWORLD MU3000 model also compatible with Zigbee and Thread.