Here’s EVERYTHING You Need to Know About Matter + Why It Matters to YOU!
“Matter” is a word that you might have heard floating around the tech space recently when it comes to smart home (especially with whispers of Nanoleaf’s Essentials Matter lights). Or, if you’re not a huge tech person, it might be a word that your techy possibly-half-cyborg friend dropped in a conversation when you were debating between iOS and Android. If you have no idea what Matter is, or if/why you should even care, this is the perfect article for you. We’re going to break it down to its very core to get everyone of any level of technological know-how on the same page. And if you’re already a Matter expert, give it a read anyways, because you might learn something new!
What is Matter?
Matter is a new unifying smart home standard that aims to simplify the way different smart devices work together.
Which raises the question: …What is a smart home standard?
Think about Apple Home; it’s an ecosystem wherein all the products designed for it work together. Your iPhone works with your Macbook, which works with your Apple Watch and your Apple HomePod. So in a way, you could say they’re standardized for that system. Apple Home speaks ONE language, and all Apple Home compatible products listen, and can speak back.
However, if you then buy, let’s say, a smart lightbulb from a company that doesn’t have an Apple Home badge on the box, and thereby doesn’t “speak” Apple Home, you might end up …left in the dark (quite literally).
As things were previously, it was imperative that you match that badge on the box to its specific ecosystem. Brands are exclusive, because that’s what made sense at their time of development. When smart products were new, everyone was developing for it for their own products, in their own bubbles.
But the world has changed! Today, with each brand having their own unique offerings, it’s too hard to pick just one to stick to. That’s especially true when it limits your options for adding additional devices and for more advanced automations. But…why should you have to?
That’s where Matter comes in. When it comes down to it, Matter is basically an agreement between all your favorite smart home platforms to play nice and finally work together with ALL smart home devices, regardless of the brand (as long as they’re Matter certified, which they all eventually will be). It’s the universal standard—one language that they’ll ALL speak. This will bring many of your smart devices together in a way that was never previously possible.
Summarized into one buzzword, it’s all about interoperability.
Why Should I Care?
With Matter, rather than scouring the “Works with” section on every box and website, you’ll simply see the “Matter” badge. Then you’ll know that no matter which smart platform you use, it’s going to work. It’s that easy.
On top of that, you’ll finally be able to use your favorite (read: Nanoleaf) smart home products with any ecosystem of your choice.
Now you may be asking yourself this question: “Wait…wasn’t Nanoleaf already compatible with any ecosystem of my choice?”
Well, yes, kind of. The majority of Nanoleaf’s lights already work with Apple Home, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung Smartthings individually. But when it comes to Nanoleaf’s Essentials line of Bulbs and Lightstrips, they’re only natively compatible with Apple and Google’s platforms due to some complicated technical limitations. There are workarounds to be able to use them with Alexa, but a “work”around sounds like a lot of work, and Matter is all about simplification. So with Nanoleaf’s upcoming line of Essentials Matter lights, you won’t need to wonder what it works with, or to look for the badges of your favorite brands. The answer will just always be: Yes.
And it won’t just be Nanoleaf lights that allow you to enjoy this freedom and simplicity. It will apply to any and all smart home products that join Team Matter (which might eventually be all of them). However, we have no interest in non-Nanoleaf products so this paragraph ends here.
Summarized into one buzzword, it’s all about simplicity.
What Does Matter Mean for the Future?
Imagine if every time you spoke you needed to repeat everything you said in 3 languages. It would be such a time-sink that you might just choose not to talk.
Now imagine instead that you’re a developer coding an exciting new feature into your exciting new smart home product. But for every line of code you write, you need to write everything in 3 languages. It would be such a time AND money sink that you might just choose not to code.
But if you just needed to code in ONE language (…do you see where we’re going here?) then just think of all the time and money that you’d save. You could now spend that on developing even MORE new things! The tech world could move at a much faster pace, leading to increased collaboration and innovation! Technology would be able to progress leaps and bounds beyond what could be achieved in the past, making anything possible!
Like a screen that you can watch with your eyes closed. Or cars that you can drive with your eyes closed. Or… can you tell that we’re overdue for a nap. But what about a future with unlimited nap-time productivity? While today one could only dream of such a thing, Matter truly is one of the first steps in making all of these dreams (along with actually practical dreams) a reality.
Summarized into one buzzword, it’s all about naps.
…Or, one could say, innovation.
Another important aspect of this is automation. In the current smart home landscape, “automation” is often synonymous with “schedules”—different timings for when you want your devices to turn on or off. But in a world of interoperability and innovation, your devices and ecosystems can work together for more advanced automations that make your everyday life easier. Think of your lights dimming automatically whenever you turn on your TV. Or turning on automatically whenever you unlock your front door. These seemingly small conveniences really do add up to create a truly seamless smart home experience. And they will finally become possible once all of your devices can work together for a common good.
How Do I Get Started with Matter?
If you’re looking to start building your very own smart home, you’ve picked the best time to do it with the launch of Matter. That’s because you can pick the base smart home ecosystem of your choice without being worried about the limitations of any smart devices that you want to add on later: they’ll just work.
So, for example, if you’re a die-hard Apple fan, you won’t have to be limited to third party devices with exclusive Apple Home certification (which to be honest aren’t super prevalent on the market today).
In short, to get started you’ll need 3 things:
- A Matter-compatible smart home hub (which might just be a software update away on any current hub you might have. Or if you’re starting from scratch, here are the full lists of devices from Apple, Google, Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings)
- A Thread border router (which again might be hiding in a device you already own)
- A phone that’s compatible with your previous 2 selections
Let’s continue to use Apple as an example:
Start building your smart home with your Apple Home hub of choice, like the HomePod mini—the ultimate fun-sized powerhouse—, the standard HomePod, Apple TV 4K, etc. There are many options to choose from, but just check to make sure they’re Matter-compatible before making your purchase.
Next, to get the benefits of Matter-over-Thread products like Nanoleaf’s Essentials Matter lights (which is highly recommended because of the additional features and functionality Thread allows), you need to add a Thread Border Router into the mix.
Based on the product you chose in Step 1, you might already have this. Many smart home hubs double as Thread border routers too. Otherwise, you can find other smart products that double as Thread border routers, like Nanoleaf’s Shapes, Lines, and Elements lights. As if you needed another excuse to get yourself a set.
[NOTE: Nanoleaf Shapes, Lines and Elements will require a firmware update to version 8.5.0+ (coming mid April) to function as Thread border routers for Essentials Matter lights.]
Make sure you have a phone compatible with your previous 2 selections.
Even with Matter’s interoperability, some companies still have exclusivity within their ecosystems when it comes to hubs and phones. So for example, if you choose an Apple HomePod, you’d still need to go with an iPhone to use it. But, chances are if you chose an Apple HomePod in the first place, you’re already using an iPhone anyways. So we’re mainly just adding this as a disclaimer and for educational purposes, as you were probably following this step already without even knowing it was a thing.
Once you have those three things, you can start building on as many smart products as your heart desires. And with Matter opening the flood-gates of interoperability, that is now a LOT of products. From your thermostat to your smart locks, doorbells and blinds, you can create the smart home of your dreams. And they can all be controlled through one platform (ie in this case, the Apple Home app). Use voice control with Siri and boss around your entire household (of devices, not people please) at the same time. And enjoy more advanced automations across different products, as previously mentioned.
But enough about the Apple fans, what about the Alexa or Google people out there? Well, it’s pretty much exactly the same thing, so read all that again but sub out the word “Apple” for your ecosystem of choice.
The only differences would be which devices work as hubs or Thread border routers (check this link to find a full list of qualified devices), and that you’d need to make sure that your chosen hub supports not only Matter, but specifically Matter over Thread (vs. over WiFi). All the big players have confirmed they will be adding this support, it’s just a matter of when, with individual rollouts set to happen over the next few months. But if you’re determined to get into action with Matter ASAP, that’s something to look out for.
One thing we didn’t mention so far is future-proofing. Everyone knows the feeling of buying a product, only to have the world change and suddenly render it redundant only a few years later. With Matter, because all these companies have finally agreed to speak the same language for now and for the future, the smart home products that you’re buying now will continue to work with Matter for now and for the future too. Which is good, because a smart home is meant to make things easier, but rewiring a thermostat, reinstalling a lock, and even rescrewing in a lightbulb every couple of years is honestly a huge pain in the butt.
With Matter, all of these devices will be set-it-and-forget-it, so you don’t have to worry about replacing them whenever the hot new smart home standard or protocol comes out. Matter was many MANY years in the making in the smart home industry, and it is here to stay. Just one more way that it simplifies your life.
In the end, Matter really does boil down to those 4 things: Interoperability, Simplicity, Innovation, and Future-Proofing.
So now that you know all about it, feel free to get excited, and look out for the first wave of Nanoleaf’s Essentials Matter products, coming out very soon!
We’ll see you all in the future.
P.S. We mentioned Thread throughout this article; Nanoleaf’s Essentials Matter line uses Matter over Thread to provide the world’s best lighting experience. But if you don’t totally know what Thread is, follow us over to this article to become an instant expert.