Matter launched with a bang six months ago, but since then, it’s been awfully quiet. With only a handful of new products available to buy, delays in promised updates of existing products, and a glacial rollout of support for the new smart home standard from the major platforms — specifically Google and Amazon — it has not been the success many people (myself included) hoped for. And today’s announcement of the release of Matter 1.1 is not going to help matters.
The first big Matter update doesn’t bring anything new; it’s just bug fixes and tweaks. There’s no support for any of the new device types previously promised: no robot vacuums, no appliances, no garage door controllers, definitely no cameras, and absolutely no improvement on the experience of adding a device to multiple platforms.
The CSA says in its press release that “Matter 1.1 creates an improved path forward for developers and new user experiences.” This includes making it easier for developers to build and certify products, The CSA is opening its own Matter testing center in Portland, Oregon, to help with the latter. Developers can download the Matter 1.1 specification and Matter 1.1 SDK today.
The “new user experiences” seem to be limited to fixing a common problem I’ve seen since I started testing Matter products: devices showing as offline in platform apps even though they may still be connected and working. Matter 1.1 will provide “enhancements” for what are called “Intermittently Connected Devices” (typically battery-powered devices like sensors, door locks, and switches), reducing “the likelihood that a device will be reported as offline when users or platforms interact with it.”
Matter is a new smart home interoperability standard that provides a common language for connected devices to communicate locally in your home without relying on a cloud connection. Developed by Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung, Matter uses Wi-Fi and Thread wireless protocols and, in its first rollout, supports smart sensors, smart lighting, smart plugs and switches, smart thermostats, connected locks, and media devices including TVs.
All of this means that if a smart home gadget you buy has the Matter logo, you can set it up and use it with any Matter-compatible device and any Matter-compatible platform. Matter devices are becoming available, and we expect more to arrive this year.
Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, and Apple Home are some of the big platforms that support Matter, and they have all updated their compatible hubs to be Matter controllers.
The first slew of Matter products (the CSA says it’s certified 1,135 products, although those aren’t all yet available to buy)includes many of these ICD devices. So this is a much-needed fix. Not being able to manage devices from your platform of choice because they are showing as disconnected sort of strikes at the heart of Matter’s promise of cross-platform compatibility.
Speaking of, multi-admin control is still a big fat mess, and 1.1 doesn’t fix it. Matter is designed to make it easy for devices to be added to and controlled by multiple platforms — such as Apple Home, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung SmartThings. In practice, as I’ve found with every Matter device I’ve tested, including Nanoleaf bulbs and a TP-Link smart plug, it’s anything but easy to get a device paired to one platform working on another.
To be fair to the CSA, it’s really the platforms that need to fix this. The problem is there is little to no incentive now that Matter has launched to make this process easy and straightforward. Currently, there are different flows for each platform, and although adding a Matter device is supposed to be as easy as scanning a QR code, it’s often unclear which QR code you need. The Matter code on the device itself can only be used to pair it to one platform. To add to another, you have to get a new code from the first platform. This multi-admin control is a crucial part of using Matter, and right now, it’s confusing and complicated — the exact opposite of what Matter should be.
To make matters worse (yes, I can’t help it), when you go to each platform looking for instructions on how to pair your device to another platform, they either don’t address it or offer a helpful variation of the following statement: “Contact the support for that third-party service to get help with sharing Matter devices.” Try going through that loop and see where you get. (Don’t. I did it for you, and it’s not worth it.)
The CSA is the governing body here, and it needs to step up and deal with this problem rather than just leave it to each platform to handle. Maybe Matter 1.1 wasn’t the place to do that; bug fixes and tweaks are par for the course for a 1.1 rollout. But we need to see some improvement soon, or the other benefits of Matter that we have seen — such as fast, local control, better security, and reliability — will get lost in the messiness of the current experience.
While there’s no news on what the next release will be called (1.2, 2.0), the CSA has committed to twice-yearly updates, with the next one coming in fall of 2023. The CSA did say we can expect to see new features and new device types supported with that release, but then, they’ve said that before.