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Google, Amazon, Apple back Matter standard so smart home devices cooperate

Smart lightbulbs, door locks, thermostats and other items should be easier to install and interconnect, and Google will upgrade many current products with Matter software updates.

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Matter smart device logo on a networked lightbulb

The three-arrow Matter logo shown on this smart lightbulb signifies smart-home tech that will work well with other devices.

Connectivity Standards Alliance; illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

An alliance sponsored by Apple, Google, Amazon and other tech companies will begin certifying smart home devices later this year using a network technology called Matter, an important step toward making smart home products like smart speakers and lightbulbs more widely accepted. One sign of the technology's how is that Matter will let smart-home products from Apple and Google work together despite the companies' longtime rivalry.

The new Matter logo on products and packaging will signify that smart devices, such as lightbulbs you turn on with Amazon Alexa or a video doorbell you monitor with Google Home, will get along well together. The logo looks like a trio of round-tipped arrows pointing toward a common center. The logo also will provide a way for consumers to quickly locate QR codes or numeric codes to help set up their devices.

Tobin Richardson, chief executive of the Connectivity Standards Alliance that's behind Matter, said in a May interview he expects the logo to become as "ubiquitous" as the Wi-Fi logo currently is.

"As these different devices become more complex networks, it's all the more important that they're all talking the same language," Richardson said. "That mark will be a helping hand to make sure that you can add whatever lightbulbs, whatever door locks, whatever you want to add." Richardson made the comment in an interview ahead of a Matter press event.

And at its Google I/O developer conference this week, Google announced plans to bring Matter support to its newer Nest thermostats, hubs and Wi-Fi network gear as well as its Android smartphone software. Google detailed its Matter support plans in a blog post.

The alliance's certification process is more evidence of the rapid pace of change in the smart home, part of the internet of things movement to digitize everything. Like smartphones, the smart home could quickly become central to your daily life.

Matter is a new name for a smart-home alliance previously called CHIP, short for Connected Home over Internet Protocol. Unveiled in 2019, it employs the internet's core technology to smooth over the complexities of connecting smart-home devices. The technology allows users to control lighting, heating, home theaters, video doorbells, door locks and alarms through smart speakers.

Getting all of these devices to get along -- especially with Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant competing to be your preferred interface -- can be difficult. Matter is designed to unify the network domain, ensuring devices will work with any of those three main voice control systems. It should work even if you use more than one control system.

Expect Matter to arrive in lightbulbs, thermostats, door locks, garage doors, alarms, window shades and TVs.

"Matter can be used to bridge together the many different systems people have in their homes today," said Chris DeCenzo, a smart home engineering leader at Amazon, during the press event.

Developers should be pleased with Matter, said Kevin Po, Google Nest senior product manager. "The smart home can't grow if each device maker has to develop products that work for each ecosystem protocol," he said, adding that Google will detail Matter developments at its Google I/O conference that starts May 18.

Several companies hoping to cash in on the smart home trend are involved. Silicon Labs and Nordic Semiconductor are ready with Matter-capable chips and electronics boards for product design. Door lock company Assa Abloy will bring Matter to its Yale locks. Others planning Matter products include Comcast, Schlage, Schneider Electric and Huawei.

Matter's Zigbee Alliance roots

Matter allies developed their technology within the Zigbee Alliance, a group founded to work on the low-speed but energy-efficient Zigbee network technology that's used in some smart-home devices such as smart lightbulbs and alarm sensors. That group renamed itself the Connectivity Standards Alliance on Tuesday to reflect its mission beyond Zigbee.

The event drew appearances from smart speaker leaders Amazon and Google, internet service provider Comcast, Samsung's smart home SmartThings group, and Signify, which markets the Philips Hue lighting technology.

The allies have been developing Matter technology as a royalty free, open-source project on GitHub. In the last two weeks, they ratified the specification, a key step in letting device makers get to work on certification and making Matter support easier for developers.

Matter smart home device certification logo

The Matter logo signifies smart-home devices that are certified to get along well with each other and with the Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant voice control systems.

Connectivity Standards Alliance; illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Matter should make setups more streamlined, said Michelle Mindala-Freeman, who runs marketing for the alliance. Setup codes should let you link up your devices without having to download apps or link to cloud services.

Matter also should lower barriers between different smart-home ecosystems so you don't have to worry whether a new product will work within your smart home setup. It "breaks down the walls of the walled garden," Mindala-Freeman said.

To succeed, the Matter allies also will have to convince us the technology is trustworthy, not just simple. Privacy is top of mind with iPhones now cracking down on app tracking.

"We still have a long road ahead in terms of building the trust," Richardson said. "You have to earn it."

Correction, May 12: Fixes spelling of Google Nest Senior Product Manager Kevin Po's name.