Matter, the upcoming standard that seeks to provide a single unified language for the smart home is almost here — and I was treated to an early demonstration of the cross-platform compatibility it should enable in the future. The show was presented by Eve, which produces a range of smart plugs, radiator valves, lighting and security devices.
Historically, Eve has only ever worked with Apple’s HomeKit smart home platform. Because it didn’t want to use cloud-to-cloud platforms, preferring to keep its devices on locally controlled platforms for privacy and security. Eve has an iOS app but no Android app, and it doesn’t support Samsung’s SmartThings, Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Home. As I approached the Eves booth at the IFA trade show in Berlin it was worth noting that four platforms were represented.
The cause of the shift is matter. This is the most important thing since the dawn of the smart home, and in theory, we’re only a few months away from it becoming publicly available. Eve has announced the launch of an Android app as a counterpart to its existing iOS app, but the big thing with Matter is that you don’t technically need the device manufacturer’s app. You can set up and control your Matter-enabled devices with existing apps, whether it’s Apple HomeKit, Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Samsung SmartThings apps.
That’s exactly what Eve demonstrated at IFA. The Matter specification isn’t finalized yet, so none of the devices are running their final Matter-enabled firmware, but it’s enough to give us an idea of the kinds of functionality we can expect when Eve devices are updated to support them.
The Amazon Table includes a fourth-generation Echo speaker, along with a regular non-smart bulb that plugs into an Eve Energy smart plug. Currently, Echo speakers cannot control Eve products, as the latter are not Alexa-enabled. But both products are compatible with Thread, one of the wireless protocols Matter works with, and it can run natively. Eve is showing how matter enables these two previously incompatible devices to talk to each other.
Eve’s booth representatives were adamant that no one but them should use voice commands to control each of their smart plugs, so I relied on them to issue commands to control Eve’s devices. “Alexa, turn off my Eve Energy,” a representative asked the fourth-generation Amazon Echo. After an (admittedly too long) beat, the bulb clicked, plugged into the Eve Energy Smart Plug.
Matter design makes it easy and seamless for users on different platforms to control the same smart home products locally. The result is a more cohesive experience, the voice assistant you choose to use can control all your Matter-enabled devices, and configuration changes made to a device by one ecosystem are automatically reflected everywhere. Each of the four demo stations uses the same model of Eve Energy Smart Plug, eliminating the need for separate models for different ecosystems. Because the accessory already supports Thread, updating it to support Matter will be a relatively seamless process, Eve’s PR director Lars Felber told me.
On the Google table, there’s both a Thread-enabled second-generation Nest hub and a Google Pixel 6 Pro running the Google Home app. First, Felber tells the Nest Hub, “Ok Google, turn on my lights.” As soon as the Google Smart Display recognized the command, it clicked on the light bulb attached to the Eve Energy Smart Plug behind it. The smart display sent a signal to turn on the smart plug on the thread, thanks to that.
Using an Android phone running the Google Home app on my show was less seamless. “Phones don’t thread,” Felber explained to me. As a result, the smart display needs the handset to communicate with the Nest hub over the local Wi-Fi network to send a command to the smart plug via a thread. Unfortunately, trying to control the smart plug directly from the phone didn’t work. The icon on the phone responded to my taps, but the light didn’t change.
It’s a shame not to see the Mater working flawlessly, but trade show floors are admittedly one of the worst places to showcase technology like this. Felber told me that there were about 50 overlapping Wi-Fi networks in the trade show hall we were in, and there were still nine devices on the least congested Wi-Fi channel. Threaded protocol also uses the same 2.4Ghz frequency as Wi-Fi, resulting in more interference. The amount of noise also made it difficult to issue voice commands without shouting from the stand’s various smart speakers inches away. Additionally, the Mater standard is currently not final – so some buggyness is to be expected.
The third table shows the integration of Matter with Smart Things. Confusingly, there is only one Samsung phone (Galaxy S22) on this table without a threaded border router. But Felber confirmed to me that the company is using an Aeotech-made SmartThings hub to transmit the signal to Eve Energy — hidden inside the table for some reason. Although completely misleading, the demo worked well. Using the SmartThings app to control the Smart Plug felt instant.
Finally, there’s the Apple Table, the least surprising of the four, as it features a hardware setup that the HomeKit-exclusive Eve lineup already supports just fine — though now updated to use Matter rather than Apple HomeKit. On that table is a smart plug and bulb, along with an iPhone 13 and a HomePod Mini smart speaker that act as a threaded border router. Controlling the Smart Plug through these two is very responsive.
Although the launch of Matter Standard means that Eve’s devices are going to do a lot more work, existing owners won’t need to buy new hardware to reap the benefits. Felber said Eve plans to provide an OTA update to all of its Thread-enabled products (accounting for 14 of its 18-strong product lineup) to use Matter. Eve Energy will be number one with other devices like Eve Door & Window, Eve Weather, Eve Motion and Eve Thermo, hopefully by the end of the year.
Turning light bulbs on and off is a common smart home party trick, and there are plenty of other examples of smart devices at work in various ecosystems. But seeing Apple-exclusive connectivity work (relatively) right now in all these different ecosystems, with both voice and app control, makes me excited about what Matter can accomplish when it launches this fall.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge