Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Amazon says Matter will make Alexa smarter

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Amazon wants every smart home device to work with its Alexa ecosystem, and it says matter is key to achieving that goal. “We truly believe in ambient intelligence – an environment where your devices are interwoven by artificial intelligence so that they can provide much more than any device could do on its own,” Marja Koopmans, director of Alexa smart hometold The edge in an interview.

“Matter ensures interoperability, and interoperability between all those devices in the house is essential to realize” [our] vision of ambient intelligence.” The more devices that can talk to each other, the more “experiences” platforms can build with them. For example, “If I leave home and forget to turn off the lights or adjust my thermostat, Alexa will do that for me, including locking the doors,” Koopmans says.

Matter is a new standard coming to a smart home near you later this year. Allows connected devices to communicate using existing IP-based wireless protocols Thread and Wi-Fi. It is not a smart home platform like Apple HomeKit, Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa. So you still need to choose one of these platforms to use your Matter compatible devices, but you are not limited to one.

Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung embrace Matter because it allows any device to run on their smart home platforms, regardless of who made it, and without any special platform-specific programming on the part of the developer. When it works with Matter, it just works — at least for the device categories Matter will initially support: smart lights, plugs, locks, sensors, thermostats, blinds/blinds, and Wi-Fi routers.

Of course, that means those devices also “just work” on their competitors’ platforms. You can add devices to multiple platforms at once and then control them with any Matter controller. A Matter controller can be a smart display or speaker, a voice assistant or a smartphone app. This means, for example, that if you add a Matter device with Alexa, you can also control it with Apple’s HomeKit or Google Home.

But the theory is that with a level playing field, each platform believes it can provide the best “experience” for the customer. And if not, you can switch all your Matter devices to another platform — without hours of tedious effort — and try that out.

We should see Matter devices later this year; they can be recognized by the Matter logo.
Image: NXP

Can we have more Matter devices, please?

For all of this to work, there must be a lot of Matter devices. At this week’s Alexa Live Developer Event, Amazon announced a slew of tools and features to help developers build Matter devices, much like Google did at I/O, Apple at WWDC and Samsung at SDC. And these tools help developers build Matter-compatible devices that work with any platform, not just Alexa.

Koopmans emphasized that Amazon also helps developers to add Matter compatibility to existing products through bridging. “Matter is not another protocol reset,” she says. “Customers don’t need to replace their existing devices, Matter is designed to build on the investments that customers and device makers have already made.”

Another big promise of the Matter standard is to simplify the smart home experience, making it much easier to add devices to your smart home. On this front, Amazon praised being Frustration-free installation process that automatically adds a device as soon as it is turned on – no pairing required.

Amazon says it has donated FFS to the Matter SDK as an option for developers. Sengled and TP-Link use it in their Matter-over-Wi-Fi devices, and Eve and Nanoleaf in their Matter-over-Thread devices. “Adding FFS directly into the Matter SDK means developers don’t need an Amazon-specific SDK at all,” Koopmans explains. Eve is particularly noteworthy here: until Matter became a reality, its products only worked with Apple HomeKit.

With a new Ambient Home Dev Kit, device makers can dig deeper into Alexa’s capabilities to create more of those “experiences,” Koopmans says the Alexa platform will help differentiate. These include a new Home State API with Home, Vacation, Dinner Time and Sleep modes that can keep smart devices in sync.

Currently, you can run an Alexa routine or tell Alexa “I’m leaving” to lock your door, turn down your thermostat, turn off your lights, and arm your security system. But with the new home states, Koopmans says the experience will be “more ambitious and proactive,” you don’t have to say “I’m leaving.”

“But it’s up to the developers to design that experience,” she says. Amazon is also extending routines for device manufacturers to create them for you, another step to make the smart home more automated and less complicated (for more, read my colleague David Pierce’s article).

This is all part of Amazon’s effort to create a context-based smart home experience, where inputs from all of your devices “just know” your home what you’re doing and can adapt automatically. Alexa currently has a version of this with its Hunches, where when the assistant “has a hunch” you want something done, like turning off the porch light after 9 p.m., it does it for you.

But responding correctly to the context is a complicated effort. Google Nest has been struggling for years to get Home and Away modes to work without any user input, and it still hasn’t succeeded. Apple hasn’t even tried. Matter will help everyone here immensely because the more devices connected to your home, the easier it is to create context.

The Echo Dot works with Matter over Wi-Fi; the Echo will be a wire border router.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

How Matter will improve Alexa

Amazon has not provided an update on how Alexa devices themselves will integrate with Matter. Koopmans simply repeated: The edge that existing Echo devices will receive OTA updates to work with Matter over Wi-Fi and that Eero Wi-Fi routers and the fourth-generation Echo smart speaker will also act as Thread boundary routers to connect Thread devices to your home network . But she did share more about how Alexa and its app will work with Matter devices and other Matter-compatible ecosystems once the standard launches.

Matter adds some local control to Alexa, making the voice assistant faster to respond to smart home questions, such as “Turn off the lights.” “And with a Thread border router at home, your smart home works, whether the internet is on or off,” Koopmans confirms.

She also confirmed that Alexa will play well with other Matter-enabled ecosystems, such as Google Home and Apple HomeKit. You can add devices to Alexa and then control them with any Matter controller. “[A customer] can add new Matter devices or additional Matter admins [controllers] seamlessly in the background without having to generate and enter a Matter setup code for each,” says Koopmans.

You can also choose to add Alexa as a Matter controller when you set up a device with a manufacturer’s app, so you don’t have to go to the Alexa app to add it separately. Another new multi-app feature is Device Group Sync, which means that when you add a group like “kitchen lighting” to the Alexa app or a device’s app, it will show up in both apps. This is similar to how Apple’s HomeKit app works with device apps these days. Apple has said it has donated the underlying infrastructure of its Home app to Matter.

All this collaboration may seem highly suspicious to people who have seen companies like Amazon and Google fight over every little thing. (Is there a YouTube app on Amazon Echo smart displays? I don’t think so.) But when it comes to the smart home, there’s a collective reckoning in the industry; it’s time to cooperate or die. “I don’t believe there’s a future for the smart home if the industry doesn’t work together to create great experiences for our shared customers,” Koopmans says. And she’s not wrong.


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