Thursday, December 08
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Smart Homes

The Internet of Things and Why They “Matter

How “smart” is your living space? It’s probably smarter than you realize — just think about the different appliances, entertainment systems and home monitoring packages you already have installed. Do you have a speaker which answers to Siri or Alexa? Do you have a Nest Doorbell or a Honeywell security camera system? Maybe a Samsung Smart Hub refrigerator or a GE WiFi-enabled washer/dryer combo? How about a Sony television? Or a lightbulb that automatically turns on when a room gets dark? If the answer to one or more of the foregoing is yes, then you’re well on your way to having a smart home.

Google Nest Shutterstock

But what exactly is a “smart home”? The idea has been around since 1966 with the ECHO IV, an acronym for “Electronic Home Computer Operator.” The ECHO IV, which could store recipes, send messages, control a home’s temperature, create a grocery list and turn appliances on or off, never really caught on: it was prohibitively expensive and never commercially available. In 1984, the American Association of Home Builders coined the term “smart home” to refer to systems or appliances which could be programmed to turn on and off — like a digital thermostat, a VCR, a dishwasher or a stove. 

In 2022, a “smart home” means so much more than programmable appliances: it’s a home automated by connected devices and systems which perform human tasks by remote control. These smart home systems and devices are connected to and constitute a part of the larger “Internet of Things” or IoT. Every single device or system which is connected to the internet makes up the IoT; however, the term is more specifically used to refer to the rapidly growing network of objects that communicate with each other, collecting and exchanging information and data in real time. Still think you don’t have an IoT device? Better check that cell phone in your pocket. No matter whether you’ve got an android, Apple or basic flip phone, it’s a part of the IoT.

The Iot raises a lot of issues about connectivity, privacy and security. It can be difficult — to say nothing of downright frustrating and near impossible — to connect your individual smart home devices to a single hub like Alexa or Google. Then there’s the question of network security: how secure is your home’s IoT network from hacking and other digital invasion? Is your information secure? Many consumers fear unwanted and unwarranted surveillance by their home hub systems. Despite these fears and concerns, the IoT market continues to grow at an exponential rate: home device sales are projected to reach $13 billion in 2022, and the total number of IoT connections is on track to exceed 27 billion in 2025. 

Amazon Alexa

Responding to consumer concerns about interconnectivity and security in smart home hubs was a major theme of the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show, which was held in January 2022 in Las Vegas. The big reveal: the introduction of Matter, an open-sourced connectivity standard created for the express purpose of streamlining the interconnectivity among smart home devices, hubs and systems. Matter is a communication protocol standard that promises to leverage existing technologies — like WiFi, Bluetooth, and ethernet — to allow all of your devices to communicate with each other locally, without the need for an internet connection. Spearheaded by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, a standards-setting organization for the IoT industry, the Matter smart home standard will enable individual devices to work with the smart home system of your choice. Developed in concert with over 200 companies — including Apple, Samsung, Google and Amazon — Matter will be the unifying operating standard so that devices will work seamlessly together and provide a better, more stringent level of security. 

To be clear: Matter is not just another platform or smart hub like Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple Home Kit. Instead, Matter is a software application layered into those ecosystems providing a communication conduit between all the smart devices in your home — no matter the manufacturer. Matter devices will
operate entirely locally, communicating with each other directly by WiFi, Bluetooth or “Thread”, which is the new device-to-device mesh communication protocol underpinning Matter. What does this mean for you and your home? It means that if your internet goes down, your smart home will continue to operate; it also means that control of your smart home will remain local, ensuring greater security and privacy. Maybe interactions between your smart home devices — like turning lights off and on — will happen much faster too.

Interoperability is the key of Matter. All Matter-compliant devices will work together, no matter which brand makes them. There will be a number of other consumer benefits, including a greater choice in products (because you no longer will be limited to a single smart home ecosystem), a simplified user experience (especially in respect of product setup) and lower costs (thanks to greater efficiencies in engineering, manufacturing, and more, by not having to support multiple “works with” programs).

Amazon Echo

Going forward, Matter promises to be the standard for all smart home devices and systems; if you are in the market for a new smart home device or system, confirm that it is Matter-compliant. For existing smart home systems, the following are currently being updated to support Matter: newer Amazon Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers; all Amazon Echo Flex, Echo Plus, Echo Show, and Echo Studio smart speakers and displays; all Apple devices running iOS 15, iPad OS 15, HomePod OS 15, tvOS 15, and watchOS 15; all Eero Beacon, Eero Pro, Eero Pro 6, and Eero 6 mesh WiFi routers; all Google Nest smart speakers and displays; Google Nest WiFi routers; Google Nest Thermostat; and Philips Hue smart lights. 

The list is growing every day, because your smart home does matter.