What is Matter? Everything you need to know about the Apple-backed smart home standard

Matter smart home
(Image credit: Future / iMore / Stephen Warwick)

Matter is a brand new smart home connectivity standard you might have heard of. It that sounds complicated, worry not. Matter is to the smart home as Bluetooth is to headphones. No matter what kind of device you have, a laptop, PC, iPad, iPhone, Android device, or anything else, if you want wireless headphones, you buy Bluetooth. Matter will do the same to the smart home. It's a new connectivity standard that will unite HomeKit, Google Home, Amazon, and more, so that you never have to worry about smart home compatibility ever again. You just buy the devices you need and want, and control them in the best way that suits you. 

Matter is here, so here's everything you need to know. 

What is Matter?

Matter, formerly known as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP), is a smart home connectivity standard. The new standard is backed by Apple, Google, Amazon, and other big names in the Connectivity Standards Alliance to increase interoperability between smart home devices across platforms. It also boasts the buy-in of some notable smart home brands, such as Nanoleaf, Netatmo, Eve, and more.

"This industry–unifying standard is a promise of reliable, secure connectivity—a seal of approval that devices will work seamlessly together, today and tomorrow."

In theory, Matter means that popular devices from big-name brands like Ring video doorbells and Nest smart thermostats will work just as well with your Apple gear and the Home app as the best HomeKit accessories do today.

How does Matter work?

Matter is built upon Internet Protocol (IP) and will use existing networking technologies to unify smart home platforms. That means Matter-certified devices will use standard stuff like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, and Thread to connect to your network and each other. As these technologies advance, Matter will probably continue to incorporate new standards.

Manufacturers adopting Matter can easily make their products compatible with Apple's HomeKit and the Home app, Amazon's Alexa, and Google's Assistant services without needing to support multiple protocols in parallel. As a user, the Matter logo will give you confidence that the product will work with your smart home, regardless of your ecosystem of choice. 

For Apple users, you will no longer be limited to devices that only support Apple's HomeKit, opening up a whole new world of accessories you previously couldn't use. Conversely, it will also mean devices reserved for HomeKit in the past will work with other ecosystems.

Will Matter work with HomeKit and the Home app?

Yes! Since Apple is a member of the Connectivity Standards Alliance, Matter devices will work within the Home app and with Siri alongside existing HomeKit-enabled devices. Support for Matter is built into iOS 16, developers can already begin adding support to their smart home apps.

Will Matter work with AirPlay 2?

When Matter was first unveiled, there was no specific mention of how it would interact with technologies like Apple's AirPlay 2 or Google Cast. However, there have since been reports that a standardized casting system will be a part of the Matter spec, which could serve to replace these proprietary systems with a platform-agnostic alternative.

That being said, manufacturers that sign up to work with Matter are under no obligation to implement all parts of the Matter spec so AirPlay could live on in Apple devices.

When will we see products that work with Matter?

Two Matter-enabled light bulbs on a white background.

Two Matter-enabled light bulbs on a white background. (Image credit: Connectivity Standards Alliance.)

Matter was officially launched on October 4, 2022. Which means we should start hearing about products that support it very soon.

Will Matter work with older smart home devices?

The transition details aren't clear right now, but ultimately, whether or not your existing smart home devices gain Matter support will depend on the manufacturers and the specs of the individual products.

Since Matter works with existing tech standards like Wi-Fi, Thread, Zigbee, and Bluetooth LE, it's possible that a firmware update could be issued to devices to push out support for Matter. Devices released in the last few years may have modern enough components to meet Matter's requirements, but we'll have to wait and see what existing products gain official support.

We've heard from a few manufacturers like Philips Hue, Yale, and Google's Nest brand that they will add Matter support to existing devices, so there is cause for optimism. However, we have also heard from some manufacturers, such as Nanoleaf, who have said that some existing product lines lack the capabilities to support Matter and will require new hardware.

How does Matter work with Thread?

White Homepod Mini on a flat wooden surface.

White Homepod Mini on a flat wooden surface. (Image credit: Stephan Warwick / iMore)

Thread is another hot buzzword in the smart home space right now. Thread is a mesh networking protocol built into newer smart home accessories like the HomePod mini and Apple's new HomePod 2. which allows for more streamlined inter-device communication for faster response times and a more reliable experience.

Thread will be one of many networking technologies that Matter will be built on, in addition to Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Bluetooth LE, and Ethernet. It's not essential for Matter certification, though we're likely to see more devices adopt Thread over time, regardless.

Why does all this matter?

Home app displayed on a Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch

(Image credit: Apple)

The smart home has been an ecosystem play since these products became mainstream. If you use Apple gear, equipping your home with HomeKit-compatible devices makes the most sense, but it also makes it more difficult (and expensive) to change your mind down the line. Android users may also spend a small fortune on products that play nicely with Google Assistant only to end up with unsupported devices should they decide to switch to iPhone.

Matter sets out to make these different ecosystems more interoperable. It has the backing of the major players in the smart home space, including Apple, Amazon, and Google, which should result in much greater freedom of choice for consumers and fewer headaches when it comes to buying the right devices. Since the exact implementation details are still unclear, there are reasons to think Matter both will and won't matter for your smart home.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9