Matter, the upcoming standard that tries to give the smart home a single language, is almost here – and I was just treated to an early demonstration of the kinds of cross-platform compatibility it should enable in the future. The demonstration was given by Eve, who manufacture a range of smart plugs, radiator valves, lighting and security equipment.
Historically, Eve has only worked with Apple’s HomeKit smart home platform. This is 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 had an iOS app, but no Android app, and it didn’t support Samsung’s SmartThings, Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Home. So it was remarkable to see all four platforms represented as I approached Eve’s booth at the IFA trade show in Berlin.
The reason for the shift is Matter. It’s arguably the most important thing that’s happened to the smart home since its inception, and in theory we’re just months away from going public. Eve also announced it’s launching an Android app as a counterpart to the existing iOS app, but the big problem with Matter is that you don’t technically need an app from a device manufacturer at all. You can just set up and control your Matter-compatible devices with existing apps, be it Apple HomeKit, Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Samsung SmartThings apps.
That’s exactly what Eve demonstrated at IFA. The Matter spec hasn’t been finalized yet, so none of the devices were running their latest Matter-compatible firmware, but it was enough to see the kinds of functionality we could expect when Eve’s devices are updated to support it.
The Amazon table featured a fourth-generation Echo speaker, along with a typical non-smart bulb plugged into an Eve Energy smart plug. At this time, 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 that can be run locally. Eve showed how Matter will enable these two previously incompatible devices to talk to each other.
Eve’s booth reps were pretty persistent that no one but them uses voice commands to control each of their smart plugs, so I depended on them to give the commands that would control Eve’s devices. “Alexa, turn off my Eve Energy,” a representative asked a fourth-generation Amazon Echo. After a (albeit rather long) beat, a light plugged into a smart Eve Energy plug clicked out.
Matter’s design makes it easy and seamless for users across platforms to natively control the same smart home products. The result is a more cohesive experience, with whichever voice assistant you choose to control all your Matter-compatible devices, and configuration changes made to a device through one ecosystem are automatically reflected everywhere. Each of the four demo stations used the same model Eve Energy smart plug, without the need for separate models for different ecosystems. Since the accessory already supports Thread, updating to support Matter has been a relatively seamless process, Eve’s PR director Lars Felber tells me.
The Google table featured both a second-generation Thread-enabled Nest Hub and a Google Pixel 6 Pro with the Google Home app. First, Felber told the Nest Hub, “Okay Google, turn on my lights.” The moment Google’s smart display recognized the command, the Eve Energy smart plug behind it clicked onto the attached light bulb. The smart display had sent a signal to the smart plug via Thread to turn it on, thanks to Matter.
Using the Android phone with the Google Home app was less seamless in my demonstration. “Phones don’t do wire,” Felber explained to me. As a result, the handset had to communicate with the Nest Hub over a local Wi-Fi network for the smart display to send the command via Thread to the smart plug. Unfortunately, it was not possible to control the smart plug directly from the phone. The icon on the phone responded to my taps, but the light remained unchanged.
It was a shame not to see Matter work flawlessly, but show floors are admittedly one of the worst possible places to showcase technology like this. Felber told me there were about 50 overlapping Wi-Fi networks in the exhibition hall we were in, and even the least congested Wi-Fi channel still had nine devices. The Thread 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 screaming inches away from the stand’s various smart speakers. Plus, the Matter standard isn’t final at the moment – so some bugginess might be to be expected.
A third table showed Matter’s integration with SmartThings. Confusingly, there was only one Samsung phone (a Galaxy S22) on this table, with no Thread border router in sight. But Felber confirmed to me that the company used an Aeotec-manufactured SmartThings Hub — which was hidden in the table for some reason — to send the signal to the Eve Energy. While completely misleading, the demo worked well. Using the SmartThings app to control the smart plug felt immediate.
Finally, there was the Apple table, the least surprising of the four as it showcased a hardware configuration that already supports the HomeKit-exclusive Eve range just fine — albeit now updated to use Matter instead of just Apple’s HomeKit. Next to the smart plug and bulb on that table were an iPhone 13 and a HomePod Mini smart speaker that acted as a wire border router. Operating the smart plug through either one was very responsive.
While the launch of the Matter standard means Eve’s devices will become much more functional, existing owners shouldn’t have to buy new hardware to reap the benefits. Felber says Eve plans to push an OTA update to all of her Thread-enabled products (which make up 14 of the 18-strong product line) to use Matter. The Eve Energy will be the first, hopefully by the end of the year, to include other devices like the Eve Door & Windowthe Eve againthe Eve Motionand the Eve Thermo then follow.
Turning light bulbs on and off is an easy smart trick for a home party, and there are plenty of other examples of smart devices working in different ecosystems. But seeing a currently exclusive Apple accessory works (relatively) seamlessly across all these different ecosystems, with both voice and app control, I’m pretty excited about what Matter could accomplish when it launches this fall.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge