Amazon announces a phased rollout of Matter to its Alexa smart home platform

Amazon will start its Matter journey slowly, bringing support for the new smart home standard to 17 Echo devices in December. But this first rollout will only be Matter over Wi-Fi (no Thread, yet), compatible only with Android phones, and cover just three device types: smart plugs, smart bulbs, and smart switches. Amazon announced the news at the Matter launch event in Amsterdam this week and says it will expand the rollout to iOS and Thread early next year, when it will also add more of the device types Matter supports.

The company, which is a founding member of the new smart home interoperability standard, also announced that Matter device makers will need to go through Amazon’s Works With Alexa program to get the WWA badge on their product pages. But they can do this in tandem with Matter certification. If a device is Matter certified, it will work with Alexa, regardless of whether it has the WWA certification.

Amazon also announced a collaboration with Samsung SmartThings that will make it easy to set up Matter devices on one platform and port them to the other without having to set them up again. This is similar to the collaboration with Google that Samsung announced last month. It’s an extra layer of interoperability on top of Matter’s multi-admin feature, which allows all Matter devices to be controlled by any Matter-compatible app.

Here’s the list of Echo speakers that will become Matter controllers next month: Echo Dot (fifth-gen), Echo Dot (fifth-gen) with Clock, Echo (fourth-gen), Echo Dot (third-gen, 2018 release), Echo Studio, Echo Show 8 (second-gen, 2021 release), Echo Show 10 (third-gen), Echo Show 5 (second-gen, 2021 release), Echo Dot (third-gen) with Clock, Echo Dot (fourth-gen) with Clock, Echo Show 5, Echo (v3), Echo Dot (fourth-gen), Echo Input, Echo Flex, Echo Plus (v2), Echo Show 8.

Once the free firmware arrives, if you have an Android phone, you should be able to add any Matter-compatible device to any compatible Matter app on your smartphone, with the Echo being the controller. Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Samsung’s SmartThings are all slated to be Matter controller apps on Android.

We are in a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation here, though, as hardware devices are starting to get updates, but we are still waiting on software support from some apps. Apple has added Matter support to its Home app and OS in iOS 16.1, as has Samsung for SmartThings and Galaxy devices. We’re still waiting on Google and now Amazon for iOS. It’s my understanding that this should largely resolve itself in the next three to four months, by which point all the platforms will be on board with Matter and ready to go.

Why it’s taking so long, however, and why we have to wait for Thread and iOS support for Matter on Alexa’s platform is down to caution. “We’re bringing Matter support to well over 100 million devices across 30 Echo and Eero devices,” Chris DeCenzo, a senior principal engineer at Amazon and the company’s CSA board director, explained in an interview with The Verge. “This is an effort unprecedented in scale and complexity. It’s a big deal, and we need to make sure it goes smoothly.”

In particular, he pointed to the lack of available products in the other Matter categories for Amazon to test. “There aren’t many [Matter-compatible] locks, window shades, and thermostats out there yet, and we want to test everything in our beta program first.”

It’s disappointing that we have to wait for support for Thread. Thread is a relatively new protocol in the smart home, and it’s already causing consumer confusion with its need for a Thread border router. But there aren’t many border routers available yet. Apple’s HomePod Mini and some Apple TV models are Thread border routers, as are Eero Wi-Fi routers and Nanoleaf smart lighting panels. The last two aren’t compatible with Matter yet, but you don’t need a Matter-compatible Thread border router to run Matter devices as long as you have a Matter controller elsewhere in your setup. But we need more options for Thread border routers, and soon.

Amazon has said it will update its Echo fourth-gen smart speaker to support Matter over Thread, and now that Matter is here, I had hoped support would come quickly. But there is some complexity around how Thread border routers from different manufacturers will work with each other to create a single Thread network that still needs to be worked out.

DeCenzo says Amazon wants to wait until everything is ready to go before enabling Thread. It has already worked with Samsung to share the necessary credentials between their Thread border routers to create a single Thread network in your home, but work is still needed with Google and Apple. Additionally, the delay of an iOS Matter-compatible Alexa app is due to “Apple requiring apps to use new APIs that only just became available,” says DeCenzo. He says they want to take the time to test the integration before releasing it.

So, it seems that while all the big companies have been working hand in hand to bring Matter to this point, we still need a bit more cooperation among frenemies before this thing is finally ready for primetime. “Matter is a journey — we do believe it’s going to make the smart home more interoperable and easier for a customer,” says DeCenzo. “But there’s still lots more work to do as an industry to improve Matter.”