With the Matter smart home standard having made its official debut, and Samsung announcing Matter-related partnerships with Google and then Amazon, we thought it would be a good time to see how Samsung SmartThings, the most successful DIY smart home ecosystem to date, plans to further adapt to the new environment. We interviewed Head of Samsung SmartThings, Mark Benson, to find out.
TechHive: First, I wanted to ask about this passage in Samsung’s press release announcing its Matter partnership with Google: “Samsung and Google are building on multi-admin, allowing users to seamlessly find, choose to connect, and control Matter-enabled devices through SmartThings or Google Home apps on Android.”
Will this same capability be brought to iOS users via the SmartThings and Google Home apps? If so, on what what timeline can we expect it?
Mark Benson: Our initial partnership focus is on Android. Support for iOS is TBD. The SmartThings iOS App will be updated to support Matter later this year, following the public release of iOS 16.1. More info on this will be coming soon.
TH: What’s the default onboarding process across platforms? Would you add Matter devices to each platform separately, one-by-one?
MB: The normal process is to onboard Matter devices individually to the desired platform(s). Multi-admin allows users to onboard a single device to multiple platforms to enable control from multiple platforms, applications, or controllers. We are building on top of this normal process to simplify the onboarding process of devices to both SmartThings and Google Home.
TH: Are there plans—from Samsung, SmartThings hub manufacturer Aeotec, or any other relevant vendor—for a SmartThings-compatible hub with a Thread radio that can expose Z-wave and Zigbee SmartThings devices to other Thread border routers for other platforms?
MB: Our initial focus is to deliver robust Matter Controller support on SmartThings/Aeotec hubs and Samsung products that support integrated SmartThings Hub software. SmartThings users will be able to build powerful automations that work seamlessly with smart home devices across Matter, Zigbee, and Z-Wave protocols.
Our initial software release will not support the optional “Matter Bridge” capability, so non-Matter devices connected to SmartThings Hubs will not be exposed to other platforms over Matter. This feature is in consideration for a future release. In the meantime, SmartThings has existing cloud-to-cloud integrations with other leading platforms like Google and Amazon, allowing users to share Zigbee and Z-Wave devices for control by other platforms and voice assistants.
Aeotec Smart Home Hub
TH: Will SmartThings-capable hubs become a thing of the past (apart from normal software support of the old system)?
MB: Absolutely not. SmartThings Hubs and Hub Software are a core part of our product offering, and we continue to make strong investments in this area. We recently introduced SmartThings Hub software on several Samsung products including TVs, Smart Monitors, and Family Hub refrigerators and have continuously updated the software running on existing SmartThings and Aeotec hubs in the field.
TH: Samsung’s press release says the new functionality will be available on Galaxy tablets/phones in “coming months,” and that the multi-admin feature it builds on will be ready in “coming weeks.” Is there a cutoff where Galaxy devices won’t support the new features?
MB: The enhanced multi-admin features we are developing in partnership with Google are targeted to be available in early 2023. These features will be supported in the SmartThings Android mobile app, which is broadly supported on Galaxy phones/tablets and is not tied to a specific model.
TH: Will Samsung Galaxy laptops also get the features? If so, what does the timeline for that look like?
MB: Our initial focus for enhanced multi-admin collaboration with Google is on Android platforms. Support for other operating systems will be considered in the future. Note that once Matter devices are onboarded to the SmartThings platform, they can be monitored/controlled from the SmartThings client app running on any platform.
SmartThings and the Matter bridge
It looks as though there are still plenty of developments to come, and a lot of what was discussed here isn’t new, except for one tidbit: the Matter bridge.
Bridge devices aren’t new to the smart home. Philips Hue lights, which operate on the Zigbee protocol, require a Hue bridge for full functionality—you know, the one that just got Matter certified—to communicate with other smart devices in your home (starting with your router), and Aqara’s family of inexpensive sensors, plugs, cameras, and light switches also communicate over Zigbee and will require a bridge of their own. Indeed, SmartThings itself depends on a hub to act as a bridge between Z-Wave and Zigbee devices, to connect to both the Wi-Fi clients you control them with (e.g., your smartphone or smart speaker) and to the internet (for cloud-to-cloud communications, for instance). A Matter bridge is no different. I asked Benson if SmartThings hubs would serve this purpose in the future, and it sounds like a real possibility.
Benson didn’t state that as a certainty, but his answer was very different from the firm “no” he gave The Verge in May. To hear the company is actively considering adding Matter bridge functionality to SmartThings hubs gives some hope that we can keep fewer keys to the gates of the old walled gardens for those devices we just don’t want to replace. If I can include my basement bar’s Z-Wave light switch in my Apple HomeKit automations, that would be just peachy.
I was likewise encouraged that, although SmartThings hasn’t said anything official, there is more to say about the SmartThings iOS app. I don’t get the feeling the company will be announcing a partnership with Apple along the same lines as its Google or Amazon team-ups, but it sounds likely to be at least in the offing, despite the two companies not having the rosiest of relationships.
Whatever the case, exciting days ahead for those of us who’ve been forging stubbornly ahead through the fractured smart home world for the past decade or more. Our Star Trek homes are just over the horizon; I can feel it in my, er, um, bones.