Illustration by Alex Castro / Verge
The future of the smart home is here. Soon, you won’t have to choose between a smart lightbulb or door lock because it works well with your smart speaker. Instead, you can buy a smart device and bring it home. It will work with any voice assistant, app, or website you choose. Matter, a new standard developed by Samsung, Google and Apple, promises to deliver this promise. You won’t be locked in to the platform you choose. Any Matter-enabled device can be included with you if you decide to switch to SmartThings via Google Home or to go with Amazon Alexa instead of Apple HomeKit.
This shift in smart home means that the major platforms that allow us to run our connected devices are changing. The Verge spoke to Mark Benson, Samsung’s Head of SmartThings US to learn more about the company’s plans to adopt Matter.
Mark Benson, the new chief of Samsung SmartThings US discusses plans for the adoption Matter. SmartThings was founded 10 years ago on Kickstarter. It is still one of the few standalone consumer smart home hubs that survived the early days of DIY smart home boom. It was founded on the ability to connect devices from different manufacturers and allow you to control them all using one app.
There are many “hubs” that can do this, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, but the SmartThings hub has a few radios that allow it to control a wider range of smart home devices. It is compatible with all smart home platforms and works with cloud-to–cloud software services. Voice assistant support is available for both Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby.
SmartThings was acquired by Samsung in 2014. It has since become the primary platform for connected devices. SmartThings is preinstalled on all Samsung smartphones. If you purchase any connected Samsung appliances, such as a TV, refrigerator, or washing machine, you will need to download the SmartThings application to access any smart features. The app is compatible with both Android and iOS phones and features one of the most powerful automation platforms.
Samsung has stopped manufacturing any SmartThings hardware since the acquisition. Aeotec received the standalone hub as well as many sensors and has now offloaded them to the device maker. The company stated that it will be focusing its efforts on the SmartThings App and supporting Samsung’s connected products via software.
It launched the SmartThings app in 2021 with sections for Air Care, Pet Care, and Cooking. This section helps users of Samsung products get more out of their connected appliances. There is also a Smart Energy and Home Care section to monitor energy usage and maintain the appliances.
Samsung’s SmartThings App works with both third-party devices and Samsung’s smart home appliances. Image: Samsung
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.
What direction do you want the SmartThings platform to go now that you’re its leader?
Mark Benson: Since SmartThings was launched, a lot has happened in the industry. The platform has also had to evolve architecturally. We have been working to make the platform more flexible and scaleable in the future.
There are many exciting developments in the smart home market. Smart devices are more popular than ever. People are reimagining their homes and looking for ways to make them better. This is a result of the pandemic.
SmartThings has been at the heart of this movement since 2012. We have an opportunity to bring together our partners to support the new industry standard Matter. Finally, the industry recognized that connectivity was a barrier to adoption.
I believe that in 10 years we will look back on this year as an industry turning point — a fundamental shift in how companies work together to deliver products that work together and not in siloed environments.
For a while, SmartThings has been divided into two parts: Samsung SmartThings (original SmartThings) and Samsung SmartThings (original SmartThings). Samsung has discontinued making SmartThings hardware, and stated that future hubs would be software-based. Many users are concerned about this shift. Can you talk about the future roadmap and how the original SmartThings will be migrated into the new SmartThings.
It’s an evolution. It’s been going on for quite some time. We are trying to bring these worlds together. Our history has been the hub for all the great innovations they’ve brought. We are also seeing a huge increase in SmartThings adoption through Samsung TVs and appliances.
There is a gap between innovators and early adopters who know how to manage a smart home and everyday users who have some smart, connected devices, but don’t understand the full scope of a connected house.
Future growth is in this [user], but that doesn’t mean we want to abandon that early group. We want to bridge these two groups and find innovative ways for the community to improve SmartThings.
What’s the future of the SmartThings hub?
When Matter launches in the fall, the standalone SmartThings V3 hub and the Aeotec SmartThings hub will be updated to support Matter. SmartThings will be integrated deeper into the Samsung portfolio with SmartThings Hub software embedded in select 2022 Samsung Smart TVs and Smart Monitors. These devices will allow users to connect a variety of smart home devices. As the new standard is released, they will also be updated to include Matter controller support.
We plan to support Matter as an controller on SmartThings Hub V2. This will allow existing users to connect to and control Matter devices.
Samsung Family Hub refrigerator will now support Matter. Image: Samsung
Are the built-in hubs capable of receiving low-power wireless radios like the standalone hubs? What about Thread?
Low power wireless protocols are an important part of the Matter standard. They will be available in the Samsung SmartThings products that have built-in hub functionality. We will be providing more information on the actual implementation of Thread technology. However, Thread is very important to us. The SmartThings Dongle will allow communication with Zigbee devices, which will allow connectivity to a wide variety of smart home devices.
Samsung claims it is integrating Matter as its controller. Does this mean that Samsung’s connected devices, such as washing machines, robot vacuums, and TVs, will be exposed to Matter? Other Matter controllers (such Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit), will not be exposed.
Indeed. We will be focusing our efforts this year on bringing Matter as controller to multiple surfaces across Samsung’s portfolio. This will mean that 2022 Samsung Smart TVs, Smart Monitors and Family Hub refrigerators will be able to control Matter. SmartThings hubs will not act like a Matter bridge. Non-Matter devices cannot be bridged or exposed by other Matter controllers. Matter-enabled SmartThings Hubs will continue to support existing protocols and devices (e.g. SmartThings customers will have flexible connectivity options through Zigbee and Z-Wave
Where do you see Matter taking SmartThings to the next level?
The competitive landscape is changing. It’s not surprising that we have reached this point. In the early days of smart home, it was all about “How do I get a device to connect?” It was about “How can I get a device connected?” and “What platform is most flexible in terms enabling different protocols and devices?” It was a fragmented universe, but we made everything work together.
Matter is simplifying the way devices are connected. The difference between how devices are connected and not connected is no longer the key factor. Matter could take some time to develop and become a reality. It won’t happen immediately, but it is certain that the future.
SmartThings will have a different future as connectivity becomes more standard. The user experience will be the competitive space that differentiates platforms and companies. This includes use cases such as cooking, pets, managing energy, lighting, locking the doors at night, and taking care of pets. Matter is excited to help users control their homes and manage them well.
It does, however, force an evolution, or change in terms of where the competition areas are and where there are collaboration areas.
Why is Samsung SmartThings going be a leader in this area? What will make users choose SmartThings over any other platform to manage their smart homes when Matter arrives?
It is possible that the user experience is exceptional enough to be a competitive advantage. It will be very competitive, as there are many companies working together to provide the best user experience possible for Matter customers. The Samsung portfolio of devices is one of our key differentiators. That’s something that no one else has.
SmartThings also has an amazing Routines engine that allows for advanced automations. Because it’s so important to do this well, other companies will continue to invest and improve there. SmartThings has an advantage in this area. It’s something we continue to invest in.
Standardizing is about interoperability and being capable of connecting devices. However, connectivity is not the only thing that will make you competitive. It’s the user experience with those devices and how they interact with the features you have access to on them that matters. This is what will continue to be a distinguishing point for SmartThings as well as Samsung.