New SmartThings head discusses Matter and the future of the smart home

The smart home is about to change. Soon you won’t have to choose a smart light bulb or door lock just because it works with your smart speaker. Instead, you can buy a smart device, bring it home, and it will work with any voice assistant or app you choose. At least that’s the promise behind Matter, a new standard created by Samsung, Google, Apple and Amazon. Most importantly, you won’t be locked into your chosen platform. If you decide to switch to SmartThings from Google Home or use Amazon Alexa through Apple HomeKit, all Matter-enabled devices can go with you.

This evolution of the smart home means that the main platforms that help us run our connected devices are also changing. The edge sat down with Mark Benson, the new head of SmartThings US, Samsung’s home automation arm, to learn more about his plans to adopt Matter.

Mark Benson, the new head of Samsung SmartThings US, on stage at CES 2022 discussing Matter adoption plans.

Founded 10 years ago on Kickstarter, SmartThings has been one of the only standalone consumer smart home hubs since the early days of the DIY smart home boom. it’s still alive. It built its business on its namesake hub’s ability to connect devices from different manufacturers, letting you control them all with a single app.

Although there are more “hubs” that do this today (including Amazon Alexa and Google Home), the SmartThings Hub is one of the few consumer devices with multiple radios, including Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z-Wave, allowing it to control a much wider range of smart home devices. It also works with cloud-to-cloud software services and is one of the most compatible smart home platforms. There’s also voice assistant support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant as well as Samsung’s Bixby.

Acquired by Samsung in 2014, SmartThings has become the electronics giant’s leading connected device platform. The app comes pre-installed on all Samsung phones, and if you buy a connected Samsung device, such as a fridge, TV, or washing machine, you’ll need to download the SmartThings app to use all the smart features. The app works on both iOS and Android phones and includes one of the most powerful automation platforms.

Since the acquisition, Samsung has moved away from manufacturing all SmartThings hardware, offloading both the standalone hub and many sensors to device maker Aeotec. The company said it focuses all of its efforts on the SmartThings app and supports Samsung’s connected products through software.

In 2021, it launched the Cooking, Air Care, Clothing Care and Pet Care sections of the SmartThings app to help users of Samsung products get the most out of their connected devices, and a Smart Energy and Home Care section to monitor energy consumption and maintenance. needs of Samsung devices.

The Samsung SmartThings app works with both third-party wearables and Samsung smart devices.
Picture: Samsung

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Where do you want to take the SmartThings platform now that you’re leading it?

Mark Benson: A lot has changed in the industry since the launch of SmartThings. Architecturally, the platform also had to evolve. We have been working on setting up the platform for scalability and flexibility going forward.

There are a lot of exciting things happening in the smart home space. Consumers have never been more willing to add smart devices to their homes. With the pandemic, people are rediscovering and reimagining what their home might look like and how they can improve it, resulting in enthusiasm for smart home things.

SmartThings is really at the center of this movement where we have been since 2012. And I think we have a unique opportunity to bring our partners together to commit to the new industry standard, Matter. Finally, the industry has recognized [that connectivity] was a barrier to adoption.

I think 10 years from now, we’re going to look at this year as an industry inflection point – a fundamental shift in the way companies work together to deliver things that actually work together, and not just in ecosystems. separate partitions.

There have been two parts to SmartThings for quite some time: Samsung SmartThings and the original SmartThings. Samsung no longer makes SmartThings hardware and has said future hubs will be software-based. Many users are worried about this change. Can you talk about the future roadmap and how you are moving the original SmartThings to the new SmartThings?

It is an evolution. And it’s been happening for a while. We really try to connect these worlds together. Our story has been the hub and the community with all the great innovations they have brought. But we’re also seeing a massive explosion in SmartThings adoption through Samsung devices and TVs.

So you have a chasm between the early adopters and innovators, who really know how to run a smart home, and the everyday user who has smart, connected devices but doesn’t understand the full scope of it. a connected home.

Future growth is really in this [user], but that doesn’t mean we want to leave that first group behind. We want to tie these two together and find ways for the community to innovate to make the whole SmartThings platform better for everyone.

What future for the SmartThings hub with Matter on the horizon?

The SmartThings V3 standalone hub and the Aeotec SmartThings Hub will be updated to support Matter when it launches in the fall. SmartThings integrates deeper into the Samsung portfolio, with SmartThings Hub software built into select 2022 Samsung Family Hub smart TVs, smart monitors and refrigerators. These devices will also allow users to connect a wide variety of existing smart home devices, as they will be updated to get Matter as controller support as the new standard becomes available.

We also plan to support Matter as a controller on our SmartThings Hub V2. This will allow our existing users to connect and control Matter devices.

The Samsung Family Hub refrigerator will be updated to support Matter.
Picture: Samsung

Will built-in hubs have low-power wireless radios like stand-alone hubs do? What about the wire?

Low-power wireless protocols are a crucial part of the Matter standard and will certainly be incorporated into Samsung SmartThings products with built-in hub functionality. More details to come on the actual implementation of Thread technology, but Thread is really important to us. Communication with Zigbee devices will be possible through the SmartThings dongle, enabling connectivity to a wide range of smart home devices.

You say Samsung is integrating Matter as a controller — does that mean Samsung’s connected devices (washing machines, robot vacuums, TVs, etc.) won’t be exposed to other Matter controllers (like Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit)?

In effect. This year, we will focus our efforts on integrating Matter as a controller on several surfaces in the Samsung lineup. That means most 2022 Samsung smart TVs, smart monitors, and Family Hub fridges. SmartThings hubs will not act as a Matter bridge, so non-Matter devices will not be bridged or exposed to other Matter controllers. That said, Matter-enabled SmartThings hubs will continue to support existing devices and protocols (e.g., Zigbee, Z-Wave) to provide SmartThings customers with flexible connectivity options.

Where do you see Matter taking SmartThings?

The competitive landscape is changing. It is inevitable that we have come to this. In the early days of the smart home, it was all about “How do I connect a device?” and “Which platform is the most flexible in terms of enabling the most different types of protocols and various devices?” It was a fragmented world, and we had everything to work together.

Matter helps simplify the way devices are connected. Now how it is connected is no longer the differentiator. It could take some time for Matter to grow and be adopted. It won’t be all at once, but it’s definitely the future.

With connectivity becoming more standardized, the competition from SmartThings in the future will be different. User experience is the competitive space that will differentiate platforms and companies – things around home use cases, cooking, taking care of your pets, managing energy consumption, set the lights just right and lock the doors at night. That these things work and are simple and easy to understand so users can control their home and manage their home well is why we are excited about Matter.

At the same time, it forces an evolution, a change, in terms of where the areas of competition are and where the areas of collaboration are.

SmartThings added a Life section to its app last year to help automate cooking, air care, pet care, and other household chores using Samsung devices.
Picture: Samsung

Why is Samsung SmartThings going to be a leader here? What will make users want to use SmartThings rather than another platform to manage their smart homes once Matter arrives?

The user experience is hopefully good enough to be a differentiator. This is going to be very competitive as there are a number of companies all working towards the same goal of being the great user experience that customers can use to manage their Matter devices. But one of the big differentiators we have is the Samsung device portfolio. And that’s something no one else has.

The other thing is that SmartThings has an amazing routines engine for creating advanced automations. Other companies will continue to invest in it and improve because it really is essential to doing well. But that’s already something where SmartThings has the edge. And that’s something we continue to invest in.

Interoperability and the ability to connect devices is becoming standard. But connectivity is not where the competition will take place. It’s in the experience of using these things and how they work with the features you can access on these devices. It’s something that will continue to be a point of differentiation for SmartThings and for Samsung.

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