Smarthome devices are discussed in the press less than they used to five years ago, but that is because they’re no longer a novelty, but rather a part of the home fabric. It is likely that Smarthome penetration in western nations will hit 50% soon.
Amazon showcased its ambient smart home technologies in the Amazon Experience Area at CES 2023. It announced that the first three features of the Alexa Ambient Home Dev Kit (AAHDK)—credentials sharing, group sync and two-way device sync—will be released into developer preview this month. Announced at event (and discussed on my podcast at the time), the AAHDK is a development kit for unifying services and APIs within Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem.
The AAHDK also comes on the heels of Amazon’s recent adoption of the Matter industry standard for the smart home. As described in a Moor Insights & Strategy research paper on how Matter is making smart homes smarter, Matter is a universal “language” for smart home device communication using networks already available in most homes. Amazon says that it has completed the first phase of rolling out Matter to its smart home devices. Let’s take a look at why Amazon’s support of Matter is so critical to the smart home space.
While Matter is a fairly new standard, Amazon has been growing its ecosystem of smart home devices for many years. To put into perspective Amazon’s maturing Alexa ecosystem, the company is bringing Matter support to more than 100 million Echo devices already in customer’s homes. As with its e-commerce business, Amazon’s strategy is to build out an ecosystem of Internet of Things (IoT) devices for the home where developers and customers can build their own products on the Alexa platform. These new AAHDK features enable home device developers to do just that.
While it is good for the entire Amazon smart home ecosystem that it now works easily with Matter-enabled devices, it is also important that the influx of Matter devices not dilute existing Amazon technologies. Remember that Amazon has its own Alexa devices like Ring and Echo and has its Alexa ecosystem with developers and partner devices. It is critical that the Amazon Alexa ecosystem connects with Matter-enabled devices while also maintaining the unity, security and simplicity of the Alexa ecosystem itself.
Credential sharing within the AAHDK makes it easier to set up Matter over devices using the Thread IoT networking protocol by facilitating the sharing of Thread credentials between Alexa and developer apps. Customers who opt into credential sharing do not need to manually enter Thread credentials when setting up a new Matter device. Amazon says it also helps customers maintain a single Thread-enabled network in their homes, providing customers with a more reliable experience with wider coverage. I cannot tell you how many times a different smart home platform has not allowed me to turn off lights when I was in a separate room because I was on a different Wi-Fi band. Not only is credential sharing unifying, but from a security standpoint, it makes it easier to maintain a secure Thread network across Alexa and developer apps.
Amazon says that the new group sync capability enables customers to easily set up and manage their smart home without having to replicate their groups manually in multiple apps. Group sync should also add simplicity to the Alexa smart home ecosystem, and I believe it could also allow new opportunities for device uses. For example, if an app allows the light in one room to turn on or change color whenever an alarm goes off, the group sync feature would allow the app to identify the correct lights throughout the home. Likewise, two-way device sync allows services and customers to maintain the smart home ecosystem by synchronizing important device information. These new sync features should offer a more seamless experience for Matter over Thread devices and an extra layer of control and maintenance for the Alexa ecosystem.
Amazon focuses on the Alexa ecosystem to create an ambient experience. This ambience helps create a smart home ecosystem that “just works,” and with the support for Matter devices opening up the smart home to new levels of interoperability, it does put Amazon in a gatekeeper mentality. Yes, Amazon is all-in on Matter, but thanks to the AAHDK, Amazon is now able to have its cake and eat it too.
I do not think Amazon is looking at Matter the same way that Google, Samsung or Apple are looking at it. I believe those companies are bringing their devices to the Matter standard, but Amazon is doing it the other way around by allowing Matter-enabled devices to come into its ecosystem. While those viewpoints may sound similar, the difference is that Amazon’s approach supports its strategy of building out an ecosystem of IoT devices for the home where developers and customers are able to build their products to work on the Alexa platform. The difference is that now it’s still on the Amazon Alexa platform—but with even greater reach because it embraces Matter-enabled devices.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.