Tuo, a Smart Home Startup, Places Its Bets on Matter: Stacey's Insights on the Internet of Things

Cupertino, August 1, 2023

This story originally ran on Friday, July 28, 2023 in my IoT weekly newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter here. This week I tested an attractive smart button from a new company called Tuo. The smart button has a great click feel (a crisp sound and a springy pushback) and theoretically works with the Matter smart home interoperability standard. It's that last part that I'm having a bit of trouble with. Tuo is the brainchild of startup entrepreneur Sam Gabbay, who wanted to build attractive smart home devices with a "minimalist, modern design that fits your home." Gabbay founded the company in November 2022 thinking he would like to build HomeKit devices before deciding to use Matter instead. Thus, Tuo is one of the first smart home device companies of the Matter era. — The smart button was difficult to connect, but once connected to a controller it works well. Unfortunately, Matter may not be ready for a startup to place all its bets on the ecosystem. When my button arrived I was impressed with the weight (there's a metal mounting plate that provides weight) and the click feel. The button was expensive at $34.99, but also within reach with the Flic buttons ($29.99), Hue smart button ($29.99), and other buttons I've purchased. But it does not work. I've tried multiple times to load it as a Matter device using Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and SmartThings as my controllers. Using Google, I managed to get the device all the way through pairing mode, only to have the connection fail after selecting a room and naming the device. Gabbay told me he is working with Google on the matter. With Amazon Alexa, I was able to get to the point where it tried to pair with the Thread network before failing. I have done a hard reset of the Tuo button after every failed attempt. With SmartThings, I managed to pair the device and get it working. The button uses Thread to communicate, so latency is negligible and performance consistent. I plan to use the button to control some Matter/Wi-Fi smart plugs in our combined office/guest room to turn off the electronics that light up the room at night. Currently, you have to crawl under a desk to turn off the surge protector and unplug another device. Then you have to go to another surge protector and turn it off. It moves everywhere, so a single button press would be a huge improvement. With this use case, latency isn't really an issue and the Matter capabilities are irrelevant, but I like that Gabbay has built a company that wants to use Matter to appeal to the broadest audience that buys smart devices . He originally created Tuo with a plan to build a nice-looking, HomeKit-enabled smart lock, as he was having trouble finding one in stock. While working on the lock, he learned about the Matter standard and after meeting with Chris LaPré, head of technology at the Connectivity Standards Alliance, he decided to join. To get a product out quickly, he decided to build the simplest Matter product he could think of: a smart button. The button is followed by a contact sensor and then by the lock. The company relies on the Matter ecosystem for the software for the button, and Gabbay said he could add an app or services over time as Tuo releases products that can take advantage of them. But for now the focus is simply on beautiful smart home devices that just work. I wish mine would just work. The fact that it doesn't feel like a knock on both Tuo and Matter. It also exposes some of the challenges a company hoping to rely solely on Matter may face when building products. As a user, if everything worked as intended, I'd love that there's no app to turn to. But since the button didn't work, I was frustrated trying to figure out how to reset the device and how to generate new pairing codes after a failed attempt. To operate the button, you need to have the button connected to something. This isn't the first struggle I've had getting a Matter device on my network, so I don't know if the fault lies with the Tuo button or the general challenges we've seen with Matter. It almost doesn't matter because no normal consumer will tolerate this level of frustration. With Tuo, Gabbay is putting everything on the stand, so I'm looking forward to coming back in a few months with a new Tuo device to try the experience again. Tuo is based in New York City and builds and designs the hardware himself. The company is bootstrapped, with nine employees, and Gabbay said he was surprised by the demand for the smart buttons. Look for more products and maybe a working button in the near future.

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