Why The Matter Smart Home Initiative Must Succeed

SOURCE: Connectivity Standards Alliance ((https://csa-iot.org/))

The global smart home market is expected to grow to $53.45 billion by 2022. That’s more than twice the revenue ($24.1 billion) that the smart home generated in 2016. While smart home market growth has been strong over the past few years (particularly during the pandemic), early adopters have largely been the predominant revenue source because of their willingness to accept the interoperability and other challenges associated with smart home products.

A smart home solution effortlessly anticipates your desires and immediately responds to your instructions in an ideal world. Users shouldn’t have to access a specific app for each device or remember the exact voice activation phrase to play music in their bedroom, turn on the lights in the living room or adjust the air conditioning. Despite the considerable plethora of smart home devices on the market, the sad reality is that rival smart home standards (especially Amazon, Google, and Apple ecosystems) have prevented the smart home category from going broadly mainstream. Today, when the average consumer dips their toes in the smart home waters for the first time, they often discover that the smart home isn’t very smart.

Ease of use is not a hallmark of the smart home today

Much of the smart home’s complexity problems can be laid at the feet of tech giants who dominate the space. Currently, Apple, Google and Amazon overlap with competitive voice assistants that essentially act as a governing layer for smart home device management. As new smart home users quickly discover, the big problem is that Amazon Alexa can’t directly “talk” to Apple Siri or Google Assistant, and the other way around. Though Amazon Alexa is perhaps the most expansive in its smart home ambitions from a device ecosystem breadth standpoint, no single platform has incorporated all the greatest devices. It’s not difficult to imagine the frustration that a user experiences when outfitting their home with Amazon Alexa-compliant smart home devices and discovering that the perfect smart door lock for their home only works with Google Assistant.

As in baseball, home springs eternal that this exasperating element of the smart home might be changing. Previously known as Project CHIP (Connected Home Over IP), the open-source inoperability standard called Matter will launch later this year. The good news is that the most significant tech giants have gotten on the bandwagon, like Google, Apple and Amazon. The promise is that the Matter “standard” could finally deliver seamless integration between the various smart home ecosystems.

What exactly is Matter?

In laypeople’s terms, Matter aspires to enable different smart home devices and ecosystems to play politely with each other. Manufacturers who develop smart home devices that “comply” with the Matter standard ensure that their solutions interoperate regardless of whether a user is employing Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant as their core voice assistant. In theory, the Matter standard should allow users to buy any smart home device or use the voice assistant of their choice without running into cross-compatibility issues.

With this goal in mind, Matter is based on a protocol that runs on Wi-Fi and Thread network layers while using Bluetooth Low Energy for smart home device setup. While Matter is designed to support the various smart home platforms, users will have to select the voice assistants and app they want to utilize. Thankfully, there is no essential Matter app or assistant which must be used.

What is Matter different from previous attempts to address the chaos of the smart home?

To maintain Matter’s neutrality, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (also known as the CSA) oversees the Matter standard. Given the high-profile corporate personalities involved, this is essential. After all, the scope of the Matter’s membership is impressively wide. It requires a willingness among the participants to adopt and combine incongruent technologies (a challenging feat in itself) and do it in an open-source manner. The CSA plans to release a royalty-free software development kit to smart home device makers to encourage adoption.

Without question, the CSA’s progress over the past w years with getting the leading smart home platforms (Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home and Samsung SmartThings) to join hands and work together has been nothing short of remarkable. From an industry perspective, the Matter standard has experienced a tsunami of support from the most popular smart home brands, including Arlo, Comcast, LG, Belkin, Yale, August and GE, to name just a few. As of this writing, more than 240 smart home companies have gotten onboard the Matter train.

When will Matter devices show up?

Before smart home aspirants break out the champagne, the fly in the ointment has been that not a single Matter-compliant device has shown up on the market yet. While the Matter initiative has been in the works for years, the standard has taken on a Waiting For Godot characterization. The first release of CHIP-compliant devices was promised in late 2020, but that got delayed to 2021, after the initiative was rebranded as Matter. Matter-compliant devices were supposed to surface in early 2022, but that has now been pushed to later this year.

The CSA’s explanation for these delays was based on the objective to comprehend more devices and platforms into the standard and the understandable desire to ensure that the initial release of devices works easily with each other. As the CSA recognizes that Matter will get a black eye if the first series of devices don’t interoperate as advertised, it’s wise to embrace a “we will sell no wine before its time” strategy. But consumers don’t have unlimited patience.

A few closing thoughts

Despite the very public delays, my intuition is that Matter will ultimately deliver on its promise of seamless interoperability. What CSA is attempting to do with Matter is undeniably ambitious and complex given the enormous personalities of the companies involved, so one shouldn’t be surprised that it’s taking so long for consumers to see tangible smart home products with a Matter logo on store shelves.

The bottom line is that macro smart home market growth is being held up due to inoperability issues. Turning the smart home into a mainstream category must move beyond the current paradigm where users must select their devices based on compatibility. It’s also not helpful from a consumer confidence standpoint when high-profile companies like Sonos join the Matter initiative but didn’t commit to supporting the new standard.

Regardless, Matter holds out the promise that consumers in the not too distant future will be able to automate their homes in a faster and less frustrating manner by taking the specific smart home platform decision off the table. That’s a big deal, and it’s worth waiting for.

Mark Vena is the CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research based in Silicon Valley. As a technology industry veteran for over 25 years, Mark covers many consumer tech topics, including PCs, smartphones, smart home, connected health, security, PC and console gaming, and streaming entertainment solutions. Mark has held senior marketing and business leadership positions at Compaq, Dell, Alienware, Synaptics, Sling Media and Neato Robotics. Mark has appeared on CNBC, NBC News, ABC News, Business Today, The Discovery Channel and other media outlets. Mark’s analysis and commentary have appeared on Forbes.com and other well-known business news and research sites. His comments about the consumer tech space have repeatedly appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, TechNewsWorld and other news publications.

SmartTech Research, like all research and tech industry analyst firms, provides or has provided paid services to technology companies. These services include research, analysis, advising, consulting, benchmarking, acquisition or speaking sponsorships. Companies mentioned in this article may have utilized these services.




CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research…I write about disruptive technology

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Mark Vena

Mark Vena

CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research…I write about disruptive technology

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