It was just a MATTER of time for a new smart home standard
How important is interoperability in the smart home sector? Let's find out what's being done to make smart devices play nicely together.
The appeal of the smart home is nothing new. In fact, we’ve seen this conceptualized in movies, TV shows, comic books and cartoons for decades. And let’s not overlook one of the earliest products, the Clapper introduced in 1984. This sound-activated electrical switch allowed control of up to two devices plugged into the Clapper. "Clap On! Clap Off! The Clapper!"
Over the past decade, strong broadband adoption, the proliferation of internet connected smart devices (and their associated apps), as well as the desire for convenience, remote monitoring and energy savings have accelerated interest in the smart home concept that can control virtually any part or anything in the home.
According to Deloitte’s Connectivity & Mobile Trends 2021 Survey, 66% of US households have smart homes devices, with the average US household having a total of 25 connected devices across 14 different categories.
Today, there are thousands of smart home products across a dozen or more categories, each often controlled by its own app. Just a quick perusal of the Apple App Store showed hundreds of smart home related apps. And the likelihood that consumers have smart home products from multiple vendors using different ecosystems and communications protocols is almost guaranteed.
The lack of a unified standard for smart home devices is not only confusing for the consumer, it’s also hindering the overall growth of the market.
Matter (previously known as the Project Connected Home over IP), was announced in December 2019 as a collaborative effort between Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung SmartThings and the Zigbee Alliance with the goal of simplifying development for manufacturers and for consumers, offer more compatibility among smart home products, with security as a core design principle.
In order for the smart home market to reach its potential, it’s essential that smart home devices offer seamless installation and integration. This will require interoperability among smart home devices and internet of things (IoT) platforms from different providers. As such, Matter is defining a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification that builds upon the Internet Protocol (IP) to enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps and cloud services.
It’s important to note that Matter is simply a unified connectivity technology and does not automate or control smart home devices. As defined, the Matter architecture will start as an application layer that will be deployed on devices and controllers as well as the supported IPv6-based networks to help achieve its interoperability architectural goal. Matter will initially support Wi-Fi and Thread for core, operational communications and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to simplify device provisioning and setup.
A key feature in Matter, it’s the multi-admin capability which enables users to connect their Matter devices to their other devices and ecosystems locally, securely and even simultaneously. This allows users to choose the brands and devices they prefer. Although control of devices can happen locally, devices will still need to communicate with the internet for firmware and security updates as well as out of home control.
Security and privacy Matter too!
As the number of connected devices increase, security concerns become exponentially multiplied – especially when the majority of these devices collect at least one piece of personal information.
The ability to maintain local control is a significant step in maintaining privacy in the smart home, a growing concern for people considering smart home devices. Essentially, “What happens in the home, stays in the home” is the goal.
With ever increasing cyberattacks, security is a key design tenet of Matter. This include authentication of devices joining the network, encryption of messages all the way to the destination, use of proven and standard cryptographic algorithms, and over-the-air (OTA) updates. The Matter standard uses blockchain technology to verify that devices are legitimate and not potential bad actors.
Unfortunately, there remains a downside. While it’s a step in the right direction that devices from different manufacturers can talk to each other, it’s beyond the control of any standard to dictate what those companies can do with your personal data. In many ways, interoperability actually introduces more challenges in the area of privacy.
Matter is better but not perfect
As the smart home market continues to evolve, it has become apparent that the need for a comprehensive and unifying standard is critical for the continued success of the segment. With thousands of products to choose, a perfect world would allow consumers to never have to think about compatibility or seamless operation.
Matter makes it easier but it’s not perfect.
While devices will work across platforms, automations and routines will not. A Google ecosystem will still require a Google hub for automations, in other words an Apple HomeKit hub will not run Google automations.
Areas of improvement, however, include set up. Amazon has contributed its Frustration-Free setup as part of the Matter spec – designed to enable a “zero-touch” experience, where you take the device out of the box, plug it in, and it connects to your home automatically.
But here’s the reality check. Matter will simply provide a basic standard of interoperability and portability. There are no requirements that a Matter controller support all device categories. Each individual manufacturer can decide which products to support with Matter and they may choose to keep some products in a walled garden environment if it’s competitively advantageous.
Additionally, there’s nothing that states that companies must upgrade existing products to support Matter. So early adopters of Smart Home products will likely have to use a bridge in order for products to work at the local level. Bridges will allow non-Matter devices, including Z-Wave, to interact with Matter ecosystems.
There are currently more than 220 different companies that have joined the Matter Alliance. The final Matter specification, SDK and certification program are expected by 2Q 2022, with the goal of having the first Matter-certified devices available by the end of 2022. This includes 134 unique products from 53 different companies supporting door locks, a variety of different sensor types, thermostats, lights, smart hubs and bridges, garage door openers, smart plugs and smart TVs, and blinds. It won’t (initially, anyways) support cameras, water leak sensors, robot vacuums or home appliances.
It was just a Matter of time before the industry caught up to the needs of the market.