Will the Matter Smart Home Standard inevitably fail?

Cupertino, August 2, 2023

Yes, Matter is a brand new standard and that will always require some degree of acceptance of the status quo, which translates into friction in the industry. I can still remember my first Bluetooth phone and what a pain it was to share an internet connection with the Symbian smartphone through Windows 98 using a Bluetooth USB dongle. But hey, being able to enjoy chatting on IRC while sitting on the porcelain throne felt like a revolution in 2002. Back to Matter, which also felt like a revolution - apart from all the teething problems at launch, it also suffers from growing pains like Bluetooth did. Matter follows this particular idea: there is one standard that all devices in the smart home use to talk to each other. This means no bridges are needed to install Philips Hue lights and you don't have to worry about the interoperability of window and temperature sensors. Just make a purchase from a store as long as that device carries the Matter standard, otherwise known as "Thread", and you should be good to go. There are four primary drawbacks to Matter that unfortunately won't get any better for the foreseeable future.

1. Matter itself is always limited compared to the original. Matter is theoretically extremely versatile, but suffers from the same problem as Apple HomeKit. Only a fraction of the functions that can actually be controlled remotely are supported. This way, you can connect a WiFi socket to HomeKit within seconds and switch it on and off. But can you read out the current power consumption or even create automated actions based on the power consumption? That only works with the manufacturer's app. Matter is also currently unable to report the energy consumption of devices through a standard - that this happens in 2023, when energy is a much more important topic than ever before, is a bummer! Matter (and HomeKit) will carry this burden for a very long time. When it comes to Bluetooth, WLAN and others, as well as their own apps, manufacturers can come up with features for their products as they see fit. However, only features specified in the standard are supported through Matter - and this brings us to the next issue.
2. Matter standard is extremely limited and not progressive. Matter 1.0 was launched last November with support for smart bulbs, light switches, power outlets, door locks, thermostats, air conditioners, blinds and blinds, motion and contact sensors, and media storage. At the very top of the update roadmap were other household appliances such as robotic vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and washing machines. Speaking of updates, at the event, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) behind the standard promised that a new version of the standard would be released twice a year. With Matter 1.1 finally arriving last May, it didn't include any new class of devices, just bug fixes. You wouldn't be able to find any trace of vacuum robots and similar devices. On its website, the CSA promised the following truly illustrious list of product categories: environmental sensing, appliances, dynamic lighting, cameras, electric vehicle charging, energy management, home router and access point, robotic vacuum cleaners, smoke and carbon monoxide, TVs, and water management. To this day none of the above has appeared. If the update to Matter 1.2 does not happen soon, we may very well forget about the arrival of Matter 2.0. The future looks dark for the standard. So far, even the most basic, everyday devices such as cameras, doorbells and other similar home accessories have not been included in the standard.
3. The big manufacturers have no interest (and the small ones have no money). Imagine if you were Xiaomi, Samsung or Bosch and already had a fairly extensive smart home ecosystem. Do you want every startup that comes along to replace your expensive light switches with a better and cheaper solution? Probably not. Unfortunately, we don't have any official statements from the manufacturers here, but the main idea among the sharks should be something like this: We're not in a position where we need to push the Matter standard.
At the other end of the spectrum are small manufacturers such as Munich-based Eve, which was recently acquired by ABB. This is where you can find the will to take on the Matter cause as these small businesses bet the farm on Matter. However, such companies rarely have an unlimited budget to push the standard forward and end up putting enormous pressure on the big players. Of course there are Apple, Amazon and Google, which produce their fair share of smart home devices, yet are firmly integrated into the smart home ecosystem through their respective voice assistants. Right now, however, another more important topic is dominating the conversation: AI. For example, during the WWDC 2023 keynote, Apple didn't mention Matter once. What's the bottom line? A chicken-and-egg problem where one person doesn't want or need to - and the other doesn't.
4. Matter certification costly for small manufacturers. This is where the next point comes in: Anyone who wants to develop Matter products needs a CSA membership that costs at least $7,000 a year and has to pay an additional $9,000 to $13,000 a year. pay product. Sure, that's a big change for companies like Xiaomi and similar organizations, but for small startups it's a huge stumbling block. In addition, hardware for Matter products is expensive and not easy to obtain. A small smart home manufacturer told nextpit that they had to fight hard to get enough chips to ship Matter-compatible products in sufficient quantities. It is also still unclear what specifications future Matter versions will have. By comparison, for the AOSP project, there are many specs that will remain far into the future as part of the system requirements for Android 15, 16, and 17, and will require future updates. That's the only way manufacturers can even offer multi-year update warranties. What's next? The bottom line is that there is still hope, as Princess Leia believes. Anyone who has lived through the beginnings of Bluetooth knows the teething troubles of adopting new standards. In the end, the CSA might even do well to fly under the radar with Matter for now until the technical issues are resolved. As TheVerge reported, setting up the devices using various QR codes is still a horror show. After all, who wants to roll out a problem-driven system to the public? Better to polish the standard with a small and notoriously computer-frustration-resistant group of early adopters as beta testers before they go mainstream. After all, the CSA doesn't have much pressure due to a lack of competitors - unlike the likes of Sony and Panasonic, who fought the great battle for Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD supremacy against Toshiba and their allies about 20 years ago.

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