It’s been nearly a year since the inaugural Matter specs were released. The smart home concept, a collaboration from hundreds of companies, soon became a frontrunner in the industry. The next major version of Matter, featuring more device types and enhanced functionality, is expected to be released soon.
Now is an excellent moment to delve into Matter: How does it function for smart home manufacturers? Where does it currently stand in terms of adoption? And Where would it lead the industry?
PingWest recently had an exclusive discussion about these topics with leadership from the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), the organization behind Matter. These leaders are Tobin Richardson, president and CEO, and Musa Unmehopa, chair of the board.
Understanding Matter: A Simplified Explanation
As with many tech categories, smart home specifications can sometimes seem complex and confusing, given the vast array of mainstream tech and product categories. Tech term-laden spec sheets, replete with numbers, aren’t always particularly friendly to consumers unfamiliar with the terrain. Moreover, there’s a cost associated with the learning curve involved.
Similarly, the technology deployed in smart homes carries unique features, each supported by different corresponding hardware, behaviors, and features. For instance, communication technologies, like Bluetooth and Zigbee, used extensively in smart home gadgets, share several features. However, getting these technologies to operate across different ecosystems, such as Apple Home and Amazon Alexa, necessitates specific gateways or hubs – typically manifesting as smart home speakers or small boxes.
The Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) aims to bust through these barriers and complexities, primarily through Matter – a unified standard for both companies and consumers.
According to Tobin, “Matter is essentially a communicative language for devices that greatly enhances consumers’ experiences and the Internet of Things (IoT). It offers a streamlined approach to IoT interoperability.”
The standard makes it simpler for consumers to select smart home devices compatible with any other Matter-enabled device or ecosystem, Tobin states.
In the worldwide market, major smart home promoters such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung, and LG were among the initial firms to add Matter support to their home hubs and voice assistants. Additionally, notable smart home accessories manufacturers and solution providers, including Tuya Smart, Aqara, Signify, Coolkit (eWeLink), and Nanoleaf, have embraced the new standard.
Based on the latest notification, CSA’s website lists nearly 1,800 Matter-certified entities encompassing platforms, products, and apps.
Zigbee or Thread, which is more future-proof?
There are actually three primary methods for mounting devices into Matter – Zigbee, Thread, and Wi-Fi. Selecting devices often involves identifying specific information on packaging or a label, including the various “Works With” programs from platform companies and what underlying technologies they support. For instance, Aqara’s new magnetic contact sensor utilizes the Matter-over-Thread solution.
When it comes to devices that require low energy consumption and high stability, Zigbee and Thread are the preferred technologies. They share vital features, such as the ability to intercommunicate among devices in a network, or in technical terms, they work in a mesh network topology.
However, Thread holds certain distinct advantages. For instance, Thread devices work with each other from various vendors. In contrast, Zigbee ones generally only function within particular gateways, generally those of the same brand.
This dynamic creates an intriguing scenario where two parallel technologies are promoted within one alliance. This has led some smart home enthusiasts and media outlets to speculate whether Thread will eventually replace Zigbee.
In the interview with PingWest, Tobin stated, “Matter and Zigbee will co-exist in the future,” suggesting that this parallel situation will persist.
He explained that many devices that exist today have low power consumption, low memory capability, and low CPU power. “Zigbee is perfectly suited for these devices and will continue to be so,” he added.
Tobin highlighted another key point, noting that many alliance members have been investing in Zigbee for more than a decade. This suggests a considerable market share for Zigbee-enabled products and the quantity of those in service.
Musa added that the alliance is working on ways to bridge the Zigbee into Matter to create “one large combined ecosystem.”
More efforts are needed from manufacturers
Matter has provided an optimistic outlook for smart homes. Yet, there are critical areas that need improvement, particularly the interaction between Matter and non-Matter devices currently offered by different brand manufacturers and already in people’s homes.
Take Zigbee, for instance, which should have been a universal standard that enables devices to communicate with those from different brands. While I believe this has been partially accomplished, for example, some IKEA and YeeLight smart gadgets can connect to Xiaomi’s ecosystem via a Xiaomi Zigbee hub. Still, it’s more common to see different Zigbee hubs in a single home for corresponding devices.
These hubs, though connectable to diverse ecosystems through Matter, inherently present a notable issue. You may end up having many hubs from different vendors for their Zigbee devices due to the lack of across-network communication ability. The root of the problem is that some vendors have adopted non-universal Zigbee standards.
Moreover, a single Zigbee hub configuration potentially risks all connected devices going offline if there isn’t a backup hub leading the network.
Thread has encountered issues similar to Zigbee, although they appear less critical in comparison. For instance, HomeKit over Thread operates more like a semi-closed ecosystem. So, it can sometimes be challenging to integrate a Thread border router (TBR) from different ecosystems into Apple’s Thread network, resulting in separate Thread networks for each TBR.
Tobin expressed that it’s at the discretion of CSA’s member companies to offer integration options for Zigbee and Thread to work with devices from other brands on a more fundamental level.
For Matter, from a larger level, he noted that the ability to merge fabrics from different vendors is already present to a large extent.
A standard keeps growing
CSA is collaborating with its members to further develop Matter with new features and a wider range of device types. Twice a year, typically in spring and fall, CSA expects to deliver significant updates to the standard.
Earlier this year, the alliance released Matter 1.1, which primarily centered on improvements and bug fixes.
In a discussion regarding the focus and frequency of updates, Musa shared that the alliance is equally committed to advancing new features in existing categories while also exploring new device categories.
Tobin emphasized the alliance’s commitment to providing opportunities not just to introduce fixes but also to issue new device features and devices.
Tobin noted that this approach of agile development and continuous improvements has been adopted successfully by other organizations within the industry, allowing for quick market deployment.
“Our members are invested in bolstering our existing library by adding new device types, given that the variety of device types continues to increase within Matter. Concurrently, members are also exploring possibilities to innovate and enhance existing device types,” said Musa.
As for exclusive features, such as Apple HomeKit’s adaptive light, Tobin clarified that Matter’s focus is standardization while ensuring a balanced approach. As a member-driven organization, CSA could decide to standardize additional areas. This includes incorporating features that currently exist on one or several platforms into a future version of Matter.
The key to Matter’s success is multi-fabric interoperability while allowing CSA’s members the space to differentiate and incorporate their innovations, he added.
Ultimately, Tobin stressed, decisions are left for their members to make.
In the fall, the third version of Matter’s specs will be unveiled, with new device specifications expected. Tobin disclosed that they are currently testing 1.2, and the features for 1.3 are being finalized next week, after which testing will commence.
In the initial one to three years, Tobin anticipates a surge in new products and devices. At this stage, members will have the authority to dictate which course of action is most important, he concluded.
How does CSA secure better Matter certification?
Like other standards, Matter is involved in various aspects, from the development of specs to product certification.
When discussing certification, the alliance provides crucial support to smart home manufacturers. This includes code provision, online testing tools, and educational sessions. Products undergo testing in authorized labs, with alliance certification being given based on the resulting data.
Moreover, the alliance ensures any specification is both implementable and testable and confirms whether the necessary test tools are functional before its release, according to Tobin.
Alongside this, CSA assists companies in obtaining Wi-Fi and Thread certifications, as these are essential requirements for Matter-enabled devices.
Even if a firm is not an alliance member, Tobin noted that it could still prepare for certification through the provided code and online tools such as software development kits.
Once a product gains Matter certification, it has an easier pathway to HomeKit or Amazon certification programs, according to Musa.
However, firms must join the alliance to secure certification for their Matter products. Membership fees are largely unavoidable and are categorized into four levels: promoters, participants, adaptors, and associates. Annual fees for the first three levels range from $105,000 to $7,000.
Smart home firms have raised concerns about the high costs of Matter certification. In response, Tobin asserts that efforts to find methods that reduce economic strain on companies are ongoing so long as these solutions can sufficiently support the service and certification process.
Slow adoption in China
Despite Chinese firms holding a significant stake in Matter-certified platforms and devices, their silence in the local market strikingly contrasts with the overseas market.
Numerous Chinese companies are launching Matter-enabled products, but local offerings are limited to select products from brands such as Nanoleaf and Aqara.
(Matter-enabled light bulbs from Nanoleaf/Credit: Nanoleaf)
Major domestic players like Xiaomi and Huawei have made no notable attempts to bring Matter products to the market or announce specific plans or timing – as of yet.
Tobin has expressed appreciation for the value their tailored solutions bring to local consumers, illustrating there is indeed a market. He further explained, “As markets grow, you inevitably rely on standards like this one to expand the market share and reach an even larger audience.”
He believes it’s just a matter of time before Matter is adopted. For manufacturers, the clear advantage lies in developing a single product that can operate within any ecosystem based on shared technology. This strategy is far more attractive than creating six distinct SKUs for one market.
(A screenshot of Xiaomi’s smart home webpage/Credit: Xiaomi)
Quorra Liu, a senior market analyst at IDC China, told PingWest that Matter’s slow adoption in the domestic market primarily stems from the products and services from the alliance’s members being primarily aimed at overseas markets. Domestic manufacturers joined Matter, largely meant to expand their reach in the global markets.
Also, Liu noted that the domestic smart home market is seeking to establish China’s standards for smart home interoperability. However, this effort faces several challenges. Given that a few leading manufacturers need to cater to a vastly diverse user base and Chinese tech manufacturers largely depend on hardware to attract users, a consensus on a development model is challenging to reach.
Therefore, whether a unified standard for China’s smart home market can be realized is yet to be determined, Liu concluded.