Initial Thoughts on the Matter Smart Home Ecosystem

Google provided more details this week about Matter. Is it here to drive home automation forward?

Posted May 21, 2021 Home AutomationHardware

One thing holding the growth of home automation back has been the lack of a cohesive platform for hardware to talk to each other. There are competing standards that have all captured a share of the market (see more on my device protocol recommendations here), but the overall smart home ecosystem is still quite fragmented. Perhaps, though, that's about to change.

Project CHIP (Connected Home over Internet Protocol) was announced late in 2019, and is finally evidently ready to bear some fruit. Recently renamed to Matter, it's been announced that compatible devices will be getting certified by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Google made some announcements at their I/O conference this week affirming their commitment to the Matter ecosystem..

With the concept finally taking steps towards reality, I wanted to share some of my brief thoughts about Matter and whether I think it will ultimately, um, matter, to the world of home automation at large.

Big Tech, Assemble

The value proposition for Matter is the breadth of buy-in from the largest players in the Internet of Things game, including Amazon, Apple, and Google. Prior to this, these companies have not always played nice together, leading to a fractured ecosystem and customer confusion on what devices will work best in their home. To their credit, these companies have realized the smart home needs better standardization to move forward and be better for the end users (and to make them more money as well).

Platforms like Home Assistant and SmartThings attempt to tie these devices together, and they do a great job in a number of ways. But Matter seeks to make things work better from a hardware level, rather than in software.

What I Like

From what I've read about Matter, both in news articles and on their own website, there are a number of things to like:

  • Wide Participation: In addition to the major players, over 170 other companies are on board. This is critical for the platform to gain momentum out of the gate.
  • It's Open Source: Open standards are always best, especially for something that a lot of companies need to buy into for this to be successful. The fact the former Zigbee Alliance (now Connectivity Standards Alliance) members open-sourced their work on this is extremely encouraging.
  • Lessons Learned: It feels like there is a genuine effort in this to look at previous mistakes made on other platforms, and to start from scratch with a set of best practices, rather than throwing something new at the wall and hoping it sticks. In order for this to truly be a standard, and not just another attempt in a sea of failed standardization attempts, it needs to be well thought out.

What Concerns Me

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, though. Here are the things I still have questions about:

  • Lots of Unknowns: Even after about 18 months, there's still a lot of questions about exactly how the platform will work, and how it will play alongside existing platforms. I know the pandemic contributed to some delays, but the fact that the platform is still rather vague on details is concerning.
  • IP Based: Given that this is IP-based, the traffic will need to go through your router, even though there may or may not also be an additional hub involved (see the unknowns above). Is the bandwidth usage going to be tuned enough to play nice with the average home network, and is the setup going to be secure enough for the average home network? In other words, is the implementation going to avoid introducing security concerns that would be avoidable with a non-IP based setup like Zigbee or Z-Wave?
  • Did we need something new? While I did acknowledge above that this feels like a good clean break from existing protocols in some ways, I question whether it was necessary. Why wasn't Zigbee itself good enough to build on? It was already a fairly open platform that many of these same companies utilized. Couldn't the big players have committed to working with the existing standards, or are they benefiting in some other way with Matter? I can only speculate, but I'd guess that they wanted a bigger seat at the table to steer the platform, or perhaps a bigger piece of the pie in the licensing process.

All in all, while there are some things to be interested in, I'm not changing any of my device purchasing plans or putting anything on hold for now. Home Assistant keeps everything I have talking together really well, and it's not like existing devices will stop working once Matter rolls out. It's definitely a space I'm keeping my eye on, though, and I look forward to getting more of these blanks filled in in the months ahead.

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