Every year, after recovering from CES, I take a step back and evaluate the most influential IoT technology trends. This year’s winner is Matter, a new industry standard for smart home connectivity with the potential to change the course of consumer electronics (CE) product development. In this post, I won’t review the hundreds of Matter-enabled products announced at CES — other tech news outlets cover that in detail. Instead, I’ll look at Matter from a business perspective, explaining what it is, why it’s a game-changer for the CE industry, and how it’s becoming an influential design pattern for IoT connectivity in other vertical industries. Click here for a more comprehensive analysis of Matter.
Today, most smart homes use a hodgepodge of incompatible products, protocols, and wireless device networks — Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Thread, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Lutron, Insteon, and others. I use three device networks in my home, connected to half a dozen home automation ecosystems (Alexa, HomeKit, Google, and others). This setup requires 14 smartphone apps, each with unique user IDs and passwords. Matter cleans up this mess by standardizing three things — Internet Protocol (IP) device networks, a common “language” for home automation, and simple, consistent methods for setting up secure devices. I can buy a Matter device from any manufacturer, install it in a few minutes, and use it with any home automation ecosystem.
IP networking is the key to understanding Matter. Your PC and smartphone don’t care if you’re browsing the Web, watching a video, or sending an email. That’s the miracle of the internet: standard protocols define how to encode and send content-agnostic messages. Over the past 20 years, a patchwork of smart home device ecosystems evolved using many incompatible protocols and wireless networks. Matter unifies device communication by specifying a common “language” that works over widely deployed, IP-bearing networks — Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Thread. Messages like “Turn on the patio lights” and “What’s the temperature setpoint?” are the same for all Matter-enabled lighting controls and thermostats, regardless of manufacturer or network connection. Matter also specifies how devices join home networks, often with a single tap on a smartphone.
In addition to specifying a standard smart home application protocol, Matter tests products in independent labs to validate interoperability across all manufacturers. The Matter logo on a product assures consumers that it is compatible with all other Matter-enabled devices and smart home ecosystems. By making connected CE products easy to buy, install, and use, Matter expands the smart home market beyond early adopters and technology enthusiasts to include all homeowners.
Matter has mass
Three years ago, some of the biggest brands in consumer electronics (Amazon, Apple, Google, and more than 200 others) agreed that smart home market growth was consistently disappointing, mainly because products from different manufacturers and ecosystems were incompatible. Instead of competing for a bigger slice of a small pie, these companies agreed to join forces and bake a bigger pie.
To address the smart home fragmentation problem, the group created “Project Connected Home over IP” (later rebranded “Matter”) under the auspices of the Connectivity Standards Alliance, the home of Ziggee, and other standards. Since then, the working group invested “Hundreds of thousands of person-hours” in the effort, according to Tobin Richardson, CEO of the organization. He’s not exaggerating — the core specification is more than 1300 pages. Matter 1.0 is now publicly available, over 550 products are certified or in the certification pipeline, and Matter is one of the hottest topics in the global CE industry.
Standards rarely deliver commercial results quickly or generate much excitement, but Matter is different for two reasons. First, Matter specifies how to implement, use, and validate proven, widely deployed standards and networks rather than creating new technologies. Specifically, Matter builds on Internet Protocols and IP-bearing networks — the same ones we use on smartphones and PCs. Second, hundreds of the world’s leading CE, cloud services, and semiconductor companies are fully committed to Matter, and many are already shipping products. Although Matter is still a work in progress, it’s on track to become the dominant smart home connectivity framework over the next two or three years.
Matter has gravity
As touched on above, Matter allows products from different manufacturers to connect seamlessly and operate harmoniously over existing Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Thread networks. Thread is an industry-standard mesh network for small, low-power devices, similar in function to Zigbee and Z-Wave. Although Thread is not as well-known as Wi-Fi, it’s already active in many homes because millions of smart speakers, hubs, and other products from Apple, Google, and Amazon already have Thread or will soon get it via a software update.
For consumers, Matter simplifies buying, installing, configuring, and using smart home products, resulting in lower adoption barriers and better user experiences. Homeowners can be confident that all Matter devices are compatible with one another and with Matter-enabled home automation platforms from Amazon, Apple, Google, and others.
In addition to improving consumer experiences, Matter is a game-changer for the worldwide consumer electronics industry. Defragmenting the smart home market increases product development efficiency, reduces supply chain friction, and removes many barriers to smart home market growth, leading to larger economies of scale.
- Production volume and velocity increase as CE manufacturers build single-SKU products that work with all Matter devices and ecosystems.
- Marketing, customer acquisition, and support costs decrease as consumers become familiar with Matter’s multi-ecosystem interoperability and simple installation procedures.
- Development cost, risk, and time to market drop as manufacturers transition from customized, one-off designs to standard building blocks — Matter-enabled silicon and off-the-shelf system software with Matter support built-in.
- Innovation accelerates as product developers focus on applications rather than system software.
Matter ushers in a new era where the entire home is a platform for plug-and-play products that are easier and less costly to build, buy, install, and use. The first wave of Matter products is already shipping, and product availability will accelerate rapidly over the next few years.
Matter is solid
Early adopters of any new technology should expect a rough spot or two. However, early feedback on Matter user experiences is overwhelmingly positive. Good results aren’t surprising, given the thorough testing over the past year by big companies with a lot at stake. The first wave of Matter devices is limited to these seven device categories:
- Lighting and electrical controls
- HVAC controls
- Controllers and bridges
- TVs and media devices
- Window coverings
- Security sensors
- Door locks
We won’t have to wait very long for this list to grow. The Connectivity Standards Alliance plans to release new types of devices on a regular six-month cadence, starting with these categories:
- Robot vacuums
- Appliances (white goods)
- Access points
- Energy management
- Door and window sensors
- Environmental sensing and controls
- Motion and presence sensing
- Safety sensors (e.g., smoke, carbon monoxide)
If Matter doesn’t yet support a type of device you need, or if you already have smart home devices using an older device connectivity scheme such as Zigbee or Z-Wave, you have two options — coexistence and bridging.
Coexistence means using what you already have as you add Matter devices. Most home automation ecosystems can simultaneously support Matter, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and other connectivity schemes, so it’s easy to grow your Matter device collection while still using your old stuff. For example, telling your smart speaker to “Turn on the outside lights” can use Matter, while “Turn up the temperature” can use Zigbee, Z-Wave, or some other application protocol.
Bridging is better than simple coexistence because it brings legacy devices into the Matter world — and it’s part of the Matter core specification. A Matter bridge is a hub that connects simultaneously to your home IP network and to a legacy device ecosystem using native protocols. The bridge translates Matter messages into the appropriate protocol for the legacy system and vice-versa, enabling device-to-device communication between different device ecosystems. We expect to see Matter bridges for Zigbee, Z-Wave, and other ecosystems in early 2023.
Starting now, it makes sense to buy Matter devices whenever you can get the required functionality. Use bridges to connect Matter to other device ecosystems such as Zigbee and Z-Wave.
2023 IoT technology trend predictions
A year ago, I predicted that three technology trends would converge to accelerate growth in IoT products:
- Matter — Multivendor interoperability revolutionizes consumer IoT.
- Device platforms — Off-the-shelf, plug-and-play IoT software and hardware leads to greater economies of scale.
- Edge intelligence — Moving analytics closer to the data is the North Star guiding IoT innovation.
These predictions came true, for the most part. Matter was the star of the show at CES 2023, Matter-optimized silicon and software platforms from multiple suppliers streamlined device development, and the growth rate for edge analytics stands at about 22% to 38% per year, depending on the analyst’s level of optimism.
These three trends comprise a virtuous cycle — “The Matter Effect” — a positive loop that turbocharges smart home growth. Here’s how it works.
- Matter standards align the CE industry on unified specifications for device connectivity, security, and interaction.
- Increasing demand for Matter-enabled, off-the-shelf solutions motivates silicon and software companies to offer complete development platforms that work “right out of the box” and are easy to certify.
- Edge intelligence and overall application quality increase as product manufacturers invest more in application development and less in system-level engineering.
Smarter, simpler products built on standard platforms reduce friction across the CE marketplace, and the cycle repeats. This is how the smart home market transitions from early adopters to mainstream consumers over the next two or three years.
This year, I’m doubling down on Matter. I’ll be closely watching these two embedded technology trends.
- Matter dominates CE connectivity — By the end of 2023, I expect Matter to outpace the combined growth rates of all other smart home connectivity ecosystems.
- Matter’s influence extends beyond CE — Matter’s momentum will motivate other vertical industries to adopt similar defragmentation strategies. For example, the commercial building automation standards organizations KNX, DALI, and IP-BLiS are already accelerating IP protocol migration.
As long as we regard embedded computing as separate and distinct from mainstream computing, IoT industry growth will continue to disappoint, as it has for the past 10 years. Matter is leading the way to a “mainstream embedded” design pattern based on IP networking with a standardized, industry-specific device “language” (commands, attributes, and artifacts), a unified security architecture, and a layered interaction model that defines how components interact.
Standardizing how embedded devices communicate and interact enables the independent development of device platforms, device applications, and higher-level application services — similar to how we write software for PCs and smartphones. Welcome to the era of Mainstream Embedded Computing (MEC).