Unless you have been living under a rock these past few years, you have likely heard the word Matter thrown around in conversation accompanied by a few strongly held opinions. There is a lot to unpack, and in the interest of time, I will spare my own opinions (for the most part) and skip straight to the facts.
Matter, formerly known as CHIP, is a new Internet Protocol (IP) standard that began in 2019 by a large group of technology companies, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung, and Zigbee, just to name a few. It is an open-source standard, meaning the public can actively see and participate in its creation.
The deeper definition of Matter, set forth by the Connected Standards Alliance (CSA), the body at the heart of Matter’s development, is: “A promise of reliable, secure connectivity. It is a seal of approval that devices will work seamlessly together – today and tomorrow. Matter creates more connections between more objects, simplifies development for manufacturers, and increases compatibility for consumers.”
What Matter boils down to is a need for interoperability. The integration channel has historically worked through these challenges with control systems that can communicate over various protocols (IR, RS232/422/485, relay, voltage, IP/Ethernet, etc.) to great success. The ultra-luxury and luxury markets have enjoyed interoperability this way for some time.
Smart Homes implemented without the knowledge of these systems have not seen the same success: the absence of a standard has caused inconsistent user experiences and frustration in the mid- and mass-markets. There has been a race for a monopoly rather than an agreed standard. While protocols like Works with Alexa, Apple Home Kit, Samsung Smart Things, and others, have made strides, the fact that there are so many of them is ultimately the source of the problem.
Until now, there has not been a single standard to rule them all: a standard that could bring products from all brands together and allow for easy setup, configuration, and use. Matter will work to solve this problem, and the effects will not only be felt in direct-to-consumer products but across the home technology industry at all levels.
Just because Matter has been well received by consumers does not mean it will be widely adopted by manufacturers. In fact, some manufacturers have been hesitant to mention it in their strategies at all.
On one hand, adopting the Matter standard might open up their products to a wider audience who previously felt bound to a single brand. On the other hand, once loyal customers may be tempted to try something new with confidence that, no matter their choice of brand, all of their smart home products will work together seamlessly. To walk this line, some manufacturers may choose to offer a Matter gateway to connect Matter-embedded products into their ecosystems.
Whichever option manufacturers choose, they will most certainly need to adjust their sales and marketing pitches with a strong argument for or against Matter.
What Does this Mean for Integrators?
Matter could quite possibly be the light at the end of the disparate “connected home” tunnel. The DIY and DIFM (Do It for Me) markets will undoubtedly face the biggest impact as Matter should simplify commissioning and setup on smaller, less complex home integration systems. Because the protocol uses IPv6, the limitations are only within the control system and unlikely to have negative effects on the high-end and heavily customized integrated home markets. Matter could even make for quicker and easier integration of devices into those larger systems.
What do I think is the most exciting part? Matter and the adoption of connected devices in general will create increased business opportunity for integrators at all levels, either through new business or operational efficiencies. Fear not: the standard will not replace the big control systems, or programming, or run us all out of jobs. What Matter will do is create a much-needed baseline for the consumer market and a pathway to more advanced and custom integrated home systems.