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Beyond smart, truly integrated

The Evolution of IoT and Smart Home Technology: Looking at the Matter Standard

Justin Wolf
February 29, 2024

A smart home sure seems like a smart idea. Integrated kitchen, laundry, and entertainment appliances are designed for ease of use and peace of mind. Smart home systems like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings provide useful and intuitive command centers for everything from lighting to dishwashers to thermostats, provided the systems and devices in question are compatible and synced.

With more smart appliances and competing systems flooding the home market, it can be daunting knowing which ones to integrate into your home, let alone figuring out how to make these devices and systems talk to one another. (For example, an Amazon Alexa device cannot talk to an Apple HomePod, and vice versa.) If you have purchased a smart refrigerator, air purifier, thermostat, robot vacuum, home security system, or other advanced appliance in the last few years, that product invariably came with its own app. Add enough of them up and this theoretical home isn’t so smart after all, but rather a composite of siloed functions that rely on targeted commands and automations, via their apps.

But what if you want your HVAC system to shut down if the smoke alarm goes off? Or maybe you want a vacuum cleaner that senses when it is needed, and for what purpose, as opposed to functioning like a mindless alarm clock. You want an integrated ecosystem of devices and functions, interoperable, all communicating with and learning from one another in real time.

Smart and Integrated

Such smart homes arguably go beyond the Internet of Things (IoT), a term used to describe devices and technologies that share and exchange data, and now enter the related realm of ambient intelligence (AmI), a term that describes electronic environments – computing, telecommunications, consumer electronics – that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people. AmI is the future of IoT.

One technology making significant headway in this arena is Matter, a specification system that enables connected devices to communicate using existing IP-based protocols. Matter is not a smart home platform like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. Instead, Matter provides a large and growing catalogue of certified products (e.g., Wi-Fi routers, outlets, light switches, locks, lighting, and thousands more) that, when installed, allow any smart device to work on smart home platforms regardless of the device’s manufacturer or factory programming.

Matter has set out to “fix” the smart home through streamlined integration. The organization behind Matter, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), currently counts 675 companies among its members, comprising a tiered mix of promoters, participants, and adopters. Some of the biggest brands (and most vocal promoters of the standard) include Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Google, Haier, Huawei, LG, Resideo, Samsung, Siemens, and Verizon. Such support is welcome news for retailers and homeowners who have a vested interest in streamlining and integrating all variety of appliances and home systems. But Matter’s viability is contingent on manufacturers of washing machines, refrigerators, smoke alarms, and more actually following through on making their products compatible with Matter technology.

Growth and Competition

In October 2023, CSA released Matter version 1.2, the second update to the standard since its initial launch in 2022. This latest version enables manufacturers of smart home systems to support an increasing number of Matter devices. This lends homeowners greater ability to connect appliances to their preferred smart home platform, and it further means greater interoperability with all types of smart appliances throughout the home.

Devices like robot vacuums, for instance, will still need to be told via their app exactly where to go within the home. But the ability for holistic integration and interaction between devices is now a reality, thanks to an AI engine that collects data from a host of source appliances produced by the likes of Whirlpool, LG, Samsung, KitchenAid, Maytag, Bose, Carrier, and hundreds more. According to CSA’s CEO Tobin Richardson, “if an air quality sensor senses something, then your favorite voice assistant platform can kick off the robot vac, boost the air purifier, and maybe hold off on the laundry and the dishwasher to save energy while the other devices are working.”

Richardson’s explanation reveals the potential for this technology to go beyond IoT and truly demonstrate the integrated capabilities of ambient intelligence. Of course, with such emerging technology, competition is inevitable, and many appliance manufacturers operating in a range of product categories are keeping their options open. An industry coalition founded in 2021 called Home Connectivity Alliance (HCA) – co-founded by Samsung – boasts smart home integration tech that operates similarly to Matter, with one notable exception. While all data is funneled through the cloud, everything is kept within the manufacturer’s ecosystem, meaning interoperability relies on each company’s app. That said, HCA will theoretically allow homeowners to control one manufacturer’s appliance through another manufacturer’s app. Still, this may prove more appealing to certain companies, especially if they wish to maintain a greater measure of control over how consumers choose to use their products. (HCA’s membership includes a number of household name brands but doesn’t come close to matching CSA’s roster.)

All the same, technologies like Matter and HCA that allow consumers to interconnect and use devices across brands and product categories represent a quantum leap within the broader smart home sector. While the likes of Apple or Samsung may not want their customers to dabble in other brands, for obvious reasons, there is arguably greater economic incentive for those companies to agree to share space on the playground. The alternative, arguably, is obsolescence.

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