It’s been nearly three years since the heavyweights of the connected world agreed to join forces on an interoperability standard for smart devices. What began as “Project Connected Home Over IP” is finally almost here as the Matter standard. We’re jazzed for the possibilities, cautious on the probabilities, and keeping close tabs on all the inside baseball.
Coming Soon at Last
Any wireless standard that sets out to let Apple, Google, Samsung SmartThings and Amazon play nicely together, not to mention hundreds of others, isn’t lacking in ambition. With that in mind, we’re not surprised that a final version of the specification is still in the delivery room. Most of the major companies are predicting that the spec will be finalized by this fall. Ikea has already announced “Matter-ready” products by the end of the year.
We’ve been a bit concerned over some rumors that the Matter spec might expand from the application layer only (the story up until now) to also include the MAC (data link) and PHY (physical) communication layers. That’s another bit of ambition that we think could slow things down (again) at just the wrong time. The snowball is finally rolling and everyone’s looking to get onboard. Confidence is important to product planning.
Thinking of Developing?
While we’re delighted to see this big step forward in device interoperability, we have a few words to the wise for companies that are planning Matter-compliant products. First, it pays to be agile. We had originally heard that Matter's device security would be handled via blockchain – until it wasn’t. As it stands now, Matter-compliant devices will use the same AES-128 encryption we’ve been relying on for years. Is the newest technology always the best choice? Not if it throws a monkey wrench into product planning.
For us, the more interesting question for developers is how are you going to differentiate your products and avoid commoditization? Interoperability at the application layer solves many problems, but once your device does the exact same thing as everyone else’s, how do yours stand apart? For us, the development challenge will come in devising new (and compelling) skills for Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. Building wanted services on top of Matter is going to be a key to optimizing & leveraging new offerings for the various channels.
What About the Rest?
Matter isn’t a magic bullet. Out of the gate there will be millions of devices running on a variety of protocols that won’t be compliant. Matter is Wi-Fi and Thread only – not Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth or anything else. However, we don’t think big companies like Silicon Labs are going to abandon these protocols anytime soon. We think there’s going to be a long-term need for multi-radio gateways that can control the non-Matter devices that make up the existing IoT landscape.
There has to be. For example, Phase I of the Matter standard doesn’t include cameras or door locks; eventually it must. It’s worth remembering that it took more than a decade to build the smart ecosystems pioneered by Z-Wave, ZigBee and the others. It’s going to take a long time for Matter products to equal those ecosystems – if in fact they ever do. We believe in extension, rather than replacement. As long as we’re talking about interoperability, we think the Matter mission will only succeed if it’s able to talk to what’s out there, as well as what’s coming.
How Can We Help?
As you can probably tell, we’re paying extremely close attention to this space, watching it like expectant fathers. We feel almost proprietary about it, as many of our closest colleagues and industry friends have been at the forefront of this upcoming development. We’d love to share our insights with you on all things Matter. We can keep you abreast of the latest and greatest and help you avoid pitfalls in your product plans.
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Lew Brown, Partner, bluesalve partners is a consummate team builder, leader, deal maker, strategist and implementer in Consumer IoT, Consumer Technology and Consumer Goods. He has held COO, CEO, Board & President roles and has led multiple rounds of funding with successful liquidity events.
Managing Partner Avi Rosenthal is often known as "the IoT Whisperer." His unique industry experience and deep connections with manufacturers, dealers and retailers has helped both startups and established companies successfully leverage the IoT revolution.