Why Amazon, Apple, Google all back a seamless standard for smart homes

The effort is led by the Connectivity Standards Alliance—its VP Michelle Mindala-Freeman broke down Matter’s goals in a Q&A
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Connectivity Standards Alliance

5 min read

No end user likes an exclusive hardware ecosystem. Fragmentation and lack of interoperability cause confusion for consumers, who may buy one smart home product only to find out it can’t work with the smart hub, or smart lights, or smart toothbrush—or smart whatever—they’re already using in their home.

Matter is a new standard of more than 200 smart-home players—including Amazon, Apple, Google, and Samsung, as well as the trade group Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA)—that aims to make the world of smart gadgets interoperable. Founded in 2019 under the name “Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP),” the consortium rebranded into Matter earlier this year and plans to roll out in the first half of 2022. It originally intended to go live by the end of this year, but had to delay its debut as the project grew more complex.

Ultimately, the plan is to build a universal protocol that would let any set of smart devices interact with one another, assuming their manufacturer allows it.

We spoke with Michelle Mindala-Freeman, vice president of the CSA, about the mission behind Matter.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Where did the idea for Matter come from?

There is this fundamental recognition that silos and wall gardens do not create an optimal industry and optimal growth, nor optimal value for people who are in that industry, or for the customers who are using those products.

Enclaves of innovation are great when you’re first starting an industry or a space, and that’s where kind of the cool ideas get started and people create. But if you really want to scale in the marketplace, and you really want to both extract the value as a manufacturer and a market player, or feel the value and see the value as a consumer, you have to get out of those silos.

I think that the origins of Matter are really centered around those beliefs—that until you can knock down the walled gardens, that kind of separate silos of the [internet of things] IoT, we’re never going to see the scale and the value that IoT can bring to every consumer.

Walk us through the CSA’s role in bringing together the consortium.

The Connectivity Standards Alliance is an industry and standards development organization. By definition, we are an industry nonprofit and our job is to bring together these players to develop and to evolve and to promote in the industry and in the global marketplace, global open standards.

Matter is a standard that the CSA members have developed. It’s part of our standards portfolio, and basically we provide the vehicle that allows all these companies to sit together side by side and create common standards that are usable everywhere. So we provide that independent entity. We provide the infrastructure, we provide the guidance and leadership. We provide a common approach so that material can be created, like the standard itself and the tool kits and the certification programs. We also very discreetly provide that testing and certification...that lets companies bring their Matter compliant devices to us so that we can validate that they, in fact, do comply with the standard.

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Will we only see Matter-compliant devices from future products, or are companies going to retrofit existing devices to be Matter-compliant?

The upgradability, if you will, of existing devices is definitely going to be member and manufacturer-specific. I do believe Google has announced that a number of their products are going to be upgradable. Amazon’s announced upgradability. A few other member companies have announced either upgradability or bridging that will be incorporated in their products as well. Companies like Schneider have talked about having their ecosystem products be Matter-compliant. Eve has said that they will have a bunch of their products to be upgradable. It’s really dependent on how that manufacturer built that product, but that’s the goal to which many of our members aspire to.

Can the concept of Matter extend beyond smart-home tech?

What’s interesting about the approach that’s taken with Matter is this physical layer agnostic approach. If you think about extensibility into other use cases like connected auto, connected health, connected cities, connected neighborhoods, connected transportation, all of those domains will have different needs with respect to what happens at the radio. Some might need long distance, some might need short distance, some would benefit from mesh networking, others benefit from point to point, all of those things. Matter, because it’s a common protocol and a common language, gives people the optionality to use the radio that’s necessary, but create interoperability through a common language and protocol.

What does the timeline look like for Matter in the next year?

The rest of this year is focused on the software development kit [SDK] and getting through the final parts of the details of the specification...We will have a spec, but we will also have an open-source reference design on Github. That SDK is part of what we’re going to be bringing to life when we launch Matter, which should dramatically accelerate the developer’s ability to bring new products to market.

At the end of the year, we’ll have a pre-balloted version of the technical spec ready. And then in the first half of next year, we’re going to finish the SDK. We’re going to finish all of the test events. And at the end of the first half, we shall see the official Matter release.

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.