The Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) held a launch event for the Matter home interoperability specification on Thursday, and amid the flurry of self-congratulations there was a bit of Matter news and a ton of release information detailing when devices would get updated to Matter and how. Most notably, new releases will come out twice a year and the organization already has working groups in place for eight new device types: security cameras, robot vacuums, big appliances, energy management devices, Wi-Fi access points, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, environmental sensors and controls, and ambient motion and presence sensing.
Tobin Richardson, the CEO and president of the CSA, also threw a stake in the ground related to device security. Against the backdrop of the White House pushing for a cybersecurity label for consumer IoT devices, Richardson noted both that the CSA had delivered a presentation at the White House label meeting and that it was trying to harmonize security standards from more than 60 regulatory bodies — a clear signal of the CSA’s ambitions. But the biggest takeaway for me was that, even after three years of planning, the industry still doesn’t know what the smart home should look like.
As far back as 2014, I was giving presentations to various industry groups about the smart home, and in those presentations I would list four core things that were keeping growth of the smart home in check. They were: the cost of connected devices, a lack of clear use cases, a lack of interoperability, and the complexity associated with managing a network of such devices.
Matter in its current version only solves part of two of those problems: the issues of basic interoperability and helping with onboarding and managing devices. So while that’s a start, it doesn’t really help resolve the key issue of the smart home, namely that most companies view smart homes as a way to sell more individual devices and generate recurring revenue. But the story of the smart home isn’t about gadgets; it’s about delivering value though services or a coherent experience. And the first year or three with Matter isn’t going to get us closer to services or the compelling use cases that will drive adoption and continued use.
It’s painfully clear that when most people think about the smart home, they are too focused on a device or cluster of devices that would be in one. There is no room in the current Matter spec for context (although the promise of presence detection in later iterations is exciting). The ability to sense when people are in a room or away from the home aren’t embedded in the standard. Nor is a robust understanding of how home infrastructure might react with devices really articulated. And ways to protect different levels of privacy in a home full of potential spies isn’t even part of the conversation.
At Thursday’s event, it was clear that the folks presenting onstage were still hung up on the core competencies of their own organizations’ devices and how to push sales of said devices. Schneider Electric pitching a smart home energy management system was a perfect example of this, especially since energy management isn’t even part of Matter yet. The co-founder and COO of Tuya was pitching commodity devices that are built on the Tuya platform
That’s to be expected, but it’s still disheartening, because if I bring the angst I feel around much of today’s technology and spread it across tens or hundreds of devices in my home, that’s a nightmare scenario. I currently have 50 WiFi-enabled devices on my network and several dozen bulbs and sensors attached to hubs and gateways in my home. And while Matter will help with the basics, I really can’t recommend that anyone else live like I do. It’s exhausting to have glitches and boring to program devices when new gadgets come in and I must add them to my routines. I’ve laid off reviewing and installing new gear in the last year because I’ve set my bar so much higher than before for devices.
With Matter, more people will get to where I already am today. But while I’m sure the industry is salivating at the idea of selling 50 new products to individual consumers, even as they become easier to install and manage, most of these devices either don’t get used or when they do, don’t provide much value. I find it tough to justify a smart lock when a lock with a keypad would work just as well, for example. Connecting my stove and oven provided a moment of interest, but neither are getting feature updates often enough and are not smart enough for me to justify keeping them connected or troubleshooting them if they fall off the network. And I dumped my mailbox sensor because after having it connected, I realized I didn’t actually care when the mail arrived.
This isn’t a Matter problem. This is a vision problem. The smart home shouldn’t exist to sell gadgets; it should exist to make users’ lives easier. So if it’s an oven that just needs me to put in food that it cooks automatically, or a more complex energy management system that’s trying to optimize my home’s energy use and consumption on my behalf throughout the day, it needs to require very little time to set up and almost zero additional effort from me on a day-to-day basis.
I don’t need my devices to bombard me with a million notifications about movements detected or doors unlocked. I need a way to customize the information I find relevant and have that surfaced in a glanceable manner. Alerts should be based on things that need my attention, not excuses to try to engage me with an app. Matter has the seeds of this, but it’s unclear how far the more than 500 members will want to let smart home devices fade into the background and become part of a larger system that truly adds value, not just gimmicks.
Great article! Very much agree with you as to the feeling of frustration. Strangley enough I find the Alexa approach, with reserves, as the nearest to looking to improve our life quality and not just switch on and off lights.
Tim Coote says
This is a theme that I was articulating when designing BG’s Hive architecture. There’s a tension between ‘Thing Makers’ and ‘IoT Service providers’. To the former features drive sales, to the latter, device features mostly make the individual sensors/actuators harder to manage.
I don’t like the term ‘Digital Twin’ as used in industrial IoT, but I’m coming to think of it as a useful concept (at least in marketing terms) to help communicate the vision of monitoring / controlling the lived environment to the benefit of its occupants. Unfortunately, as you note, this moves the sales driver away from Thing Makers, which they’re likely to push back against.
However, much like the way that computers moved from proprietary to open standards as the realisation dawned that one firm can’t deliver all value propositions, I’m hopeful that the key systems usecases, including the abstraction of useful monitoring/control models will emerge.
Jon Smirl says
I fully agree with this. The people in control of Matter are aimed at one thing “Google/Alexa/Siri turn the light off”. Currently they don’t seem to care about any other aspects of the smart home. Matter in its current state is a downgrade from my Insteon system. A good example of this is skipping scenes support in Matter 1.0. Once you own a good smart home system you will understand that scenes are an essential part of it. But no scenes for Matter in 1.0.
Another huge problem with Matter 1.0 is that they don’t want to deal with switches on your wall. Everyone is so focused on “Google/Alexa/Siri turn the light off” it is like they have assumed people don’t use wall switches anymore. Personally I still use wall switches a LOT!
Another very customer unfriendly design decision — there is not “Replace Device” ability. If a device dies and you buy a new identical one you can’t just poke a “Replace Device” button in an app and have it assume the role of the dead device. Instead you have set it up all over again on each fabric. Related to this, there is not way to backup and restore all of your device settings.
Lawrence K says
Smart homes have been around 50 years. There was a point that any smart home item had a two dial code system developed by X10. They all worked together. You had to be locally present to interact, at least connected to the same local transformer. You had bulbs, plugs, switches, outlets and sensors. Z-wave came along and you still had the same bulbs, plugs, switches, outlets and Sensors. Same as Zigbee. All these protocols have interoperability built into the protocol even if not into the new app based controllers of the last 10 years.
Matter is migrating the contemporary wifi-fragmented smart home into a near utopian environment. We cant rebuiild in a year what took 50 years to evolve. Stoves were never part of the smarthome unless you were trying to troubleshoot X-10. Camera’s were just there to look into a home to see that the light turned on. Robot vacuums again were a thing from the Jetsons.
If we waited until every possible “smart” thing was included in the spec, we would never get there. Home Asst. for example just added oral B toothbrushes. Not that I can think of any reason I want to control my bulbs, plugs, switches and outlets with my toothbrush. Maybe I am channeling my inner Potter while sitting on the Pot. Rantious-overus!
Live Long and Automate!
Tim Coote says
An issue here is that the Things in IoT shouldn’t be the same as the devices. I had this issue with a utility: to the engineers, a thermostat was something that hung no the wall and contained a thermometer and a controller. But a ‘thermostat’ can be disembodied and take account of the temperature in various places and the time of day. It’s then taking inputs from, say, a dozen thermometers and controlling ten actuators, + using the family calendar (to spot holidays), and, possibly taking account of people being out of the house/tracking their future arrival to optimise comfort and fuel use.
Quickly, a common theme becomes Things such as calendars/diaries, weather forecasts and measurements, which need to be composed into larger Things, incorporating some devices as sensors and/or actuators.
It’s not useful or practical to try to ram in the intelligence into the devices. Not useful because the mental model is often broken (in the Thermostat case, if there’s a UI on the thermometers, it’s much harder for the user to understand why the UI on the wall is not consistent with the UI on their tablet). Not practical as every device would need a large compute capability, driving up unit costs.
Jon Smirl says
Long term thermostats should simply disappear. They are a design from the 1950’s. All you truly need are tiny battery-powered temperature and humidity sensors sprinkled around the house and then a way to remote control the furnace over wifi or Ethernet. Then the only UI will be on a screen somewhere (phone or computer). Future furnaces will likely build this ability in; you’d just connect the furnace to the home network and tell it what sensors to use.
Tim Coote says
exactly so. For the user, you do need to create a Thing – a sort of digital twin – that represents the house and the various sensors actuators.
The obvious place to implement the Thing is on an in-house hub as the kit’s already paid for. However, I found that this creates a significant configuration management (in the ITIL sense) nightmare. It’s easier – at least until the problem and the solution are well enough understood that the rate of change drops – to implement the Thing in a cloud. Keeping all instances current then becomes a tractable problem.
JD Roberts says
I know I am an edge case, but I have a very different perspective on all this, although I liked the article very much and understand the points being made.
In my case, I am quadriparetic. I can’t turn on a light switch by myself without home automation. I can’t change the channels on the television set. I can’t open the door without great difficulty.
My use cases are real, practical, and essential if I am to have independence. I know exactly what I need home automation to do because I’m faced with all the things I can’t do without it.
I have personal care attendants who come from an agency. It’s not necessarily the same person each time, and they don’t necessarily have a smart phone. Being able to let them in without having gotten out of bed yet (because I may need their help to get out of bed) makes a smart lock way better than a manual keypad lock for me.
I can’t press the buttons on a microwave easily or turn the dial on an oven control, so voice activated control of these devices has completely changed my life in a positive way. Now I can make my own lunch, even if it’s just a frozen burrito.
My housemate used to ask me in the mornings which one television channel I wanted to watch that day. So it was usually ESPN. Yes, I could have a care attendant change channels for me, but it feels demeaning even when the person is nice. Having Alexa or Siri do it is a whole different emotional experience. I feel smart and empowered, not dumb and helpless.
As the population gets older and more people age in place, there are a whole set of use cases that are similar for other people. I know a couple in their 80s who added SwitchBot curtain controls last year and now they can open and close the curtains in the living room by voice. They didn’t do it for the coolness factor. They did it because they were already at a point in their lives where they were living with a curtain position they didn’t like because it was too much physical effort to change it.
Again, I know, edge cases: but not insignificant ones. And not trivial for those of us who have them.
Lawrence Kibler says
I got my Matter firmware for hue bridge tonight. So far two sengled zigbee Rgbw candle bulbs on the hue are now showing in Apple Home. No more walls! Adding more of my non hk zigbee as I right this.
Next to pair Cree, Seedan, third reality, and what ever I order from The River tonight. Hah hah.
I am disappointed the lutron aurora dimmers I have did not get exposed. The hue motion sensor showed up as three separate accessories.
Coherent and on point af.
Siobhan Ellis says
I wouldn’t say that Matter solves only one issue. They’re very fact that now that the industry is adopting a local model with tighter security are two issues that needed resolving, but also that devices are moving towards being able to be used by any controller. It’s still not perfect as many features are missing from V1, like what Apple causes Adaptive Lighting, or Power Monitoring.
It is the controller that provides the brains on what to do with what information/triggers. Not surprisingly, the likes of Amazon/Apple/Google/Samsung didn’t want to give that up and Matter actually potentially make sit easier for others to become that Controller such as Home Assistant.
Like any other standard that has been out there, I expect new capabilities to be added, as well as new device types. Look at the difference between SCSI V1.0 and what is out there today.