The Matter smart home protocol (formerly Project CHIP) laid down a gauntlet for itself when it stepped triumphantly into the world: solve all the worst issues about smart homes, bring all the big players together, and release devices by the end of 2021. Sadly, it’s going to miss that last part.
First reported by Stacey Higginbotham in her Stacey on IOT newsletter, the news arrives via Tobin Richardson, the CEO of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which used to be known as the Zigbee Alliance. The CSA is one of the biggest proponents of the Matter standard, so Richardson would be in a position to know about any delays.
Matter, if you’re unfamiliar, is a new and upcoming standard in Smart Home protocols. But while most standards lead to more and more standards, Matter looks different. For one, it unifies existing standards instead of totally replacing them. The best parts about ZigBee, Thread, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi come together under one smart home flag (notably absent is Z-Wave).
The idea is simple (although achieving it is far from simple), bring all those standards under one overarching protocol and use the best from each. Whether it’s ZigBee, Thread, or Bluetooth, each has its own strengths, from integrated mesh networking to less expensive radios, to the ability to bypass a need for a hub and use a standard Wi-Fi router instead.
But each time a manufacturer chooses a protocol, it essentially has to learn how to work with that protocol, which leads to some lock-in. More research and learning is more money which leads to more expensive devices. Worse yet, the standards often don’t work together. Leading to a mishmash of devices that might not speak with each other in the same smart home. And the end-user suffers, both in owning incompatible devices and having to relearn how to set up each new device.
Matter changes all that. Any Matter-certified device will automatically work with any other Matter-certified device. And since it covers nearly all the most common standards, manufacturers don’t have to research again and again to support all the scenarios. And the end-user won’t have to relearn how to set up a device again and again. In some cases, owning one Matter device will allow for the automatic setup of another.
All that doesn’t matter without backing, of course, but Matter has that in spades. The CSA (ZigBee), Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IKEA, Wyze, SmartThings, Signify (Philips Hue), Schlage, iRobot, Nanoleaf, and nearly 200 more smart home affiliated companies are on board. Each has already promised to fully incorporate Matter into future smart home devices when the standard is ready.
And that was supposed to be later this year, in time for the 2021 “holiday season.” Not long ago, we reported on promises that the first Matter-certified devices would arrive in time for the holiday. But now that’s not happening. According to Tobin Richardson, the CEO of the CSA, Matter won’t arrive until the first half of 2022. And it’s more than likely that devices won’t follow until the latter half of 2022, as manufacturers need time with the finalized spec.
Richardson gave multiple reasons why the Matter Working group needs more time, according to StaceyonIOT including, “the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the addition of another 29 companies to the Matter membership, and the challenge of delivering a high-quality software development kit as part of the spec.”
The software development kit (SDK) seems to be the biggest reason. A written spec can only do so much good; manufacturers need an SDK to implement and test any new standard or addition to devices. The delay is disappointing but not totally surprising.
Every component of the task the Matter Working Group wants to accomplish is incredibly intricate and full of difficulty. It seems, in this case, getting it all done before the year was too lofty a goal. And considering the mess that Smart Homes tech currently lives in, taking time to get it right makes sense.