For the smart home Matter standard, Apple, Google and Amazon rarely join forces

The “United Nations” of smart homes was established.

On May 11, the “Connected Standards Alliance” (CSA), with the participation of Google, Apple, and Amazon, released a new set of smart home interconnection standards, Matter.

Matter was born out of the CHIP (Smart Connected Home Based on IP) project. The vision of this project is not to subvert smart homes technically, but to solve the problems of fragmentation of smart home communication protocols, interoperability of platforms, and complex experience. At the end of 2019, at the beginning of the project, Apple, Google, and Amazon jointly announced their participation and promised that each platform will support CHIP.

The support of the three giants has set up a sufficiently high flag for CHIP. So when the first version of the standard was released, they chose to rename it Matter. This is not just a set of protocol standards, but also a kind of “product certification.” A smart home product supports Matter, which means that it can connect to the three most mainstream platforms on the market and interconnect with most mobile phones and smart speakers.

The lighthouse is lit, and the field of smart home seems to be entering a new era.

What is Matter?
Matter is a set of protocols and also a set of standards.

Its predecessor, CHIP, is the abbreviation of “IP-based Smart Connected Home”. CHIP allows different smart home devices to use IP addresses as “identity cards” to communicate with each other. The ultimate goal is to allow smart homes with different functions to have a unified “language.”

The reason for the need for a unified language is that smart homes are developing from a single device to the direction of “whole house intelligence”. Different devices need to work together and achieve a certain degree of automation, and a unified management method is required.

The first-generation Matter standard released this time is completely based on existing network technology development, including Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Thread, and Bluetooth low energy. By implementing this set of standards, Matter hopes to provide a standardized smart home experience. From purchase, access, to control and management, smart homes are more flexible and easy to use, with better compatibility, and lower barriers to use.

Matter was developed and launched by the “Connected Standards Alliance” (CSA), which is the result of the Zigbee Alliance, Apple, Google, and Amazon. |CSA

These features are not difficult to implement technically. In fact, the Zigbee Alliance, which was established 20 years ago, was born to solve these problems. The Zigbee protocol they launched is a set of smart home interconnection protocols designed for “multiple devices” and “multiple scenarios.” Zigbee adopts a mesh networking method, so that every device in the network can become a “communication node”. Even if one device goes offline, it will not affect the normal operation of other devices.

However, the Zigbee agreement gives the manufacturer the control of the “access permission”. If the manufacturer does not allow access to a certain device, even if the communication protocol of the device is compatible with the platform, it cannot access the platform. The final result is that your door lock may only be compatible with HomeKit, the desk lamp may only support Amazon Alexa, and the air conditioner thermostat is only compatible with Google Nest.

In China, similar situations may involve Huawei, Mijia, and Alibaba Smart. In short, users need to use different apps to control different smart home devices. And each one wants to be its own platform.

This is exactly what Matter is trying to solve. The biggest difference between it and all previous smart home agreements is that it has the joint support of Apple, Google, and Amazon. Smart home devices developed based on the Matter standard can simultaneously access Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant. In addition to these three, the first batch of companies supporting the Matter standard also included SmartThings under Huawei and Samsung.

Matter is an open standard, no commission is drawn from equipment vendors, and everyone is welcome to access it. At the same time as the release, the Zigbee Alliance also officially announced that it was renamed CSA (Connected Standard Alliance). It seems that we hope to attract more manufacturers to join this “United Nations of Smart Homes” through a more generalized name.

Make big cakes
In the past 20 years, smart home products have achieved good development, but they are far from being “universal”.

According to data from Strategy Analytics, global consumer spending on smart home devices is approximately US$44 billion in 2020, which is even lower than in 2019. Some people attribute the cause to the new crown epidemic, but the isolation at home caused by the epidemic actually promoted the sales of household products. Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the United States, has seen a significant year-on-year sales increase of nearly 20% in fiscal year 2020. People are just reluctant to buy “smart homes.”

There are many smart home products that are complicated to set up and use. Especially those platforms that do not get the underlying support of the mobile phone system are not only cumbersome, but also prone to bugs. Market survey results show that one-third of smart home users in the United States have encountered problems in the process of setting up and using smart homes, and market enthusiasm has faded.

In the past 10 years, various giants have tried to build their own smart home ecology. In 2014, Google acquired Nest, a smart thermostat startup company, and transformed it into its smart home brand. In the same year, Apple also released its own smart home standard HomeKit. Amazon started to enter the smart home market after the great success of its voice assistant Alexa and smart speaker Echo.

On the domestic side, Xiaomi started its IoT strategy in 2015 and announced the “Mijia” brand in 2016 to build its own smart home products through ecological chain companies. Alibaba also started its smart home strategy at about the same time. Both it and Baidu adopted an Amazon-like approach, hoping to master the “voice command” entry through smart speakers and then enter the market.

Everyone wants to be a platform, and the final result is that the smart home experience is not good enough and the ecology is fragmented. Without a clear direction, electrical appliance manufacturers are reluctant to “stand in line easily” and dare not invest heavily in the development of smart products, and the industry has entered a period of lingering.

Smart homes have huge market potential, which has been an industry consensus as early as 20 years ago. But if there is no set of unified standards and no clear development direction, the industry will be stagnant as it is now, and it will be difficult to make the cake bigger.

While building smart home platforms, many large companies are also building their own smart home products, which has resulted in products of different brands being isolated from each other and experience fragmentation. |Google

To a certain extent, Matter is also an attempt by various companies to “set aside disputes and develop together.”

Matter designed a unified “setup process.” The user establishes a Bluetooth pairing with the device by scanning the code, NFC, and manually entering the code, and then exchanges network information to connect the new device to the Wi-Fi network. This process is very similar to the registration process of HomeKit devices, simple and convenient, except that the previous HomeKit devices used Apple’s private communication protocol, and the Matter device used a common protocol.

The Matter device will have a “setup code”, through which the user can register the Matter device to different platforms. This means that users and family members can control home equipment together even if one uses iPhone and the other uses Android, and they can also control home equipment with smart speakers of different brands in different rooms. This broke the barriers between platforms.

Matter is not just an interconnection protocol, it is also a product certification. Its logo is composed of three arrows pointing to the same center, suggesting a strong alliance between Apple, Google, and Amazon. In the future, smart home products that meet the Matter standard will mark this logo on the product packaging or even the product body.

Smart home product vendors can directly mark the Matter Logo on the product|CSA

Obviously, they hope to build Matter into a “brand”, a “gold standard” for smart homes.

Tobin Richardson, the head of the Matter project, said in an interview: “The current situation is that different devices support different smart home platforms, so we need to make these devices have a unified language. The Matter logo tells consumers that you can Add any device with this logo to your smart home network.”

Mid-market battles in smart homes
Matter seems to have assembled the power of the entire industry to illuminate the route ahead. But things may not be as simple as imagined.

The vision planned by CSA is wonderful. They hope that Matter can become the gold standard like Wi-Fi, connecting devices of different brands, and visually presenting complex device networks on the interface. The giants also promise to work towards this goal. .

However, the technologies, product standards, and value orientations of each company will still be different. It is difficult to say whether these differences will evolve into differences or even lead to the collapse of the alliance.

Apple, one of the Big Three, did not appear in the list of participants in the first version of the Matter standard.

Some people believe that this is because Apple’s HomeKit has relatively high security standards. For example, the “image recognition” function of the camera must run locally on the device and cannot be uploaded to the server. The signal for users to remotely monitor the camera screen must also be end-to-end encrypted. Security-sensitive accessories such as door locks need to meet HomeKit’s more stringent security standards before they can be connected to HomeKit.

Some of these security technologies are characteristic functions of Apple’s ecology. If it is fully compatible with Matter, it means that Apple has to lower its own security encryption standards, and Apple is obviously unwilling to do so. In the future, even if it promises to be compatible with Matter, Apple will most likely not abandon the HomeKit brand, but will make Matter compatible with HomeKit. Not just Apple, every family must defend their territory while trying to make big cakes.

In the field of smart home, each has its own product standards and value propositions, such as Apple’s HomeKit. It’s hard to say what the relationship between Matter and HomeKit will be in the future|Apple

Matter wants to create a set of universally applicable technology and product standards. In the process, it is necessary to balance the different ideas and demands of various companies, and it will inevitably weaken the value proposition of some companies. If there are more and more such differences and each family has reservations, the enthusiasm in the early days of the alliance is likely to be diluted or even enter a recession.

Similar history has been staged many times. Whether it is the Zigbee alliance or the Weave agreement, both have proposed similar ideas to Matter. They united and then split. The reason why smart homes have experienced 20 years of development is still a place of feathers, because there are too many similar problems.

Even if Matter is successfully implemented, the companies will still compete with each other and try to become the “interface” for users to control smart homes. Mobile phones, TVs, and smart speakers will be the most important entrances and will be the focus of competition.

This is by no means the end, or even the beginning of the end.

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