“Smart home” tech isn’t all that smart — and it’s still too hard to install and have it interoperate across brands. Those pain points are major contributors to the fact that barely one-third of US households with broadband internet have one smart home device 11 years after the category was popularized. Now what?
“Right now you see a lot of closed ecosystems and islands people have to live on and these products don’t simply work together” says Tobin Richardson, CEO of the Connectivity Standards Alliance — a group that morphed out of the Zigbee Alliance, whose eponymous wireless technology is a part of the greater home tech landscape. More recently, the alliance has become the leader of a new technology collaboration called Matter whose members seek to unify smart home tech for better setup and interoperation, major steps toward popularization.
New research from Parks Associates indicates that just 36% of US broadband households have one smart home device, a percentage that decreases if all households are tallied. And among those with smart home technology, most have only a few devices, not the utopian array that was foreshadowed by Microsoft and Bill Gates nearly two decades ago.
“You need a standard that works from device to device, talks to the cloud appropriately and does so in a secure way,” says Richardson. Then companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google need to break down some of their current competitive walls so smart home products will interoperate and make the home a smart thing, not just a box with a few smart things in it. Richardson is optimistic about that since somewhat insular Apple has joined the Matter effort.
Matter is focused on interoperability across wireless interfaces — so consumers don’t have to know Zigbee from Wi-Fi — and on data exchange so devices can talk to each other. Simpler installation and setup should also build on those emphases. Less clear is what role Matter might play as a data-driven anticipation platform, something Matter members may want to reserve as their secret sauces.
“We’ll put in place this platform. If there becomes a common approach [to anticipation] on top of that, that’s where we’ll step in and be the standard for that,” says Richardson.
Matter partners are currently in fast-tracked trials of interoperable devices and plan to make a big splash with product availability announcements at CES 2022.
Tobin Richardson shared more of the effort’s nuances with CNET’s Brian Cooley, hear them all in the video.