It sounds good in advertising: the heating control system reduces energy consumption, the security camera sends pictures of unexpected visitors to the smartphone, the light shines comfortably or brightly as needed. In reality, however, many consumers find digital home technology so confusing that they prefer not to equip their home with it.
However, this could change in the coming months. A new standard called Matter promises a great simplification in setup and networking. The first products will be available from autumn – the first examples can be seen at the Ifa electronics fair in Berlin, which ends on Tuesday.
The industry is optimistic, Amazon speaks of an “important innovation”, Google even of a “new era”. Experts also see the opportunity for a fresh start: “Matter has the potential to become a game-changer in the smart home industry,” says Bernd Kotschi, founder of the strategy consultancy Kotschi Consulting. The standard could “significantly contribute to clearing the purchase barriers for customers aside”.
However, consumers have to be patient: the certification of the first devices is dragging on, the Matter logo with the three arrows should not be widely visible on the packaging until next year – so the proof that the networking of the home is actually getting easier is still pending.
So far, the smart home has been a confusing matter: manufacturers use standards such as WLAN, Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Zigbee. On the packs are the logos of systems such as Alexa, Homekit and Google Assistant. And numerous own apps are required for the control.
Among consumers, complexity is one of the most cited reasons for choosing a smart home. In a survey by the IT association Bitkom, 28 percent of previous non-users stated that the operation seems too complicated to them – only security and data protection concerns play a greater role.
Now, with Matter, there is a new attempt to establish a universal language. This is a connection standard that allows products from different manufacturers to communicate with each other over the local network – even if there are problems with the Internet connection.
Individual devices are to become networks. An example: the door or window sensor of one manufacturer can send data to the thermostat of another – and thus cause the heating to be turned down during ventilation. So far, this may be possible via programming interfaces, but it is very cumbersome.
The decisive difference to previous standards and protocols for the smart home: Matter is supported by around 270 companies, including the major platform operators Amazon, Apple, Alphabet and Samsung, well-known brands such as Ikea, Miele and Sonos, as well as specialists such as Assa-Abloy, Busch-Jäger and Viessmann.
The cooperation of the rivals, who have been tinkering with their own technologies for years, should result from a simple realization. “The whole industry is aware that the smart home has not yet reached its potential,” says Jon Harros of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which is leading the standardization process.
The great hope: if Matter ensures that the smart home gains popularity in the mass market, then everyone in the industry will benefit from it. Also and especially the big platforms.
Harros also argues that unification makes development work easier. “It’s not worth competing with the basic technology – the big companies all offer special functions via their apps that help them differentiate themselves.“
More choice, lower prices
The new standard could revive the market. So far, manufacturers have to certify their products for several ecosystems if they want to reach all consumers – for example, Homekit from Apple and Alexa from Amazon. This considerable effort will be eliminated with the new standard. At the same time, other technical parameters are unified.
This has two effects: companies such as Tado, Eve or Signify, which have been on the market for years, can more easily certify their products for several ecosystems. In addition, according to smart home expert Kotschi: “Due to the low hurdles, a large number of new providers are likely to enter the market. That will fuel the competition.“
The result: there are more products, more choices – and therefore lower prices than today.
At the same time, Matter makes marketing easier for electronics retailers, both online and offline. Instead of having to explain the different systems with their own logos, companies can simply string packages from different products. An advantage in advertising, Kotschi emphasizes: “The trade can go much more aggressively into the marketing of applications and solutions.“
How it can work is exemplified by Eve. The Munich-based electronics manufacturer, which specializes in the smart home, wants to retrofit 14 devices via software update, starting in the fall. Products that previously could only be controlled with Apple devices can now also be addressed with Alexa or the Google Assistant.
Electrical associations rely on smart home solutions
However, some time will probably pass before the entire industry follows suit. The CSA has had to postpone the start several times – the development of a standard is complex, emphasizes Board member Harros: “The companies must agree on every part of the specification.“ For this, the work is progressing quickly.
Currently, 50 companies are testing their products, reports the manager, who is involved in the process as director of certification and testing programs. He assumes that the first devices will be available in the Christmas business, much more in the coming year.
In addition, standardization has not been completed in all categories. Working groups have already laid the foundations for the control of lamps, air conditioners, televisions and sensors, but not for security cameras, for example. The start of the new era still needs some time.