Monday, May 16, 2022

Matter’s delay means you’ll have to wait longer for some new smart home products

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Don’t worry about the slowdown of Matter, the new standard for smart home interoperability, because we’re not. That’s the message from smart home device makers Eve Systems and Nanoleaf, who have been involved from the start in developing the protocol that promises smart home nirvana. “I think the three-month delay could actually be a good thing,” said Nanoleaf CEO Gimmy Chu. “I feel like there is now more certainty across the industry that we will have unity by the time of launch.”

While there may be more certainty in the industry, current smart home owners are still in a quagmire of uncertainty about which products to buy and when. Especially now that Chu has confirmed that The edge that Nanoleaf’s Thread-enabled A19 smart bulb and light strip won’t work with the standard. †[They] will need another chip,” Chu says. “We hope to launch a new Essentials A19 and a new light strip when Matter arrives this year.” This is a blow to owners who bought the products thinking that Thread-enabled meant they could be upgraded to Matter. However, the devices will continue to work with HomeKit over Thread, and with other platforms over Bluetooth or over Thread using a cloud-to-cloud integration, Chu says.

Announced in 2019 by Amazon, Apple, Google and Samsung, Matter is the result of a collaboration between much of the industry. The goal is to make devices from any manufacturer work seamlessly with devices from any other manufacturer. As I reported last week, the standard was originally supposed to launch in June of this year, but the timeline has shifted to a more vague date of “fall 2022.”

While the major smart home platforms have been optimistic about Matter from the start, with Amazon, Google and Samsung SmartThings pledging their full support, it’s unclear how that will manifest in their apps and other control devices. Chu of Nanoleaf selected Apple, with whom Nanoleaf worked closely on the launch of its Essentials A19 bulb to coincide with the arrival of the HomePod Mini. “We don’t know anything about what Apple plans to do with Matter,” he says. “But we do know that they will launch a new iOS sometime in September. If Matter had launched in the summer, would Apple have been ready, or would it have waited?”

Nanoleaf will release a new Matter-compatible version of its Essentials A19 lamp when the standard arrives.
Image: Nanoblade

All the big players all in on Matter are key to the standard’s success, which Chu says is the solid foundation the smart home desperately needs to move beyond early adopters and into the mainstream. “In reality, customers shouldn’t even know if a device uses Matter versus HomeKit versus cloud-to-cloud communication, it just works,” he says.

Tim Böth of Eve Systems agrees that matter is critical to the smart home and if we have to wait to get it right, so be it. “Making sure everything works – that’s Matter’s promise and it would be very bad if it wasn’t on day one.” The Connectivity Standards Alliance, which oversees Matter, says the main reason for the latest delay is: customize the way the default will work with the platformswhich has been made more complicated as more OS and chipset makers have jumped on board with Matter than expected.

It also appears that there is still a lot of “hammering” about how exactly existing ecosystems will adopt matter. “Ecosystem manufacturers will want to position themselves in the matter with a unique functionality, this will be a competitive landscape,” says Böth. “They will try to convince everyone that there is value in creating custom stuff for their platform.” Basically, everyone came together to make Matter happen, but as it gets closer, companies are looking for ways to stand out from the crowd.

But while manufacturers wait for ecosystems and platforms to catch up, consumers lose out. I’ve heard from many readers that they wait to buy devices for their smart home because they want to know that it works with Matter. We have been waiting for almost three years now. And despite the CSA’s assurances that it’s working to bring existing devices into the Matter fold, it seems increasingly likely that we’ll need to buy new devices if we want Matter-enabled products.

The Nanoleaf Elements lighting panels are Thread edge routers, but it has not been decided whether they will be upgraded to Matter.
Image: Nanoblade

Nanoleaf has “a few new lighting products” coming up that will work with Matter, Chu told me. In fact, these have been up and running since last year when Matter was originally scheduled to launch, but Nanoleaf held them back when the standard’s launch was delayed. “We don’t plan to launch these new products until the final specifications are in place,” he says. “We don’t want to launch something that is outdated three months later.”

Do it once and do it right, that’s Nanoleaf’s approach now. But as Matter’s timeline continues to shift, Chu admits it’s been a challenge. “We would have liked to have recognized that revenue sooner and expanded that aspect of our business,” he says. “But we are in for the long game.”

Nanoleaf also has a number of products that work as Thread boundary routers, a device that connects a Thread network to other IP-based networks, such as Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Thread and Matter go hand in hand when launched. But Chu says the company hasn’t decided yet whether it will upgrade its Shapes, Lines and Elements lighting panels to Matter, though the right hardware is there to do it. “I haven’t found a user-centric reason to upgrade them to Matter. They work with Alexa, Google and HomeKit, what would an upgrade mean for the customer?” The Nanoleaf boundary routers will support Thread devices, whether they’re on HomeKit or Matter, he says.

The delay has not affected Eve’s plans. “We’re pretty chill with it,” says Böth. “We’ve been prepared for a while and we have an existing business that works well, so it doesn’t change what we do. It just gets even more awesome.” The company has rolled out all-new Thread versions of all of its products that are part of the first Matter specification, including a door and window sensor, a smart plug and a water leak sensor. Böth says they can all be upgraded to Matter. “We were willing to spend money to future-proof these devices by including components that aren’t used today, but will be when Matter arrives,” he says.

Eve recently released a Thread-enabled version of her Water Guard leak detector, which first launched in 2020.
Image: Eve Systems

Unfortunately, this means that if you have existing Eve devices that only use Bluetooth, you’ll have to buy the newer Thread versions if you want to switch to Matter, as the older ones don’t support it. It also means Eve will have to wait even longer to realize her expansion plans. Currently, the devices only work with HomeKit, limiting the customer base to iPhone users. When Matter arrives, the devices will work with Android phones, dramatically expanding Eve’s potential market.

The same goes for Belkin Wemo customers. The existing smart switches and plugs won’t work with Matter, but the company has new Thread versions of its smart plug, light switch and dimmer switch this year, and recently updated its Stage Scene Controller to support Thread. Some of these products also only work with HomeKit, but Belkin has said it plans to upgrade them all to Matter.

While there are some existing smart home devices that we’ve been told will be upgraded to Matter – such as the fourth-generation Echo speaker, the Google Nest Hub, the HomePod Mini, the Philips Hue smart lighting bridge – it’s looking more and more like it. that it’s the early adopters who will foot the bill for Matter to bring the smart home to the mainstream. But if it means getting the smart home that “just works,” it might be worth it.

Update: Thursday, March 24, 5:45 PM: Clarified that existing Eve Bluetooth devices cannot be upgraded to Matter, only the newer Thread versions will support Matter.

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