How many times in history can you remember a room full of competitive tech companies all in the same room with one shared goal – not to compete, but to work together for something better? Imagine now that among these companies are megalithic lumbering giants among men, and you’ve just imagined the room we were in earlier this week.
Along with other industry behemoths including Google, Samsung, and Apple, Amazon has committed to the future of smart homes by joining the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), a collaborative group of over 550 companies working together for the cause.
The result is Matter, a new standard, which was officially launched at an event in Amsterdam on November 3. Offering a level of interoperability we’ve only been dreaming of until now, Matter 1.0 is the real starting point of smart homes becoming truly smart.
It’s the beginning of a long road; as of now, only certain product categories are Matter-compatible; these include lighting and electrical, HVAC controls, controllers and bridges, TVs and media devices, blinds and shades, security sensors, and door locks. The CSA expects to expand into more product areas in 2023, including security cameras, and robot vacuums.
Amazon, of course, is only growing in its smart home prominence, and with its recent acquisition of iRobot, its portfolio is going from strength to strength. Today, Alexa supports over 30,000 devices in its Works with Alexa program – but this number will grow substantially with the launch of Matter.
Not a leap, but a step in the right direction
In Amazon’s keynote at the event, Marja Koopmans, Director of Smart Home and Health for Amazon discussed the company’s plans for Matter, and why it’s so important for them. Amazon intends to bring Matter support to “well over 100 million devices” across 30 Echo and eero devices in what Koopmans called a “hugely unprecedented undertaking”.
Later, in conversation with Chris Decenzo, Amazon’s technical lead for Matter and chair of the Matter steering committee, he said that as well as the crucial opportunity for customers to have more choice in terms of what will work interoperably in their smart home, Matter should also increase speed to market for new products.
“Device makers can build a product and they don’t have to invest in six different versions of it, six different kinds of hardware because of all the different protocols that are out there. It’s reducing work for developers.”
In terms of compatibility, Koopmans announced a phased approach that would see compatibility arrive on Alexa and several generations of Eero routers and Echo smart speakers in December – but only for plugs, switches and bulbs, and only on Android. This will support connections with currently Matter-compatible devices exclusively over Wi-Fi. Further Echo and eero devices and device types are on the roadmap for early 2023.
So, where does that leave users on iOS and Thread networks? Well, support for these will come early next year, and there’s a good reason behind this. We spoke with Decenzo to learn more.
Slow and steady wins the race
One of the key conversation points of the whole event is that Matter is a journey, and we’re just at the beginning of it–and that’s great, but Decenzo says that customer experience is “absolutely critical”–and that’s why they’re taking it slow.
First, we tackled the conversation around Wi-Fi vs. Thread, and why Amazon was sticking with Wi-Fi for its first phase of the rollout. The process of aligning credentials and APIs takes time, and integrating all of the different companies hosting thread border routers is not an easy one. Decenzo uses the example that rushing into Thread compatibility could lead to four Thread networks rather than one and end up an “absolute disaster for the customer”. “That caused us to decide to wait on the thread stuff until we get enough of the industry integrated,” he explains.
It’s a slightly different story with Android vs. iOS–some of which simply comes down to timing. Apple only recently announced its iOS requirements for Matter, which include brand new APIs that only just came out in Xcode 14. Unfortunately, this means that developers have not had enough time to make sure the integration works–yet.
Decenzo says that while Amazon is happy with its progress, customer-centricity remains key. “ It’s not going to be a long time that customers have to wait but unfortunately, we’re not able to be as aggressive on that one.”
Analysis: No risk, no reward
While many of the founding companies attending the CSA’s Matter launch event have some serious stakes in the new standard, Amazon holds an interesting position.
Wearing multiple hats, including vendor and manufacturer, Amazon’s position at the front and center of this collaborative approach ias somewhat of a surprise. After all, this kind of standard could move consumers outside of the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, create more competition, and even stand to create risk in the development of new smart products–and considering Amazon’s range of products and its recent acquisition of iRobot, we’d expect more risk adversity.
Speaking with Decenzo, however, brought the company’s stake in Matter into focus.
For Decenzo, who sits in between the various areas of the business that may have conflicting interests around Matter, it’s been a boon for Amazon to be able to speak as both a device maker and a service provider, allowing it to “earn a lot of trust” with the other members of the standard.
On the one hand, Amazon understood the priorities of device makers. “A lot of the device makers want to be able to differentiate–they don’t want to have some middleman that’s blocking them from the customer and dictating what features they can have.”
However, as a service provider, Decenzo explains that Amazon is more attuned to the benefits of standardization–especially when it comes to security and privacy. He credits this as the reason Amazon was able to “help try to find the right balance.”
So, what of the risk created by increased competition? Decenzo says that overall, there were more benefits to growing smart homes and product availability. “Sometimes you have to look around corners and see an opportunity to standardize and be confident that your customers love the experience that they get from your product. They’re still going to love that, even if you know things are completely open.
“We’ve always been into open standards and that’s why we’ve embraced them, and we’re happy that we were able to bring other companies along that haven’t always been into them.”
The measured approach being taken by Amazon and the hundreds of companies that form the CSA now and in the future speaks to a very unique movement in the tech space–one that we hope other industries could learn a thing or two from. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled as Matter 1.0 gains traction in 2023.