What’s the Matter with Matter?

The long-awaited Matter consumer device interoperability standard is here. For IoT device manufacturers, Version 1.0 remains a work in progress.

Cory Siansky , Technology Consultant, Publicis Sapient

March 24, 2023

5 Min Read
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chombosan via Adobe Stock

Like the One Ring to Rule Them All, the recently published Matter 1.0 standard welcomes the dawn of interoperability for millions of IoT devices that today can't speak to each another. 

On its surface, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) October 2022 announcement heralds the arrival of a long-awaited future -- devices from one manufacturer will play nicely in the sandbox with devices sporting a different manufacturer’s logo and operated together in a unified interface. However, for OEMs who make Matter-compliant devices -- or are now considering how they would modify existing products (or entire product lines) to become Matter certified -- the devil is in the details. And in this case, there are more than 1,300 pages of those details.

From the industry perspective, participating in a new certification standard sounds simple on paper: Is the prospective investment worth the upside benefit and the risk to change course? Changing course, for many OEMs, runs counter to their corporate ethos. After years of keeping methods and know how under wraps, to become Matter-compliant at least some of that know-how is revealed to the public at large -- as well as competitors.

OEMs are grappling with several factors simultaneously:

  1. There is a possible dilutive effect to an OEM’s market position by participating;

  2. There is a possible accretive effect to an OEM’s market position by participating;

  3. Given the heavy hitters among Matter’s 270+ and growing corporate participants, failing to -- at the very minimum -- assess the opportunity may be considered to be a failure to perform due diligence in the eyes of stakeholders such as the company’s board of directors, its shareholders, and the trade press, not to mention its loyal customers who increasingly expect innovation to progress over the span of a device’s useful life; and

  4. The Matter standard in its current form does not yet address certain categories of electronic devices (sorry robot vacuums).

We can take a reasonable leap of faith that with Matter’s strong backing from some of tech’s heaviest hitters (e.g., Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Google, Huawei, Ikea, LG, Lutron, Samsung), an expanded version Matter 1.1 or 2.0 is not a question of if but when it will be released.

Walking the floor of the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show, the overt message was clear: Consumer electronics will work together -- across manufacturers and product lines. The Matter logo, while not ubiquitous, was prominently featured on an array of new offerings and was not difficult to find.

Digging a little deeper, Matter-participating manufacturers are rolling out some new products as Matter-compliant, but also many in parallel that aren’t. It turns out that translating in-house developed, proprietary signals and exposing them in a publicly facing and agnostic way is a non-trivial task. But technical complexity isn't the major obstacle to broader adoption: it's the business model.

Despite its financial backing and the promise of interoperability never before achieved, there are some cracks in the foundation of Matter that require attention.

I spoke to a team of product leads and developers from a prominent OEM participant in the Matter movement. The team, sharing their experiences confidentially as they are not authorized to speak on behalf of their company, described a difficult-to-resolve conflict that the Matter interoperability standard fails to address in version 1.0. Throughout decades of R&D leading to products becoming market leaders, third-party device interoperability wasn’t a concern. In some cases, adding interoperability is a modest lift, but in others requires building an entire product line from scratch as Matter “native.”

According to these insiders, accommodating Matter compliance comes at a cost: Some products’ most advanced and differentiating features aren’t easily expressed. Sometimes features can be accommodated but only in ways that diminishes the user experience. Additionally, Matter does not yet accommodate specialized, limited-access modes used exclusively by, for example, installers or service technicians.

For companies that have multiple product lines, a paradox arises. OEMs may need to offer two separate SKUs for the same hardware -- one that is intended to be used as a Matter-compliant device, but with limited capability, and a second version that is not Matter compliant, but offers a much more robust feature set that can only work using the OEM’s proprietary interface. 

While these growing pains are sorted, some corporate leaders will elect to exclude some products from Matter -- at least until the dust settles. When it comes to demonstrating momentum of a new standard’s uptake, the immaturity of Matter 1.0 becomes a liability. 

Against the backdrop of what is essentially a rough first draft, the Matter specification has the potential to bring vastly different product lines into coherent commingling. If business leaders acknowledge that the upside potential is greater than the perceived risk of IP exposure and loss of direct access to end users, a renaissance of manufacturer agnostic devices may bloom. But the market won’t wait very long before it cuts and runs.

About the Author(s)

Cory Siansky

Technology Consultant, Publicis Sapient

Cory Siansky is a technology consultant at Publicis Sapient specializing in the convergence of consumer and enterprise technology. A self-described futurist, he leans into the usability, scalability, and sustainability of emerging tech, using new products and services in real-world conditions to inform his thought leadership.

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