Eyebrows were raised in the smart home world this week with word that Belkin was taking a “big step back” from Matter, the new standard that promises to unite the big smart home ecosystems.
Speaking to The Verge, a Belkin rep said that while Matter will “have a significant positive impact on the smart home industry,” the company’s Wemo smart home brand would “take a big step back, regroup, and rethink” its earlier pledge to develop Matter-enabled products.
The reasoning behind Belkin’s Matter backtrack is a tad vague, with The Verge reporting that the manufacturer would only return to Matter if “it can find a way to differentiate” the resulting products.
A slow start for Matter
The report about Belkin’s Matter pause raised alarm bells because the Matter standard has, admittedly, gotten off to a slow start.
After a couple of lengthy delays, Matter finally launched with great fanfare last fall, followed by a slew of announcements from the big smart home players pledging their support for the standard.
Encouragingly, many ubiquitous smart home hubs, from Amazon’s Echo devices and Google’s Nest speakers to the Apple HomePod line and recent Samsung SmartThings hubs, have been (or soon will be) updated with Matter support, allowing them to connect Matter-enabled devices to the internet and to each other.
But while the promise of Matter–namely, that any Matter-certified product will work seamlessly within the Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and other major smart home ecosystems–sounds like a panacea on paper, the reality has been somewhat more complicated.
Matter’s promise versus the reality
First came the fine print that mainstream users may have missed: namely, that the initial Matter spec only supports certain categories of smart home products, including smart lights, thermostats, door locks, TVs, window shades, security sensors, and streaming video players. Support for other major smart home products, such as security cams, robot vacuums, and garage door controllers, is still on the back burner.
Then came the reality that the slew of Matter device announcements that came in the wake of Matter’s launch were, in fact, only announcements. Beyond hubs, bridges, and apps, only a handful of Matter-enabled devices have actually shipped, including smart plugs from Meross and TP-Link’s Tapo brand. Many more Matter devices are slated to arrive in the coming months, but they aren’t quite here yet.
Finally, there’s been some grumbling that the seamless Matter experience isn’t as seamless as it could be. Writing for Stacey on IoT, Keven C. Tofel complained about the difficulties involved in adding a Matter device using the Apple Home app, a process that required (for Tofel, at least) an Android phone and the Google Home app.
Given these bumps in the road, it’s no wonder that word of Belkin’s about-face on Matter lead to some hand-wringing about the standard’s future. Put another way, is Matter in trouble?
Matter still has plenty of runway
The short answer: not yet. With any new standard, especially those as ambitious as Matter, there are bound to be hiccups and rough corners. Momentum takes time to build, and it’s no big surprise that after only a few months, Matter hasn’t revolutionized our smart homes yet.
Also, Belkin is a relatively small player in the smart home market, and its reasons for backing away from Matter are unclear. Does it have misgivings about Matter itself, or is it simply unsure how to make its Matter smart plugs stand out from an eventual sea of Matter-enabled competitors? Hard to say.
The bigger trouble for Matter would be if a larger smart home manufacturer were to walk away from the table, such as Nanoleaf, Philips Hue, or–gulp–Apple.
The latter example is a stretch, given that Apple is one of the original backers of the Matter standard (originally known as Project Connected Home over IP, or CHIP).
But if more smart home players began to distance themselves from Matter, then we’d have ourselves some trouble.