The final specification of Matter, the smart home interoperability protocol founded by Apple, Google, and Amazon, has been delayed by a few more months. While it was originally expected to be ready this fall, according to Tobin Richardson, the CEO of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), that timeline has been pushed out until the first half of 2022, with members getting a sneak peak before voting on the spec at the end of this year.
That means we’ll have to wait until the first half of next year for the software development kit, the start of a formal certification program, and the first certified devices it turns out. When I asked Richardson if he could narrow that time frame down a bit, he declined. For consumers, it means the wait for new smart home devices that support the Matter protocol will be delayed until the latter half of 2022 (I can’t wait for our 2022 Gift Guide!) and for those developing products, it means they will need to hold off on their plans for a few more months.
Richardson gave several reasons why the Matter Working Group (formerly known as the Project Connected Home over IP Working Group) decided to delay the specification. They included the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the addition of another 29 companies to the Matter membership, and the challenge of delivering a high-quality software development kit as part of the spec.
The delay is disappointing, but it isn’t a huge shock. What the folks behind Matter are trying to do is audacious. The goal is to deliver an interoperable smart home protocol that lets devices talk to each other and share their capabilities. It will help cut through the challenges of building a smart home, where consumers have to worry if their light bulb will work with Alexa or Google, or if their door locks can talk to their security sensors. All Matter-certified devices will be able to work together; consumers will be able to choose from among multiple digital assistants, hubs, and apps as suits their needs.
The idea for Matter was launched in December 2019; participants expected the standard would be ready in about a year’s time. But then COVID happened, so the spec was delayed until the first half of 2021. Then in May, we learned that spec was delayed further, until the fall. But we did get several updates on its progress, including details about some of the planned features and supported devices. For those wondering, here’s what we know about Matter so far, and what we still don’t know.
Richardson said that one big reason for the delay is that the software development kit (SDK) needs more work. He also stressed that with most standards-setting efforts, the goal is to deliver a specification, not a functioning SDK that developers can implement to test and use to build products. This is true. There is a world of difference between functioning software and a written spec.
A developer working on Matter who didn’t want to be named told me he wasn’t surprised by the delay, and thought it might actually help smaller companies, because it gives them more time to work with the specification and meet the product launches expected from Amazon, Google, and Apple with more fully developed products of their own. He also added that he thought the SDK performed well in a controlled environment, but still needed more work.
I was less convinced by the CSA’s argument that adding more companies to the working group (back in May there were 180 members and now there are 209) had caused delays. By that logic, we may never see a standard. That said, I also know the pandemic has made it tough to get people together. When working toward a device standard, engineers need to test the devices and get together in person. The CSA has held four different testing events so far, with at least two more planned for later this year. But the resurgence of the coronavirus has meant that companies are still figuring out their plans for supporting business travel.
This is disappointing news, but I don’t think it’s indicative of a huge problem for Matter adoption and use. I do think waiting for the standard will mean that lots of people will hold off on buying smart home devices, which could hurt sales in the near term. And I still think we’ll hear more from vendors about their Matter plans at CES despite the delay in issuing the final spec.