App Development

How Home Automation Protocol Matter Will Inspire the Next Generation of Smart Devices and Apps

The massive opportunity for Matter to transform smart homes

Meet smart home power user Michelle Avery.

Michelle Avery loves to fiddle with “things.” By day, she’s WillowTree Partner and VP of Software Engineering and leads award-winning teams driving digital software transformation for the world’s biggest brands. After hours, Michelle finds endless fascination in the internet of things (IoT), configuring her connected home with capabilities ranging from programmed lighting schemes to sensors that power machine learning-based algorithms. Michelle’s expertise came in handy one day while her husband was napping.

“What’s going on with the blinds?” he texted.

When Michelle came to the bedroom, she found their blinds rapidly rising and falling. Strangely, a lamp was also turning on and off. Michelle immediately realized the fix: her blinds ran on Zigbee — a low-bandwidth wireless mesh network and smart home protocol used by many IoT manufacturers. And the lamp? Michelle knew its outdated smart bulb was buggy and didn’t operate well with the rest of the Zigbee network.

“So I unscrew the lightbulb, and the blinds stop going up and down. Most smart homeowners might not realize one smart device can negatively interfere with another,” Michelle explains. “Home automation devices require troubleshooting that many people don’t know how to resolve.”

In the past year, nearly 40% of smart home consumers reported difficulty in the installation process and reported two or more technical problems (up 11% year-over-year). Roughly half of consumers experiencing these tech issues said the primary difficulty was interoperability among devices already in their homes — unifying their router, thermostat, and smart locks within a single system, for instance. Clearly, consumers are confused about whether their products can operate within one or more existing smart home ecosystems, such as the multi-device setups offered by Amazon Smart Home, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, or Samsung SmartThings.

Enter Matter.

Matter is a new connected home protocol empowering manufacturers to build more user-friendly hardware AND enabling developers to build more personalized digital products.

Here’s how.

First, let’s talk about Matter’s building blocks.

The average US household now owns 20 smart home products. Apple leads the brand loyalty index worldwide, with 39% of homes owning 10 or more Apple smart home devices. And yet, just 50 global brands are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem, in contrast to Connectivity Standards Alliance's (Zigbee's) 2,500 devices or  Amazon’s 9,500 brands.

That’s not to say one platform is better than the other. Instead, these limitations point to larger complexities facing consumers in the connected home space — especially when consumers are considering brand loyalty and evaluating product interoperability.

Historical limitations of the smart home market

  • Consumer purchasing decisions have primarily been informed by basic functionality with existing home automation platforms or assistants — rather than influential factors such as preferred features, brand preferences, or price-point.

  • Users often prefer a single dedicated hardware or software solution (like a voice assistant, physical controller, or app) function as the hub that controls, connects, and communicates with their connected home products. This functionality has been difficult for many manufacturers to achieve — leaving consumers hamstrung by specific brands, confused about compatibility, and uncertain about future interoperability as the marketplace evolves.

  • Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must build large suites of connected home hardware and associated digital applications to ensure compatibility and draw consumers into their specific ecosystems. This requirement asks companies to invest massively in building teams and product portfolios. Moreover, it could lead to compromises in software experiences. (In other words, if a company’s expertise is in hardware manufacturing, then software may not be their power swing.)

  • Many home automation products are Internet- and cloud-dependent — both of which can pose security and privacy risks.

The promise of Matter

  • Matter is an open-source, smart home protocol allowing consumers to purchase various Matter-certified smart products from over 200 manufacturers (including major players like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Samsung, and niche manufacturers alike). This freedom allows consumers to build a multi-brand smart home ecosystem — rather than face limitations such as confusing product incompatibility, unwanted features, and high price points.

  • Matter ensures interoperability among products from different platforms; shoppers simply look for a Matter logo in product packaging — flattening what was once a steep, intimidating learning curve for consumers new to the connected home space.

  • More products — including apps, voice assistants, or home hubs (and any combination of those products) — can act as the controller for all devices in a home ecosystem; this gives OEMs and developers the freedom to build more responsive and user-friendly products.
  • In addition to WiFi and Bluetooth, Matter devices can connect and communicate via Thread, a low-power, low-bandwidth, self-healing, and peer-to-peer mesh network. Unlike cloud-dependent products, Thread is a separate communication protocol that offers offline interconnectivity and increased security — even when the WiFi goes out or Bluetooth is acting glitchy.

  • Matter may be one of the more substantial developments driving the smart home market’s projected growth — the sector was valued at $63 billion in 2021 and estimated to reach $537 billion in 2030.

More intelligence and more delight.

Scenes and schedules: basic smart home app functionality

Some existing smart home apps’ only functionality is to turn lights on or off. That’s it. Setting up “scenes,” or groups of devices set to a particular state, is another basic smart home functionality. For example, a rudimentary connected home app might allow users to create a scene where all lights turn on in the morning and off at night.

But what might a more intelligent application accomplish?

Personalized transitions: a more advanced connected home capability

“A more advanced version of this app would incorporate transitions,” Michelle explains. “The application might suggest gradually dimming your lights to 50% at night when you’re going to bed, for instance, and subtly changing the color temperature so it reflects the changing daylight and prepares your brain for sleep.”

The app could also configure transitions with Matter-compatible light bulbs from different manufacturers. That wouldn’t have been an option for users before.

What’s more, the app capabilities would include a proactive push notification that reads, “Hey [username], I’ve identified all of these lights in your network. By interrogating their functionality and capabilities, I know certain bulbs can adjust color temperature.” The notification might continue: “By the way [username], did you know that changing the color temperature of your lights throughout the day can help you have a more restful sleep?"

And there are opportunities for developers and manufacturers to take IoT personalization much further.

AI and machine-learning capabilities: a new horizon for the connected home

As Matter offers standardization and increased connectivity, we’re betting more consumers will invest in more connected home devices — which will unlock greater machine-learning capabilities. Motion and open/close sensors, for example, will communicate with a connected home app to share data about residents’ movement patterns to indicate which actions they’re likely to take — and then perform these actions automatically.

Here are two compelling AI/ML-powered scenarios speaking to the smart sensor use case:

  • A user enjoys unwinding with music when they come home to an empty house after work. When there’s no movement in the house and the garage door opens, their home automation protocol might suggest a smart speaker begin playing the user’s favorite playlist. (Bonus points: The home recognizes the difference between one or another resident coming home based on which garage door opens and selects preferred playlists accordingly.)

  • Another user normally closes their street-facing blinds at night and re-opens their rear-facing blinds to check on their dog in the backyard. Their smart home would predict and eventually suggest an automation triggered after sunset. (Bonus points: A smart pet collar tracker makes this prediction even more accurate.)

Fewer tedious chores, a happier at-home atmosphere, and happier cohabitation? Those are capabilities we can definitely support.

Facilitating ease of use — from the moment users open the box.

WillowTree Senior Staff Software Engineer and IoT expert Nish Tahir points to his cat’s automated litter box as exemplifying the importance of collaboration, personalization, and ease of use.

The litter box’s onboarding involved scanning a QR code, downloading an app, and connecting the product to the network it broadcasts on a user’s mobile device. For many connected home devices and users in the past, these onboarding processes haven’t been friction-free. Michelle agrees: even as another WillowTree IoT expert, she feels frustrated by the lackluster apps offered by many manufacturers. For actions as simple as turning on lights, there are different syntax requirements for different voice control systems, and UI varies greatly app-to-app.

On the other hand, Matter encourages manufacturers and devs to design with flexibility, simplicity, and collaboration in mind — starting as soon as customers open a box. Matter’s WiFi, Thread, and Bluetooth connectivity ensures a more straightforward process than what users like Nish and Michelle might’ve encountered pre-Matter.

“Matter frees up the connection between a device manufacturer and the application manufacturer, ensuring that companies developing premium apps will win in the connected home space. We’ll get better devices from companies that know how to manufacture hardware, and we’ll get better apps from companies that know how to design and build software.” — Partner and VP of Software Engineering Michelle Avery

As Nish points out, far more than technical requirements and basic functionality are necessary to build better apps. Matter will ask manufacturers to pay closer attention to UX/UI in their proprietary apps and their devices’ integration with other IoT hubs. That’s a use case companies haven’t encountered before.

“Even before an experience like product onboarding, WillowTree does extensive research to determine the best way to set up that process and guide the user through the product’s full lifecycle so they understand how to use the product and it becomes habitual,” Nish says. “We focus deeply on end-to-end product experiences and seek to delight users at every interaction.”

New incentives to invest in connected home automation.

Like Nish’s example, a better device and app in the pet health and wellness space can significantly benefit consumer experience — especially if companies streamline the integration of one product into an existing home automation ecosystem.

After all, selling one product like an automated cat litter box to consumers who care deeply about their pets is just one facet of a larger business opportunity.

“Improving the onboarding experience for users building a smart home ecosystem is another revenue stream for businesses. It’s an opportunity to upsell consumers on additional capabilities that will help them manage aspects of their lives that they care deeply about.” — Senior Staff Software Engineer Nish Tahir

And just as smart light bulbs can have basic on/off functionality vs. more intelligent AI/ML-enabled capabilities, a more advanced version of IoT devices can more deeply extend user engagement.

“In the pet health and wellness space,” Nish suggests, “an app or device like a smart litter box could inform pet owners about symptoms indicating potential illnesses, suggest nearby veterinarians, and help users get in touch with those vets.”

“Matter offers consumers more avenues to engage with more IoT products,” says Nish. “And on the corporate side, Matter enables companies to eliminate the overhead required to build proprietary mobile apps or an entire smart home device ecosystem.”

Less overhead toward infrastructure and interoperability allows OEMs to invest in what really matters — better device functionality and better user experiences.

Manufacturers take note: now’s the time to take action.

These levels of automation and customization aren’t just pipedreams. In partnership with digital product consultancies like WillowTree, companies have an immense opportunity to enhance user experience, build better apps and connected devices, and ultimately strengthen customer loyalty.

Given the substantial projected growth of the smart home market in the next five years and Matter 1.0’s massive market share among major players, it’s clear that now is the time to get started.

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