30-05-2022 | By Robin Mitchell
The only way that smart homes can become a reality is if the IoT industry can agree on a standard, but the large number of tech companies producing their own standards continues to make this unification a challenge. However, it may turn out that it is not tech companies who unite IoT devices but instead large supermarkets.
Why is IoT unification such a challenge?
With well over 20 billion IoT devices around the world, it can be said that the explosion of IoT devices has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, IoT devices are enabling new technologies such as environmental monitoring, industrial process optimisation, and remote access while simultaneously providing unbelievably large quantities of data that has accelerated the growth of AI and ML. On the other hand, the sudden introduction of internet-enabled devices with poor security practices has seen hackers take advantage by either using insecure devices as gateways to an internal network, using devices to launch attacks and using devices to spy.
But one main issue that continues to plague IoT devices to this very day is the complete fragmentation of the IoT industry. Simply put, anyone who develops their own IoT device will often use their own protocols and standards, and this means that such devices cannot talk to devices manufactured by other companies. To make the matter worse, many IoT developers do not release their device APIs, meaning that third-party software developers looking to create smart homes that interconnect devices cannot communicate with those devices, even just to act as a bridge.
As such, thousands of smart home IoT devices currently plague the market that requires their own unique apps or ecosystems to operate. Considering that no one company has been able to make an IoT device for every application, customers face significant restrictions when choosing devices.
Could supermarkets such as Ikea set the standard?
While tech companies continue to argue about who should set the standard, Ikea is slowly creeping into the smart home market with their Trådfri range of products, including a gateway, sockets, and bulbs. Unlike tech companies, Ikea’s entire business model is based on home improvement and furniture and thus is perfectly positioned to sell smart home devices.
Instead of customers researching online about various smart home solutions, a single shop to Ikea could see a customer purchase an entire solution for their house that allows for the control of sockets, lights, blinds, windows, and much more. Furthermore, the smart home devices would be styled to match existing Ikea products, which significantly helps customers standardise their furniture and devices.
Now, Ikea is introducing a new upgrade to their existing gateway called Dirigera. This upgrade enables the Trådfri gateway to work with Matter, the IoT standard developed by Google, Amazon, and Apple. By supporting Matter, Ikea products will be compatible with any other device that supports Matter while also still operating with older Ikea products. As such, Ikea could be pivotal in setting the standard for future home automation systems.
Should engineers switch over to Matter?
Just like the IBM PC, moving to a single IoT standard will not only benefit customers but will also benefit engineers designing IoT products. By agreeing to move to a standard, a company can focus their development on creating specialist products that excel in one application instead of trying to create an entire ecosystem of software and hardware solutions. Furthermore, the use of a single standard will open up a product to more markets and solutions developed by other companies without the need for interaction.
However, before rushing to implement Matter, engineers need to carefully consider other solutions that may be in development. There is no doubt that Google, Amazon, and Apple are the industry’s heaviest hitters in the field of tech, but these companies working together to create a standard effectively pushes out engineers and companies who are not a part of the group. Furthermore, the code repository for Matter is open source, but the specification is licensed, meaning that engineers need to pay for certification costs.
A true standard would require no licenses, royalties, or fees of any kind while allowing the public to make suggestions on where it should go (an excellent example of this is Linux). As such, it is possible for a different standard to form that is directed and produced by the public instead of a tech oligarch. Engineers should also consider the history of large tech companies and their constant scraping of private and metadata. It would not be outside the realm of possibility to incorporate subroutines that send snippets of data back to datacentres for analysis.
It is clear that Matter is likely to dominate the future IoT market, and its implementation would greatly help unify home IoT devices. Its popularity will most likely come from businesses such as Ikea that have direct access to the customer base looking to add smart devices, and engineers must be cautious before using Matter.