Eve CEO Jerome Gackel: Matter is a gamechanger for the smart home
Matter is on the doorstep of the smart home and, together with Thread, could revolutionize home automation. Eve CEO Jerome Gackel talks about the future of ambient computing in an interview with MIXED.
Almost twenty years ago, the German company “Miles Information Systems” brought television to the Mac with EyeTV. Shortly thereafter, a product line followed under the brand name Elgato, which today enjoys great popularity, especially among streamers. In 2018, the streaming division Elgato Gaming was sold and the company specialized in connected home products.
Eve Systems is now one of the largest providers of smart tech for Apple HomeKit, offering heating and air quality, energy, lighting, security and outdoor products. As part of the CHIP Alliance, the company is directly involved in the development of the upcoming smart home standard Matter.
Co-CEO Jerome Gackel talks to MIXED about the end of standalone solutions in the smart home, the advantages of HomeKit over cloud-to-cloud models, and why Matter can only get in its own way.
Eve Systems: Smart home without cloud connectivity
From a product developer’s perspective, what are the advantages of HomeKit over other systems like Alexa or Google Home?
Jerome Gackel, CEO Eve Systems: Nothing is more important in the home than privacy. That’s why it was crucial for us from the very beginning to develop our smart home product family without a cloud connection.
Eve is designed from the ground up to keep data truly private. HomeKit was the platform of choice for this, as Alexa and Google Home rely on cloud-to-cloud models.
Eve decided early on to add Thread to products. What is the advantage of Thread over other connectivity options like Wi-Fi or ZigBee?
Jerome Gackel: Thread is a technology developed specifically for smart home applications and eliminates range problems thanks to mesh architecture. At the same time, Thread is so energy-efficient that it can also be used for battery-powered products. That’s why we started updating our product family right at the launch of the HomePod mini in fall 2020.
WLAN, on the other hand, with its power requirements in the smart home, is only justifiable for bandwidth-hungry device categories like cameras. And Zigbee, like some other legacy IoT wireless standards, requires a bridge – often even a proprietary one, meaning one that can only be used with products from the same manufacturer.
Matter is the end of isolated solutions in the smart home
What ideas did the idea of a universal wireless standard for smart home gadgets trigger in you?
Jerome Gackel: More convenience for users and an end to isolated solutions. Matter is a gamechanger because it promises to control smart home gadgets across platforms and manufacturers. This increases the appeal of the smart home immensely and thus has the potential to expand the target groups all the way to the mass market.
Briefly explained: What is Matter?
Jerome Gackel: Matter is a universal language that IP-based smart home devices can use to communicate with each other locally and directly. The communication channels are LAN and WLAN as well as threaded networks connected to them via border routers. These smart home devices can add, control and automate smartphones and voice assistants of Matter-enabled platforms such as HomeKit, Google Home, Alexa and SmartThings.
How did your involvement in Matter development come about and how involved were you?
Jerome Gackel: The roadmap came from Apple. With the announcement of the Thread-enabled HomePod mini and the involvement in the Matter founding alliance Connected Home Over IP (CHIP), it was clear to us: jump on board right away, get pushing right away. We joined the respective alliances and set about migrating our Bluetooth products to Thread, as well as committee work in the development workgroups of the Matter device categories relevant to us.
Eve Systems guarantees the highest level of privacy
With Matter, for the first time, users of other systems like Google Home or Alexa have the ability to integrate Eve products. Conversely, HomeKit users can now use significantly more products from other manufacturers. Which prevails – growth opportunity or competitive pressure?
Jerome Gackel: We are and remain the provider that guarantees the highest level of privacy – no cloud, no registration, no tracking. And we are interoperable in the best possible way without a bridge. Then there are the many additional functions that our users are used to from HomeKit, such as energy cost forecasts with Eve Energy and Eve Energy Strip, our smart sockets. In short, we are convinced that the growth opportunities outweigh the risks for us.
In theory, Matter sounds like the holy grail for smart home users who can suddenly connect everything to everything. Do you think Matter will deliver on this promise and succeed in the long run, or are there still weak points that could slow down the project?
Jerome Gackel: Actually, Matter can only stand in its own way. But since this did not happen during the entire development period – which, by the way, was sensationally short – we remain very confident.
The pandemic caused many projects to be postponed – including Matter. When do you expect the actual market launch?
Jerome Gackel: Matter is expected to be available on all platforms by mid-2022. Our impression is that the delays with Matter are more due to the quality standards, the effort to actually deliver the big hit. After all, despite all the suffering caused by the pandemic, the coordination of teams scattered around the world, but always available thanks to home offices, was indeed beneficial. Mind you, up to 2000 developers are working on the standard at the same time. For the lead Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly Zigbee Alliance), Matter is the largest project to date.
Eve: MotionBlinds and Outdoor Cam about to launch
Has the pandemic affected work at Eve – if so, how? Have you had to postpone product releases or put ideas on hold?
Jerome Gackel: We have a very forward-thinking ordering and stocking policy anyway, and supply chain management for our fairly colorful product line has been complex in the past, so the pandemic didn’t create any major gaps. Of course, we feel the price development for parts and freight like many others.
Is the switch to Matter a major technical challenge for Eve?
Jerome Gackel: The changeover to Thread was accompanied by the switch to modern and powerful chips from Nordic Semiconductor, so the hardware is up-to-date – an extremely important prerequisite. So we already have products on the market that will later become Matter-enabled via a simple firmware update.
Most of the work is testing, testing, testing, accompanied by co-design in the working groups. Our developer and product management teams are working flat out on Thread and Matter certification.
Which Eve products will be Matter-compatible in the future? Are there any existing products that you can’t make compatible for technical reasons?
Jerome Gackel: The goal is to have the industry’s largest thread-based product family in place by the launch of Matter. In the long term, of course, we would like to take all products with us.
What’s coming from Eve in 2022? Are there any new product lines planned?
Jerome Gackel: We plan to expand the shading segment opened by Eve MotionBlinds this year, but before that, we’ll be going all out to help bring the Matter ecosystem to life! And in April, we will ship the Eve Outdoor Cam announced at CES.