Matter & Thread - What's all the hype?
You have probably been hearing a lot about Thread and Matter. But what are they? Are they the same thing? How will they integrate with HomeKit and our existing gear? Why is it better? Is it really going to solve all of our problems?
Matter and Thread are potentially going to be really great, and potentially significantly better than many of the options we have today. If it lives up to its potential it is going to increase reliability, speed, and ease of use. It is going to reduce the burden on our Wi-Fi networks, which were never designed for home automation's high device-count, chatty behavior, and desire of low latency performance. It should make product selection and availability easier and more plentiful.
What is (and isn't) Matter?
A lot of people confuse/combine/assume/forget that Thread and Matter are two different things. They also tend to oversimplify their relationship with HomeKit. Thread and Matter are not the same thing. Also Matter is not a smart home platform like Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Amazon’s Alexa. Matter doesn’t automate or control your home; it simply provides a language for devices to communicate.
Matter is a new connectivity standard that vendors can follow to ensure that a device will work on any smart home platform. It is not a smart home platform like Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Amazon’s Alexa. Matter doesn’t automate or control your home; it simply provides a common connectivity standard for devices to communicate. It’s an IP-based technology, meaning it uses the same mechanisms to communicate as the internet. So, there is no dependency on bridges or hubs, and yes, you
will might (eventually) be able to get rid of all those white boxes hooked up to your modem. Matter will start as an application layer on top of existing IP technologies, including ethernet, Wi-Fi, Thread, and Bluetooth (for device provisioning). This means Matter is not reinventing the wheel; it’s adding better technology to the highways our smart homes are driving on.
Matter devices can operate entirely locally, talking to each other over Thread and Wi-Fi and not going through the cloud. That means if your internet goes down, your smart home will still work. Devices will still need to communicate with the internet for out-of-home control and firmware and security upgrades, which will happen directly or through a Matter controller device (i.e., a smart speaker, smartphone, or bridge).
Matter needs a Wi-Fi access point and a Matter controller. This can be a smartphone or tablet, but it can also be a Thread border router that works with your preferred smart home ecosystem — such as an Amazon Echo speaker, an Apple HomePod Mini, a Google Nest Hub, or a Samsung SmartThings hub. Matter doesn’t require a central bridge or hub. Instead, it allows devices to talk directly to each other — either over Wi-Fi or Thread — which are then managed by a Matter Controller.
With Matter, you can use multiple platforms at the same time because of a feature called Multi-Admin control. As long as devices and platforms are Matter-enabled, you can connect them to as many platforms as you want. But devices may not have access to all their features through that app.
For example, at launch, Matter won’t support more advanced features, like energy monitoring in a smart plug or complicated scene control for smart lights. So, if you wanted to set up energy monitoring or have your colored smart bulbs pulsate with the shades of your football team, you would need to use the devices’ app or an app that supports the functionality you want. At least for now.
While devices will work across platforms, automations and routines will not. If you are using HomeKit, you will need a HomeKit hub. A Google hub will not run HomeKit automations.
What is the Advantage of Matter?
It makes it easier for manufacturers to support multiple smart home platforms, and it makes it easier for consumers to purchase devices, knowing that it will work on their preferred platform. A consumer will also be able to switch platforms a lot easier.
Matter isn't really going to fundamentally change how these devices operate on a network, and it's not going to fundamentally change how a smart home platform is going to operate with the devices. Apple is still going to do their thing and Google is still going to do their thing.
But it greatly simplifies the knowledge/skill base that a vendor needs in order to support all of the home platforms, because they only need to engineer their devices to work with Matter. They don't have to build separate code bases for HomeKit, Google Home, Alexa and Samsung SmartThings. Less to learn, less to troubleshoot, less code to write, and easier to get products certified and keep them updated.
Matter should result in more devices being available and increase the likelihood that they will be well supported in HomeKit.
Matter 1.0 Doesn't Support All Types of Devices:
The Matter 1.0 standard was published on October 4, 2022, Matter certification labs are up and running, the SDK is complete, and companies can start manufacturing, upgrading, and getting the official Matter stamp of approval for their devices. An official launch event is scheduled for November 3rd.
Matter 1.0 does not cover all of the smart home devices that HomeKit does. The following device categories are available in Matter 1.0:
Lightbulbs, light switches, lighting controllers
Plugs and outlets
Thermostats and other HVAC controllers
Blinds and shades
Home security sensors (motion, contact, CO / smoke detectors)
Garage door controllers
Wireless Access Point and bridges
Televisions and streaming video players
Notice that popular categories like security cameras and robot vacuums are not supported in Matter 1.0. Controllers and Bridges are also supported in matter 1.0. So controllers like the Google Nest Hub Max and Amazon Echo smart speaker could be supported, or apps like Apple Home and Google Home. Manufacturers like Hue and Lutron could also get their Bridges certified for Matter 1.0.
HomeKit Compatibility and Existing Devices
Support for Matter was introduced with iOS 16.1. All of the existing HomeKit APIs automatically work with Matter-enabled accessories. This also means that existing HomeKit applications will work with Matter devices.
Matter can also support Bridges, allowing non-Matter devices to work with Matter devices. For example, Aqara and Hue have announced that they plan to provide an update to their bridges which will bring Matter compatibility to their devices. Of course these bridges also already work with HomeKit, so from HomeKit's perspective it isn't really an issue. But it does provide an avenue for a bridge that currently does not support HomeKit to work in HomeKit if the manufacturer upgrades it to work with Matter.
Other Things to Know
Matter will work on Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Thread networks
Bluetooth can be used for adding new devices to your network (but not for control)
Local control for Matter devices is required. This implies that Matter devices can potentially be more secure, because they don't require access to the Internet. That being said, manufacturers can use Internet based connectivity to add additional features or services. Time will tell exactly what the details are in this area, but at least as a minimum, core functionality should not require exposing Matter devices to the Internet. This is very similar to HomeKit's current eco system.
Matter's Website: https://buildwithmatter.com (https://csa-iot.org/all-solutions/matter/)
Matter Git Hub: https://github.com/project-chip/connectedhomeip#readme