Things are looking good for the Matter smart home standard (knock on wood)

If you’re unfamiliar with the importance of matter for smart homes, we’ve got a primer for you below, but to put it as succinctly as possible: simplicity. It’s a universal protocol that will allow accessories to work on any major smart home platform, finally ending (in many cases at least) the question of whether something is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, or Samsung SmartThings. .

Since it was announced, there have been questions about how widely Matter will be adopted and whether it will roll out smoothly. Or not at all. There have already been a couple of delays – it was originally supposed to release in 2020 and then in mid-2022. The good news is that based on recent developments, it is likely to meet its current target of fall 2022 and become from facto in the smart home industry.

Dig deeper: Why the Matter smart home protocol is so important

The thread barriers are falling

The Eero Pro 6E Wi-Fi router on a desktop

Thread Group recently announced the release of Thread 1.3.0, the first version of the technology to enable planned Matter support. What is the thread? Again, there’s more to our Matter explainer above, but essentially it’s a Zigbee-based wireless protocol that allows smart home accessories to form their own mesh network. Each Thread product works as a low-power “edge router,” which means less reliance on hubs or Wi-Fi. By extension, Thread devices tend to respond faster.

In theory, there’s no reason why you can’t link Nanoleaf lights, an Amazon Echo, and a Nest Hub Max on the same Thread network.

Thread is intended to be the main infrastructure for Matter, though the latter can technically operate over Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth. That makes Thread 1.3.0 a crucial milestone. It will take a bit of time for most devices to get the update, but in theory, there’s no reason why you can’t link Nanoleaf lights, an Amazon Echo, and a Nest Hub Max on the same Thread network in the near future. . future.

Meanwhile, the general industry support for Thread is gaining strength. It’s already in products like Apple’s Nanoleaf panels, Eero routers and HomePod mini, and both Amazon and Google have committed to bringing it to existing smart speakers and displays. Those products are core to many smart homes, so it’s a low-risk decision for other vendors to join.

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Apple doesn’t seem to be dragging its heels

Apple announces Matter support for HomeKit at WWDC 2022

Roger Fingas / Android Authority

Apple is one of the founders of Matter along with giants like (but not limited to) Amazon, Google, and Samsung. Despite this, and its support for Thread on the HomePod mini and Apple TV 4K, there are concerns that Apple may put up artificial barriers that defeat the purpose of the standard. The company is infamously resistant to others playing in its walled garden, either because it could siphon off sales or threaten the security of platforms like HomeKit.

Those barriers are still a threat, and I’d bet against an Amazon Echo having more than basic functionality via the Apple Home app. However, there are signs that Apple is taking its commitment to Matter seriously, which is critical if the standard is to succeed.

For one thing, Apple made a point of highlighting Matter during its WWDC 2022 keynote in June, promising support this fall. The company rarely spends much time talking about smart home tech during press events, so calling out Matter specifically, with a short-term release date no less, is a message to both the public and developers. .

More recently, Apple said it would “introduce a new architecture for an even more efficient and reliable experience” in the iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 versions of the Apple Home app. While not confirmed, it sounds a lot like Matter, which would presumably require new code to accommodate both the protocol and the additional device types it should allow. HomeKit has long suffered from blind spots, for example it doesn’t offer support for robotic vacuum cleaners, something Alexa and Google Assistant have managed for years.

Calling out Matter specifically at WWDC highlights its importance to audiences and developers alike.

Apple may see this as an opportunity to catch up in the smart home race. HomeKit has a strong following, but its market share and vendor support has lagged behind Amazon and Google, hurt by factors like HomeKit’s security demands. With a more level playing field, Apple’s clout in the phone and tablet industries could finally come in handy.

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Matter release date coincides with other release windows

Google I/O 2019 Nest Hub Max Face Match

Media coverage often glosses over the fact that Amazon, Apple, and Google are beaten (if not beaten) by new smart speakers and displays. Amazon’s last big announcements were in September 2020, and with the exception of the second-gen Nest Hub, Google is in a similar place. It’s not normal for either company’s lineup to be so static. Apple’s smart home lineup has actually been whittled down to just Apple TV and HomePod mini, as the original HomePod was canceled in March 2021 after poor sales. The company is rumored to be working on at least one new HomePod model.

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While supply chain issues have certainly affected the situation, it seems likely that companies have also been looking to update Matter and Thread. We might even have seen Matter products in 2021 if the standard had been ready in time.

Amazon, Google, and Apple will be updating their speakers and displays soon. Just in time to coincide with the release of Matter in the fall.

In addition to this, it’s worth noting that tech companies like to sync new software with new hardware releases if there’s a chance the two will coincide, preferring to ship hardware in the fall to take advantage of holiday sales. Matter’s fall 2022 goal is likely no coincidence, considering its sponsors, and no company will want to give the competition an edge by postponing a major compatibility feature.

Are you waiting for Matter before you buy more (or any) smart home accessories?

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Could Matter keep going off the rails?

A kitchen illuminated with light strips and LIFX smart bulbs

That cannot be ruled out. Building a standard that everyone can agree on is a challenge in any industry, and Matter has already been discontinued twice. All it would take is for one of the major backers to decide that the current specs interfere with their plans, say, as hypothetical examples, because they restrict options or draw too much power on battery-powered accessories.

If I were setting up a smart home right now, I’d avoid buying anything that doesn’t support Thread and/or promise a Matter upgrade.

However, for all the reasons we’ve mentioned, there seems to be pressure to get Matter out the door, and the announcements have aligned with where the protocol should be so close to implementation. If I were setting up a smart home right now, I’d avoid buying anything that doesn’t support Thread and/or promise a Matter upgrade. Just two years from now, the lack of those things can seriously date your setup.

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