One of the big headaches of home automation is the assortment of walled gardens that have filled the space. Apple has its HomeKit ecosystem, Google has Google Home, and Amazon has Alexa. If you prefer Apple’s Home app for consolidating your home automation gizmos, you have to evaluate every product you purchase to make sure it works with HomeKit. And if you’re attracted to a device from a competing team, like a Google Nest thermostat, you have to weigh whether it’s worthwhile even without HomeKit integration.
The industry recognized that this fragmentation was holding back the entire home automation market and came together to create the Connectivity Standards Alliance—a consortium of all the major home automation players that seeks to tear down these walls so every home automation gadget can communicate. The solution is called Matter, and it’s finally here. Sort of.
Matter launched at a big event in Amsterdam on 4 November 2022, along with announcements about the first devices that will support it. Prior to the event, Apple rebuilt the Home app from scratch for iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS 13 Ventura to support Matter.
The vision? A new world of seamless home automation integration in which you can use any accessory with any ecosystem.
The reality right now?
- The new Home app is flaky and unreliable. Devices are often unreachable, automations don’t trigger, and sometimes devices do random things.
- Apple says this will be fixed with the iOS 16.2 round of updates thanks to a new home automation backend, but it won’t be backward compatible with older Apple operating systems, so not everyone will be able to update to that new backend immediately.
- Not just any device will support Matter. Some of your existing devices will become Matter-compatible with a software update. Others you’ll have to replace.
- Few devices from major vendors currently support Matter, though that will soon change.
- You’ll need a Thread border router like a HomePod mini or second- or third-generation Apple TV 4K. Older HomeKit hubs don’t qualify.
I’m optimistic that Matter will be tremendous in the long run, given its wide industry backing. However, I don’t think it’s something to get too excited about just yet. Let those of us on the cutting edge put it through its paces, and I think Matter will naturally fall into place over time.
What Will Work with Matter
An official launch needs actual products, and Matter has those, but supported product categories are currently limited to:
- Media Devices (like TVs)
The Matter team is working on support for other popular devices, like security cameras and robot vacuums. Again, Matter support is a long-term project that’s still in progress. Matter expects to roll out new device categories every six months.
There are already 190 Matter-certified products. One of the more notable vendors is Eve (which sponsored my book Take Control of Apple Home Automation). Until now, Eve has focused exclusively on HomeKit, but it will release optional Matter-enabling firmware updates on 12 December 2022 to the Thread-capable versions of the Eve Energy, Eve Door & Window, and Eve Motion. Other current products will be updated over the next year. Unfortunately, since Thread support is required, older models won’t be updated to take advantage of Matter.
The Matter firmware updates for Eve devices are optional because they cannot be reversed. Initially, updating devices also would have meant losing some features, but Eve quietly resolved that problem with the iOS 16.1 update.
Another issue related to updating Eve devices is that Matter support requires a Thread border router. If you already have a HomePod mini or a second- or third-generation Apple TV 4K, you’re golden, but an older HomeKit hub (like an iPad or a HomePod) won’t work. Recent Nest Hubs and routers, and recent Eero mesh routers can also act as a Thread border router.
In Q1 2023, Philips Hue hubs will receive an update to support Matter. The nice thing about the Hue architecture is only the hub needs an update; the individual lights do not. However, the move to Matter will leave behind some products, like the Hue Play and the Hue Tap Dial Switch.
My advice for now is to resist all optional Matter updates until the spec has more time to mature and you have time to evaluate which of your devices will be supported.
I’ve received several questions about when I will update Take Control of Apple Home Automation. Given the major changes to HomeKit and the Home app, I need to do that soon, but I’m still wrapping my head around what Matter means for HomeKit. I’ve been waiting for that answer for over a year, and it’s still not entirely clear. We now know some specifics, like what Matter support requires and which vendors will be first to market. But much of that is still largely theoretical until I can start testing devices and see where the pain points lie. I hope to have something out by the end of 2022.