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Matter Is Here, but Does It Matter Right Now?

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:

  • Lights
  • Plugs
  • Switches
  • Thermostats
  • Shades
  • Sensors
  • Locks
  • 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.

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Comments About Matter Is Here, but Does It Matter Right Now?

Notable Replies

  1. So, if we ‘upgrade’ to iOS/iPadOS 16.x/Ventura we’re going to get the Matter HomeKit, right?

    And, what if it messes up our current hardware, in my case simply some WeMo switches? Is it best to forego the 16.x upgrades?

    My Apple TV has already self updated to tvOS 16.x and the WeMo’s are still working so can I assume updating the rest won’t trash my automations?

  2. Ray

    I had some weird things happen with the recent update and had to redo an automation and delete and add a Wemo, but it is working now.

  3. This transition is very confusing, so I’ll try to clarify:

    1. iOS 16 et al add Matter support and introduce the rewritten Home app. It shouldn’t change any functionality, but the rewrite introduced some bugs and reliability issues.
    2. iOS 16.2 will offer a new optional HomeKit backend that is supposed to improve reliability but isn’t backward compatible with older Apple software versions.
    3. Your individual devices will offer Matter compatibility updates. Many will be optional, and I recommend holding off until everything in your setup is sufficiently updated to support Matter.

    I am hopeful that if you have devices that won’t work with Matter they will continue to work with Home, just without the cross-ecosystem functionality. However, we’ll have to wait and see what the realities are.

  4. One of my original Homepods currently acts as the active (connected) Home Hub with an Apple TV 4K and several other Homepods on standby. As discussed in another thread, I think the Homepod is associated with automation failures. These problem seems to go away if I keep the Homepod playing music all night (at near zero volume).
    Josh’s news that the original Homepods won’t be compatible with the forthcoming Homekit adds to that speculation.
    There is currently no way to disable a Homepod as a home hub so I am guessing that the Homekit update will automatically no longer use the Homepods and start using my Apple TV 4K. But that it logical - not necessarily Apple-think!
    The scary thing about all this is the reliability of Homekit door locks through the system changes.

  5. I think it would take a while to see the benefits of Matter, I bought the Ikea Dirigera Hub 3 days ago. As it is so new I had difficult getting the Ikea devices to talk to Apple Home, Home Assistant , etc. I think I still need to have hubs from different manufacturers until one universal hub can be compatible to most devices.

    The other concern is cybersecurity, if we are not careful, IOTs may become the trojan horses in our homes

  6. Could you explain just what that means? Does it mean that my iOS 15 devices will no longer be able to access HomeKit? Or just that the updated Home app will not be available on them, and presumably apps like Home+ will be updated for compatibility?

    I never thought there was a question! I thought Matter and non-Matter devices could co-exist without difficulty? Have you heard that it might be otherwise?

    Also, what exactly do you mean by cross-ecosystem compatibility? Does this mean I could use Siri and Alexa to control my devices? Wait, no, I can already do that on devices that support both. Just what does this mean?

    Sorry for all the questions, I know you’re still trying to figure this stuff out too!

  7. Matter devices are, supposedly, just as secure as HomeKit devices, so the hope is that the opposite is true.

  8. agreed, we can only hope, A lot of services / apps are supposed to be “secured” but seems that the cyber attackers are one step ahead of the game in some cases

  9. This means if you currently have non-Matter Apple HomeKit-only stuff that does not work with Alexa or Google ecosystems already, while they will keep working as HomeKit devices, they will remain not being compatible with Alexa or Google regardless of adding a Matter hub on your setup.

    New stuff you get that’s sold as ‘HomeKit &/or Google &/or Alexa…with Matter support’, should work on all ecosystems.

    So new devices may be designed for one or more ecosystems, but the Matter support means common functionalities across all ecosystems (regardless of which ecosystem(s) you choose to use personally). And hopefully those common functionalities will grow over time as Matter improves.

    At least that’s my understanding.

    I just hope we don’t get too much ‘version syndrome’, where you need whole new Matter v2 (3/4/etc.) hub &/or devices to get new functionalities. But I think this is a given at some stage, as new versions of devices may need better hardware to get said new functionalities (and obviously for companies to sell us new stuff continually, of course, lol!).

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