If you don’t know why Matter is important for smart homes, we have an introduction for you below, but to keep it as short as possible: simplicity. It’s a universal protocol that allows accessories to work on any major smart home platform, eventually (in many cases, at least) putting an end to the question of whether something works with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, or Samsung SmartThings is compatible.
Since the announcement, there have been doubts about how widely Matter will be adopted and whether it will roll out smoothly. Or at all. There have already been some delays – it was originally slated to go live in 2020 and then in mid-2022. The good news is that based on recent developments, it will likely meet its current fall 2022 target and become a de facto mainstream in the smart home industry.
Dig deeper: Why Matter’s smart home protocol is a big deal
Thread barriers fall
Just recently, the Thread Group announced the release of Thread 1.3.0, the first version of the technology enabling the planned Matter support. what is thread Again, there’s more in 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 acts as a low-power “border router,” meaning less reliance on hubs or Wi-Fi. As an extension, threaded devices tend to be more responsive.
In theory, there’s no reason why you can’t connect Nanoleaf lights, an Amazon Echo, and a Nest Hub Max on the same threaded network.
Thread is said to be the main infrastructure for Matter, although the latter can technically operate over Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth. This makes Thread 1.3.0 a crucial milestone. It’ll be a while before most devices get the update, but in theory there’s no reason why you can’t connect nearby Nanoleaf lights, an Amazon Echo, and a Nest Hub Max on the same thread network in the future.
Meanwhile, overall industry support for Thread is gaining momentum. It’s already in products like Nanoleaf panels, Eero routers and Apple’s HomePod mini, and both Amazon and Google have pledged to bring it to existing smart speakers and displays. These products are at the heart of many smart homes, making it a low-risk decision for other vendors to come on board.
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Apple doesn’t seem to be slowing down
Roger Fingas / Android Authority
Apple is one of the founders of Matter alongside giants like (but not limited to) Amazon, Google and Samsung. Despite that, and its support for Thread in the HomePod mini and Apple TV 4K, there were concerns that Apple could erect artificial barriers that would defeat the purpose of the standard. The company is notoriously resistant to others playing in its walled garden, whether because it could divert sales or compromise the security of platforms like HomeKit.
Those barriers are still a threat, and I’d bet against an Amazon Echo that has more than basic functionality via the Apple Home app. Still, there are signs Apple is taking its commitment to Matter seriously, which is critical to the standard’s success.
For one, Apple made a point of highlighting Matter during its WWDC 2022 keynote in June and promised support this fall. The company rarely spends much time talking about smart home technology at press events, so Matter’s well-aimed call — with a release date no less imminent — is a message to both the public and developers.
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 unconfirmed, this sounds a lot like Matter, which presumably would require new code to accommodate both the protocol and the added device types it should allow. HomeKit has long suffered from blind spots, lacking support for robot vacuums, for example – something Alexa and Google Assistant have been handling for years.
Matter’s special call out at WWDC underscores its importance to both the public and developers.
Apple may see this as an opportunity to catch up in the smart home race. HomeKit has many fans, but its market share and vendor support have lagged behind Amazon and Google, hampered by factors such as HomeKit security requirements. A level playing field could finally see Apple’s influence in the phone and tablet industry.
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Matter’s release date coincides with other launch windows
Media coverage often overlooks the fact that Amazon, Apple and Google are due (if not overdue) for new smart speakers and displays. Amazon’s last big announcements were in September 2020, and with the exception of the 2nd gen Nest Hub, Google is in a similar place. It’s not normal for the lineups of both companies to be so static. Apple’s smart home lineup has actually dwindled to the Apple TV and HomePod mini since the original HomePod was discontinued 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 undoubtedly impacted the situation, it seems likely that the companies have updated for Matter and Thread as well. We might even have seen Matter products in 2021 if the standard had been ready in time.
Amazon, Google and Apple will soon be updating their speakers and displays. Just in time for the launch of Matter in the fall.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that tech companies like to synchronize new software with new hardware launches when 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 target is likely no coincidence given its backers, and no company will get ahead of the competition by deferring a key compatibility feature.
Before you buy more (or any) smart home accessories, are you waiting for Matter?
Could matter still derail?
That cannot be ruled out. Developing a standard everyone can agree on is a challenge in any industry, and Matter has been shelved twice. All it takes is for one of the key contributors to decide that current specs are interfering with their plans – let’s say as hypothetical examples, because they limit options or use too much power for battery-powered accessories.
If I were to set up a smart home now, I would avoid buying anything that doesn’t support Thread and/or committing to a Matter update.
However, for all the reasons we’ve mentioned, it looks like the pressure is on to get Matter out the door, and the announcements have aligned with where the protocol should be so close to launch. If I were to set up a smart home now, I would avoid buying anything that doesn’t support Thread and/or committing to a Matter update. In as little as two years, the lack of these things can seriously render your setup obsolete.
Continue reading: 7 Improvements Smart Home Technology Really Needs to Succeed