We’re nearly eight months into the Matter smart home protocol rollout and there are still some gotchas. I figured we’d have some initial pain points to deal with but I also thought that by now, some or all of them would have been addressed. Unfortunately due to different device makers taking different approaches during the implementation phase, that hasn’t happened. And the first official Matter spec update, which arrived this month didn’t do much to help either. As it stands right now, here are some things you need to know about Matter today before choosing a new device for this protocol.
Device on-boarding still isn’t as easy as we had hoped
When I upgraded the firmware on my Eve Home products to support Matter back in December, it was a lengthy and semi-painful experience. I expected that to a degree: Upgrading device firmware to support an entirely new protocol isn’t trivial.
It didn’t help that at that time, even though adding the devices to a Thread network required a Matter controller from Apple, the Home app for iOS wasn’t quite ready. Using an Android phone and the Google Home app provided a faster, seamless experience. Thankfully, I had a range of hubs and phones to use for this process; something not everyone has.
These days, the experience of adding Matter devices is better, thankfully. It’s not yet bulletproof, however, based on my experience.
Last month, I had challenges using my iPhone to add the new Matter-supported Nanoleaf bulbs and light-strips to two platforms, HomeKit and Google Home, for example. I have had some unique HomeKit issues to deal with that may have contributed to that, as some people didn’t have the same issues. But adding the same Matter device to a third platform was a challenge in The Verge’s review of the same product. So you might have issues adding a new Matter device whether you have one platform, or multiple platforms, in your smart home.
What’s with all of these Thread networks?
I could be an outlier here but as I’ve added more Matter devices to my smart home, I’ve also been adding more Thread networks to it as well.
Initially, I had one, which was created by the Eve Energy Smart Plug. This network was created so the plug can talk to other Thread devices. In that case, my Apple HomePod mini was the Thread Border Router, so it accepted Thread signals and bridged them to my home’s Wi-Fi network for interoperability with other devices. Then I added more Thread-capable devices and routers. My Eero routers and Google Nest Hub (2nd generation) are examples.
And each of those create unique Thread networks, or fabrics, too. At this point, I have six different Thread networks in my home as each of my four Eero routers creates its own and there are two from the HomePod and the Nest Hub.
While the system works as designed, it appear a bit daunting. Looking at my devices in Home Assistant, for example, I can see the Thread networks from the Eero routers aren’t even being used. Granted, my smart home setup may be more complex than that of your average consumer. However, if that consumer starts looking around at the Thread network configuration, this could lead to confusion and questions.
Make sure you have the required Matter elements before buying a new device
As Matter-certified devices started to become available, it seemed fairly straight-forward that you needed either a Thread Border Router or a Matter controller to use them. At least it did, or does, to those who are smart home savvy. Then, earlier this month Amazon introduced the Echo Pop, a new smart speaker that supports Matter. And it does… if you fully understand how Matter works and you have the required supporting devices. I doubt most consumers today have the knowledge to know this.
A great comment from JD, one of our podcast listeners, about this specific situation explains it best:
“Interesting that the new Echo Pop advertises itself as supporting Matter, but doesn’t itself support Thread. Which means once again someone could buy two devices with the same logo that can’t actually work together, like the echo pop and the Eve smart plug. Disappointing.”
Yup, although if you understand Matter and the difference between Matter over Wi-Fi vs over Thread, you’ll know about this issue before making your purchase decision. Again, most consumers aren’t even familiar with the general concept of Matter, let alone what Matter’s technical implementation requirements are.
Let’s play this situation out in the case JD describes. Someone buys an Echo Pop, which is advertised as supporting Matter. Amazon’s press release specifically state that the “Echo Show 5 and Echo Pop both support Matter, making it easy to connect and control compatible smart home products across various brands.”
The consumer then decide to add the Eve Home Smart Plug that has the Matter-certified logo. Will these two devices work together? Not without a third device to bridge them because the Pop uses Matter over Wi-Fi while the Eve plug uses Matter over Thread. That Matter-certified logo suggests to our unknowing consumer that these should work just fine. But they won’t; at least not without the purchase of another device with both Thread and Wi-Fi radios.
If the consumer had chosen the Matter-certified TP-Link Tapo Smart Plug that I reviewed in February, however, the Matter implementation would work using the Echo Pop. Why? Because that Matter outlet uses Wi-Fi, not Thread.
To be fair, Amazon does cover the difference between Matter Controllers (which the Echo Pop is) and Thread Border Routers on its Matter page. However, to get to this information, I had to know to click the one, small Matter link in the Echo Pop specifications. I doubt your average consumer will see or click that.
I’d like to see Matter products and their packaging more explicitly state the necessary requirements to help alleviate this. In particular, if the device supports Matter over Thread, Wi-Fi or both radios. And every brand that sells Matter devices should highlight these requirements front and center on their product pages. Most do but I’ve seen different terms and definitions used. A standard description across all of the product pages, regardless of brand, would help here.
All in all, the promise of Matter making it easier to add and use smart home devices isn’t yet met. We’re getting closer, yes, but we still have a ways to go before Matter’s potential is fully realized. Be sure to do your homework so you know what hardware you need for full support and be prepared for some glitchy experiences until then.