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.
JD Roberts says
I just put up a post on another page on the site listing 5 things that break the matter logo’s promise of interoperability because different device manufacturers are implementing it differently as they roll out matter in phases.
I personally think this is a failure not of the technical standard, but of the certification process. Use of the matter logo should not be allowed, in my personal opinion, until all five of those features work exactly the same way (from the consumer’s point of view) for every matter-certified controller.
Lawrence K says
I would say its a software failure of the Matter controllers. Home assistant can’t keep its control of matter devices. Google is barely now working with IOS (still waiting on update) Amazon doesn’t support Bridges and other device types. I think the Matter Standard is solid, but the controller implementation fails.
I love that my Thread devices, Eve Matter, and Scamoleaf’s Essentials all share the same Thread network off my AppleTV and are accessible to all Ecosystems from one thread hub.
Jon Smirl says
There is a conceptual problem here and Matter marketing should not make it worse. Thread is a networking medium just like wifi and Ethernet. Those three are all on equal footing. Thread has nothing to do with Matter, if you wanted to hook your printer up using Thread, you could do it. If you want to browse the Internet over Thread, you could do it. Of course this assumes your printer and router have Thread hardware. Why is Thread intertwined into Matter — because of Google Nest.
Thread is not required in a Matter network. My Matter system has no Thread devices and it works just fine. So you need ask yourself, do you really need Thread based devices?
Hmmm…. Thread supports sleepy devices. But there is another, more mature, system that also supports sleepy devices — BLE. And almost every Matter device already has BLE in it. Maybe BLE Mesh would have been a smarter choice? But Google didn’t want that because of Nest.
JD Roberts says
Thread has a number of technical advantages over BLE—I’m fine with making it the protocol of choice for Matter-enable battery powered devices. I don’t think the decision had anything to do with Google. Look at some of the eve discussions on why they changed from Bluetooth to thread, for example, even for non-matter devices.
We’ve previously discussed this on this site back in 2021. I have a comment on that page that gives the technical references including the benchmark data for why thread is a better choice for busier networks.
Jon Smirl says
There is no need for a large busy Thread mesh with Matter.
Mesh routing node need mains power. Why do you need a Thread mesh if the routing nodes are on mains power? Just use wifi on those nodes.
So that leaves the end nodes with no need to route. Two choices — 1) BLE almost every Matter device already has BLE in it. 2) Thread, now we have to add a third radio. Very few chips on the market have those three radio so that requires a two chip solution raising the end retail price a couple of dollars.
JD Roberts says
1) It doesn’t need another radio: you can use the same radio for Bluetooth and Thread (as Eve does. Bluetooth for onboarding to the phone app, thread for the IOT network.)
2) WiFi uses about 10 times the power of thread. You may not care about that, but some people do.
3) many residential Wi-Fi routers have a limit on the total number of simultaneous connections. It’s one of the reasons for the popularity of Zigbee smart bulbs.
Choice is good. If you want to use all Wi-Fi, go for it. But there are reasons for using low power devices on a separate protocol, which is why both Z wave and Zigbee became popular for home automation. And thread is now a good choice for people who are looking for that option.
Rob Martin says
Just use Wifi is not a good solution in my opinion. My Lutron Casetta swtiches work way more reliably than any of the wifi based ones I have ever used.
As mentioned by JD not all home wifi routers support an large amount of devices. You wifi network (2.4 or 5ghz) is partially limited by your slowest device (as their transmits take a longer time slice to perform, hogging the frequency).
If I could eliminate Wifi from my smart home devices I would in an instant, even if it costs a few extra dollars.
Jon Smirl says
You can install Insteon. https://www.insteon.com/
It is non-wifi.
Rob Martin says
Kevin, you make some good points in your article. Matter is the consortium trying to make things simpler for the average consumer to adopt smart devices.
These annoying nuances of what protocol is running over what network is what we are all trying to get away from. At a bare minimum there should be a consistent way to label products so that you don’t need a tech support person to help you navigate if a device is going to work in/with your home.