It’s hard to believe that the Matter standard launched eight months ago at this point. Yes, there are still growing pains for Matter. But at least we’re starting to see smart home devices with the Matter label on them. In fact, we’re seeing new labels on products in 2023, so I thought to share what they are and explain at a high level what works with what in the smart home these days.
Apple HomeKit is now Works with Apple Home
Apple mentioned one new smart home compatibility labels at its WWDC event last month. It’s the “Works with AirPlay” tag, available in visuals for displays and speakers, which you’ll find on compatible AirPlay products. Apple has already shown off the industry’s Matter logo for certified devices, so that’s not new. But take a look at the fourth logo at the head of the label mug-shot line on Apple’s Home App accessories page today:
Yup, it’s a “Works with Apple Home” logo, which replaces Apple HomeKit. This makes sense because HomeKit isn’t really a consumer product or app. It’s Apple’s framework for smart home devices. People use the Apple Home app, not the non-existent Apple HomeKit app. The change is likely due to the addition of the Matter logo, giving people an understanding that they can buy an Apple-supported device and it will work in a Matter-based smart home.
In terms of Apple Home support, you’re fine if you see this logo and have Apple Home hub or if you have a supported Matter controller. The HomePod mini and second-generation HomePod can act as Home hubs, as do Apple TV set-top boxes. All of these work together over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If you see the Matter logo on a Works with Apple Home product, it will work over the Thread wireless protocol and/or over Wi-Fi. So you can use these products with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings or. other Matter-supported platforms.
Amazon Alexa is slowly adding device support
The Amazon Alexa system isn’t as cut and dry as others when it comes to smart home compatibility. Yes, there’s a “Works with Alexa” badge. Devices with that designation will work with most Echo devices, typically over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. That’s been the case for years. It gets tricky when talking about Matter and Sidewalk devices though.
Currently, Amazon supports a subset of Matter devices and no label is going to help you figure out which are part of that subset. Lights, plugs, switches, and sensors with the Matter logo will work with an Echo device, Other device types, such as locks and thermostats, are also supported under Matter, but Amazon hasn’t yet implemented this for Alexa. Initially, Amazon was using Thread over Wi-Fi but in May, it enabled the Thread radio inside the 4th-gen Echo.
That means the 4th-gen Echo can work as a Thread Border Router. Amazon also added Matter support to the 2nd generation Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot devices. But without a Thread radio inside them, however, these can only act as Matter controllers over Wi-Fi. Yup, it’s confusing.
Then there’s the Amazon Sidewalk logo representing Amazon’s LoRA network. Supported devices will work over either Bluetooth or the 900 MHz frequency for longer range.
However, I think the logo should indicate if a device works on one, or both, of those wireless protocols. Currently the label doesn’t say. That’s why even though the Level Lock products are certified for the Amazon Sidewalk network, they won’t work at long range. These locks don’t have a 900 MHz radio inside, so they simply use Bluetooth like they always have. The point is this: While Echo devices may have 900 MHz radios in them, edge devices aren’t guaranteed to have the same radio. You’ll be looking at the limited range of Bluetooth in this case.
Google Home is fairly straightforward these days
Going away are the days you’ll see “Works with Google Assistant”, “Works with Hey Google” and many other labels Google has used for its smart home ecosystem. Like Apple, Google has consolidated its smart home device branding support. There are now just two.
I like this change for the same reason I like Apple’s: The Google Home app is really the smart home implementation while Assistant is simply an interface to control the home. Google has always supported Bluetooth and Wi-Fi smart home products, which it continues to do. The addition of Matter support in Google Home hubs enables Matter over Thread devices as well, giving a third wireless option. And those Matter options can be from any brand, which is one big Matter benefit. If you like a smart bulb that has the “Works with Apple” and Matter labels, you can add it to your Google Home.
Samsung SwmartThings is a bit of a different beast than the other platforms. That’s mainly because the company got out of the hardware business after selling SmartThings hubs for years. You can still buy a SmartThings-compatible hub from a third-party manufacturer such as Aeotec. And if you want to have Zigbee or Z-Wave devices in addition to those that use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, that’s what you’ll need for a SmartThings home. Without one, SmartThings is mainly a cloud-based service for the home, managed and run through the SmartThings mobile application.
The “Works with SmartThings” label is still in use and you can use devices that have the Matter logo with SmartThings. But…Samsung’s take on Matter hubs can be confusing.
For example, the SmartThings 2015 Hub supports Matter but only if you have a third-party Thread Border Router as well; there’s no Thread radio on the old hub. The SmartThings 2018 Hub and Aeotec Smart Home Hub do have Thread radios and can act as Thread Border Routers. Keep in mind that Samsung is touting Matter support in its appliances and televisions as well. However, these devices typically use Matter over Wi-Fi and aren’t Matter controllers.
And then there are the other platforms
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some other ecosystem options such as Home Assistant and Hubitat. These are more of the DIY type of smart home hubs that rely on their respective communities a fair bit for smart home devices support. Still, they both work extremely well and go beyond the traditional Bluetooth and Wi-Fi device options.
Home Assistant works with the SkyConnect Zigbee and Thread USB dongle, for example, with beta Matter support available. The Hubitat Elevation Model C-8 home automation hub includes Zigbee and Z-Wave radios alongside the standard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi ones as well. And Hubitat says this hub is Matter-capable, which I’d expect via a firmware update to add Thread support. That’s technically possible since Thread is based on the same 802.15.4 wireless standard as Zigbee.
With these Matter options available now, or expected this year, Home Assistant and Hubitat should support just about any smart home device.