HomeKit, Matter and Thread: everything we need to know about the new home automation that arrives

We all know HomeKit, Apple's home automation platform, but there are many changes to come and new names we need to know like Matter and Thread, because home automation is going to change and for the better. Here we tell you everything and in language that you will understand perfectly.

HomeKit, Alexa and Google

Those of us who are familiar with home automation, even at a very low level, already know the three major platforms that dominate the market. On the one hand, Apple users have HomeKit, which, of course, integrates perfectly with Apple devices. HomePod, Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch... if we are users of Apple products and have our house full of them, HomeKit is without a doubt the platform we should choose, even if it means paying more.

When we buy a product for home automation, if we use HomeKit we must look for the ÔÇťCompatible with HomeKitÔÇŁ label, and this almost always means paying more. There are manufacturers that only work with HomeKit, like Eve, others that never work with HomeKit, and others that work with all platforms. This supposes a fragmentation of the market that is not good for the user and that generates confusion if you are not very aware of the subject.

But things get more complicated, because in addition to the three major platforms we have accessories that work with them but through specific "bridges". You can buy a bulb that works with Amazon but to work with HomeKit it needs a bridge, and also that bridge does not work with other brands, even if it is for HomeKit, so if you use different brands in the end you can get together with several bridges at home that in the end take up space, plugs and ethernet ports of your router. For example, I have bridges from Aqara, Philips and IKEA at home... crazy.

Matter, the new standard that unifies everything

To solve this comes Matter, a new standard that has been adopted by all the main home automation platforms (unbelievable but true) and that will put an end to all these problems. You no longer have to search the box to see if it is compatible with HomeKit, Alexa or Google, because if it is compatible with Matter, you can use it with the platform you want. Matter compatible devices will connect using different protocols, but what matters to the user is that they will work with their chosen home automation platform.

Matter not only unifies everything, but also includes other improvements such as the possibility of everything working without the need for an internet connection. The devices will be connected to each other, and connected in turn to the central (HomePod or Apple TV in the case of HomeKit), but they will not need to be connected to the internet, since everything will run locally. This means less response time, and something very important, respect for our privacy, because what happens in our house stays in our house. There will be features such as firmware updates that will require an internet connection, or some specific devices such as surveillance cameras that will obviously have to be connected to the internet to work.

Thread, the protocol that changes everything

We have already talked about the platform (HomeKit), the standard (Matter) and now we talk about the protocol (Thread). Thread is a type of connection protocol between devices, that is, how all the devices we have at home are going to talk to each other. This new protocol has been with us for some time, and we already have some devices that are compatible with it, with manufacturers like Eve and Nanoleaf that already have them for sale, and devices like the HomePod Mini or the new Apple TV 4K that are already supported.

The most important thing about this new connection protocol is that the devices will not all be connected directly to our central unit (HomePod or Apple TV), but rather they will be able to connect to each other and create a connection network that will make everything works much better and faster, and we will achieve a much broader coverage, without the need for repeaters, because the accessories that we add to our HomeKit network will act as repeaters.

Thread and HomeKit

Without going into technicalities, as I intend throughout this article, we can say that there will be two types of Thread devices:

  • Full Thread Device (FTD) that connect to other devices and allow others to connect to them. They are devices in which energy saving is not important because they are always plugged in.
  • Minimum Thread Device (MTD) that can connect to others but none can connect to them. They are devices that work with batteries or battery and in which it is important to save energy.

In the chart above, the FTDs would be the plugs, and the MTDs would be the thermostat, irrigation controller, and open window sensor. Taking this into account we can create a network of interconnected devices with all the advantages that this entails.

What about my current devices?

This is the question that many are asking before the arrival of Matter. The answer, for once, is very gratifying: don't worry because they will continue to work without problems. We are going to add to all this that I have explained to you one last concept: Thread Border Router. This device is the one that will be in charge of making everything compatible and that your Thread devices compatible with Matter coexist perfectly with your current HomeKit devices. Does this mean I have to buy another device? In most cases the answer is no.

HomePod

It tienes a HomePod mini or an Apple TV 4K (2nd generation) you already have a Thread Border Router at home. There are other devices that also do this task, such as some Nanoleaf light panels, and Nest and Eero brand routers or MESH systems. And little by little other devices with this functionality will arrive. So your old HomeKit devices will coexist perfectly with the new ones you buy already compatible with Matter.

If you don't have any of this and you don't want to buy anything new you can still use your HomeKit devices, and you'll still be able to buy accessories but you'll still need to make sure they're compatible with HomeKit, it's no longer enough that they're compatible with Matter.

When will Matter arrive?

Apple announced at the last WWDC 2022 that Matter would arrive this yearSo the wait won't be too long. Once it's available, many manufacturers will update their devices to be compatible as long as they support it, and many Matter-compatible products are already available even though they can't make use of that functionality yet.


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