Making Sense of Smart Home Labels: Compatibility in the IoT World - Insights from Stacey

Cupertino, December 3, 2023
It's hard to believe that the Matter standard was 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 Matteron in them. In 2023 we'll even see new labels on products, so I thought I'd share what they are and explain at a high level what works with what in the smart home today.

Apple HomeKit is now called Works with Apple Home Apple mentioned a new smart home compatibility label at its WWDC event last month. It's the "Works with AirPlay" tag, available in images for displays and speakers, that you can find on compatible AirPlay products. Apple has already shown the Matter logo for certified devices, so that's not new. But take a look at the fourth logo at the top of the mugshot line on Apple's Home App accessories page today: Image courtesy of Apple Yes, 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 is 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, which helps people understand that they can buy an Apple-supported device and that it will work in a Matter-based smart home. As for Apple Home support, you're in good hands if you see this logo and have an Apple Home hub or a supported Matter controller. The HomePod mini and second-generation HomePod can act as Home hubs, just like Apple TV set-top boxes. These all work together via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If you see the Matter logo on a Works with Apple Home product, it is working 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 dry as others when it comes to smart home compatibility. Yes, there is a 'Works with Alexa' badge. Devices with that designation work with most Echo devices, usually via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. That has been the case for years. However, things get tricky when it comes to Matter and Sidewalk devices. Currently, Amazon supports a subset of Matter devices and no label will help you figure out which ones are part of that subset. Lamps, plugs, switches and sensors with the Matter logo work with an Echo device. Other device types, such as locks and thermostats, are also supported under Matter, but Amazon has not yet implemented this for Alexa. Initially, Amazon used Thread over Wi-Fi, but in May the Thread radio was enabled in the 4th generation Echo. That means the 4th generation Echo can work as a Thread Border Router. Amazon has also added Matter support to the 2nd generation Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Dot devices. But without a Thread radio in them, these can only act as Matter controllers over Wi-Fi. Yes, it's confusing. Then there is the Amazon Sidewalk logo which represents Amazon's LoRA network. Supported devices operate via Bluetooth or the 900 MHz frequency for extended range. Image courtesy of Amazon However, I think the logo should indicate whether a device works on one or both of these wireless protocols. Currently there is nothing on the label. That's why even though the Level Lock products are certified for the Amazon Sidewalk network, they won't work over long distances. These locks don't have a 900MHz radio on the inside, so they just use Bluetooth like always. The point is this: while Echo devices may include 900MHz radios, edge devices are not guaranteed to have the same radio. In this case you are looking at the limited range of Bluetooth. Google Home is pretty basic these days. Gone are the days when you see “Works with Google Assistant,” “Works with Hey Google,” and many other labels that Google has used for its smart home ecosystem. Like Apple, Google has consolidated its brand support for smart home devices. There are only two left now. Image courtesy of Google I like this change for the same reason I like Apple's: the Google Home app is basically the smart home implementation, while Assistant is simply an interface for controlling the home. Google has always supported Bluetooth and Wi-Fi smart home products, and it continues to do so. The addition of Matter support in Google Home hubs also enables Matter over Thread devices, creating a third wireless option. And those Matter options can be from any brand, which is a big Matter advantage. If you like a smart light with the labels 'Works with Apple' and Matter, you can add it to your Google Home. Oh Samsung…. Samsung SwmartThings is a bit of a different beast than the other platforms. That's mainly because the company exited the hardware business after years of selling SmartThings hubs. You can still purchase a SmartThings-compatible hub from a third-party manufacturer like Aeotec. And if you want Zigbee or Z-Wave devices in addition to devices that use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, then that's what you need for a SmartThings home. Without one, SmartThings is primarily a cloud-based home service, managed and run through the SmartThings mobile application. The 'Works with SmartThings' label is still in use and you can use Matter logo devices with SmartThings. But…Samsung's take on Matter hubs can be confusing. For example, the SmartThings 2015 Hub supports Matter, but only if you also have a third-party Thread Border Router; there is no Thread radio on the old hub. The SmartThings 2018 Hub and Aeotec Smart Home Hub have Thread radios and can act as Thread Border Routers. Please note that Samsung also touts Matter support in its devices and televisions. However, these devices typically use Matter over Wi-Fi and are not Matter controllers. And then there are the other platforms that I would be remiss if I didn't mention some other ecosystem options, like Home Assistant and Hubitat. These are more DIY smart home hubs that are quite dependent on their respective communities to support smart home devices. Still, they both work extremely well and go beyond the traditional Bluetooth and Wi-Fi device options. Image courtesy of K. Tofel Home Assistant, for example, works with the SkyConnect Zigbee and Thread USB dongle, with beta Matter support available. The Hubitat Elevation Model C-8 home automation hub includes Zigbee and Z-Wave radios in addition to the standard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios. And Hubitat says this hub is Matter compatible, which I would expect via a firmware update to add Thread support. This is technically possible because Thread is based on the same wireless 802.15.4 standard as Zigbee. Now that these Matter options are available, or expected this year, Home Assistant and Hubitat should support virtually every smart home device.

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