The early years of smart home tech have been a morass of competing standards and technologies, often hindering broad adoption by consumers who don’t want to figure out which devices work with which systems.
Matter accessories have not yet hit the market, which is why the support Apple is rolling out in the newest versions of most of its operating systems—iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and tvOS 15—is only billed as a “developer preview” targeted at those making smart home apps or accessories.
The arrival of Matter does not signal the demise of HomeKit—in fact, HomeKit will continue to exist as a layer on top of Matter, positioning it as a parallel to existing accessories.
Apple’s stated goal, according to Selina Zhang from Apple’s Home Engineering team, is seamless integration of Matter with HomeKit. From the user’s perspective, interacting with a Matter accessory should look pretty much identical to interacting with a HomeKit accessory. When adding a Matter accessory to another app, the workflow will be basically the same: using a QR code, then selecting the correct home, rooms, scenes, and automations. Matter accessories can, at the user’s discretion, appear in the Home app, be accessed using Siri, and show up in Control Center, all right alongside HomeKit accessories.
From a developer perspective, interacting with Matter accessories should likewise be very similar to the way that they may already work with HomeKit accessories. Existing HomeKit APIs will work with Matter accessories as well; a new API will allow Matter accessories to be set up with other, non-HomeKit smart hubs. A future release will add the ability to access Matter custom features via HomeKit as well.
So if Matter just looks like HomeKit, what’s the real advantage? The main appeal is the interoperability, which should broaden the devices available to HomeKit users. Once Matter accessories exist, or existing smart home devices add support for the protocol, you’ll be able to interact with them just as with your existing HomeKit accessories.
The addition of Matter also puts more control in the hands of users. If you decide that you want to use a system other than HomeKit to intermediate all your smart home accessories, you can do that. Updates to the Home app will allow you to see which home hubs are connected to a given accessory, as well as pair accessories with a new home hub, or manage all your existing home hubs.
As mentioned, full implementation of Matter is still a little bit away. While the Matter framework in Apple’s upcoming operating systems is fully certified, it will require a developer profile to enable. And though the majority of Apple’s platforms will gain support, macOS is conspicuously absent in the list.
If I had to wager, I would guess that full Matter support might appear as early as a point release to iOS 15, and likely by the time iOS 16 comes out next fall—hopefully on the Mac as well. But keep your eyes peeled for Matter-compatible accessories to start hitting the market as early as later this year.