Amazon adds Thread to the Echo smart speaker and brings Matter to its iOS app
Today is a make-or-break day for Matter as Amazon rolls out a big update to its support for the new smart home standard. The company has now switched on Matter in over 100 million Echo smart speakers, Thread support has arrived, and the Alexa iOS app now works with Matter. All of which should make it easier to connect any device to your smart home, no matter who made it.
Amazon had opted for a slow and steady approach to Matter, which launched late last year, wanting to make sure it actually worked before unleashing it on its ginormous customer base. But starting today, Amazon’s Alexa smart home platform is Matter-ready. The fourth-gen Echo smart speaker is now a Thread border router, supporting Thread devices such as Eve smart plugs and Nanoleaf smart lights, and you can now use an iPhone to add Matter devices to your home.
Matter is designed to fix some of the biggest problems with smart home devices — setup, security, reliability, and interoperability.
Previously, Amazon had only activated Matter-over-WiFi on some of its smart speakers, and setting up a Matter device with Alexa was only possible on an Android phone. Today, Amazon also flipped the Matter switch on all its second-gen smart speakers — the Echo Plus, Echo Dot, and Echo — bringing the total number of Amazon Alexa Matter controllers to 20.
The company detailed the latest updates in a blog post by Amazon’s director of smart home, Marja Koopmans, and also announced changes to its Works with Alexa certification requirements for Matter devices. Yes, it looks like all those badges on boxes are here to stay, even though the Matter logo is supposed to signify compatibility with any Matter platform.
However, Koopmans didn’t specify if the company is expanding its Matter support beyond the three device types it initially supported — smart plugs, smart bulbs, and smart switches. Matter also currently supports locks, thermostats, blinds and shades, motion and contact sensors, televisions and streaming video players, wireless access points, and bridges. I’ve reached out to Amazon for confirmation.
The Eve Energy is a Thread smart plug that’s now compatible with Amazon’s Alexa smart home platform via Matter. Photo by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge
Developed by Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, and others, the Matter smart home standard is designed to fix some of the biggest problems with smart home devices — setup, security, reliability, and interoperability.
Working over three protocols — ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Thread — Matter smart home devices can communicate directly with each other in your home without needing to use the cloud. They can also be controlled by any compatible app, smart speaker, or voice assistant via a Matter controller. With 20 Echo smart speakers and displays joining Google Nest devices and Apple Home devices as Matter controllers, that extra step just got much easier.
For Amazon Alexa users, Matter brings full local control, stringent device security, easier setup, and now the option to use Thread devices in their smart home. The fourth-gen Echo smart speaker — touted as a smart home hub — is a Matter controller and a Thread border router, in addition to allowing connections from WiFi, Zigbee, and Bluetooth Low Energy Mesh devices.
Thread is a wireless protocol specifically developed for smart home devices. It’s a low-power, low-latency mesh system that operates locally in your home but can also communicate with the internet using a Thread border router. A key benefit of Thread and Matter is that your smart home devices will still work on your local network even if your internet connection is lost.
There aren’t a lot of Thread devices yet because the infrastructure in customers’ homes hasn’t been there. But with Amazon’s latest move — in addition to Google Nest’s robust Thread support and Apple putting Thread radios in all its HomePod smart speakers and some of its Apple TVs — it’s now easier for people to use Thread devices in their homes.
Understanding a Thread Network
This diagram shows how devices interact in a Thread network. The circles represent End Devices, and the pentagons represent Routers. Image: Open Thread
Any Thread device you add to your smart home becomes either a Router or an End Device. A Router is a device plugged into power — such as a light bulb or smart plug.
An End Device is a battery-operated device, such as a motion sensor or door lock. The first router on the network becomes the Leader, able to direct other Routers. If one Leader fails, another Router can take its job.
A Thread network can support upwards of 250 devices, including 64 routers (32 active at any one time). It can also support multiple Thread Border Routers. These allow a Thread network to connect to other IP-based networks and are always-powered devices with an internet connection, such as a smart speaker or a Wi-Fi router.
Smart home manufacturer Eve migrated many of its devices — including smart plugs, motion sensors, and smart blinds — to Thread from Bluetooth, and now with Matter, its devices will work with the Alexa platform for the first time. “I’m extremely excited about bringing our devices to Alexa customers,” said Jerome Gackel, CEO of Eve Systems. “One of our biggest challenges being at the forefront of bringing the first Matter-over-Thread devices to customers’ homes is to ensure they have the right infrastructure at home to connect to our devices. With Alexa’s WWA badge and Thread support on millions of Echos already in customers’ homes, creating this seamless customer journey will be vastly accelerated.”
Amazon also announced it’s enabling its Frustration Free Setup feature on Matter devices. Companies including Aqara, Cync, Leedarson, Nanoleaf, TP-Link, Sengled, and Yeelight are all working to enable this setup option on their products, with Eve being one of the first to offer it. Beginning with Eve Energy, Eve Motion, and Eve Door & Window later this month, if you choose the FFS feature at checkout on Amazon, the device will connect to your network and be ready to use as soon as it’s powered on.
Essentially, Matter is trying to make buying and setting up a smart home device like a light bulb or plug just as simple as buying and setting up its non-connected counterpart. Now that’s the smart home I am excited to see.