Homey Pro (Early 2023) is now available in Early Access
Blog Behind the Magic

Why we couldn't ship Thread in 2023

The end of 2023 is nearing, but we didn't ship Thread yet for the new Homey Pro. Initially we promised Q3 2023, then postponed to Q4 and now we're saying Q1 2024. To be fully transparent, I'd like to explain why we had to delay.

tl;dr Android and iOS aren't ready, so we're building it ourselves. Takes a bit longer, sorry!

What is Thread?

First a small recap what Thread actually is. Matter, the newest kid on the block when it comes to smart home standards, is a protocol designed to connect smart home devices together. Matter runs on top of IPv6. In practice, that means on Wi-Fi, Ethernet and... Thread. So, Thread is sort of a Wi-Fi? Kind of! But it can also create a mesh network, and costs much less power.

To connect any Matter-over-Thread device to an existing Thread network, your phone (or Homey Pro, more about this later) talks to the Thread device over Bluetooth, and shares the keys to the Thread network.

Once the device is connected to your existing Thread network, anyone can talk Matter to it, because it's reachable over IPv6.

What's the problem?

The problem is that Apple and Google have made themselves gatekeepers to onboarding Thread-devices using an iOS or Android device respectively. The Homey app must use their software when adding a Thread device using the phone's Bluetooth. This goes pretty deep. For example, all Apple devices actively block talking to a Thread device over Bluetooth. There’s no way to bypass this on an iPhone, iPad or Mac. Everyone must always use Apple's APIs. In itself that wouldn't be so bad... if it worked! And that's a problem.

On iOS

On iOS, there are a few problems. Firstly, Apple devices simply don't want to join Homey Pro's existing Thread network. Yet they do expect that Homey Pro joins their network, even if they're added later.

Second, we don't have the entitlement to work with Thread on iOS. Only when we were ready for production, Apple told us we needed to be Thread Certified. Which we were planning, but it was never a requirement. So that adds at least two months.

Third, their software still often crashes when we use them. So we cannot guarantee a great user experience to Homey users.

On Android

On Android, Thread works okay-ish, most of the time. However, once you have Google-owned Thread devices (e.g. a Nest Hub), and a non-Google brand, e.g. Homey Pro, you cannot merge these networks into one. Even more frustrating for users is when their first Thread device breaks. There's no way to migrate your Thread devices over to another Thread network!

Another problem is that you can have only one Thread network per Android-device. Some Homey customers have access to multiple homes. That would mean that your Android smartphone can only add Thread devices to one of these homes. Google acknowledges that this is a 'work in progress', but with no clear timeline when this is fixed.

What's the solution?

We're still working with the engineers at Apple and Google to make Thread a great experience, because we believe in the vision of a unified Thread network at home. But as of today, the marketing of Matter/Thread seems to be a bit ahead of the technical implementation.

A bit out of frustration, but mostly because of our love of a great user experience, have we chosen to build the Thread commissioning ourself. Using Homey Pro's on-board Bluetooth.

Setting up new Thread devices on Homey Pro has a few advantages:

  1. We have end-to-end control of a great user experience and stability.
  2. The web app can now also connect Matter and/or Thread devices, because we're not dependent on iOS/Android software anymore.

Of course there are disadvantages. If you have a device that's out of Homey Pro's Bluetooth range, connecting with a mobile phone would be a better experience. And for the time being, the vision of a single unified Thread network will have to wait.

We've chosen to offer both options to Homey Pro users. They can choose between 'Connect via Homey Pro' and 'Connect via Android/iOS'.

Conclusion

Getting an entire industry to work seamlessly together seems to be more challenging than Big Tech thought 🙂 But we're still good friends, and we're working with them as best we can to make Matter and Thread succeed. It just takes a bit longer than we all hoped for.

— Emile, Creative Director

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