Wemo’s new Smart Dimmer works with Thread and HomeKit but not Matter

Wemo, the smart home arm of Belkin, announced an updated version of its in-wall dimmer switch this week. The new Wemo Smart Dimmer with Thread ($59.99) is a wired smart switch that lets you dim and turn lights on and off remotely. It works exclusively with Apple’s HomeKit platform over Thread or Bluetooth and is available now from Belkin’s web store (and coming soon to Amazon).

This HomeKit focus follows a recent trend for the company, whose last few products — the Wemo Stage Scene Controller, smart plug, and video doorbell — only work with Apple’s smart home platform. This means the new switch will use the Apple Home app exclusively (and not the Wemo app), and will work with Siri for voice control.

Despite using Thread, the main wireless protocol for Matter, and having publicly announced it would launch new Matter-ready devices this summer, Wemo says the Smart Dimmer won’t be upgraded to support the upcoming smart home standard.

“As of right now, the Dimmer with Thread will not be upgradable to Matter via firmware update when the new standard launches later this year,” Cassie Pineda, a spokesperson for Belkin, told The Verge in an email. “When Matter launches later this year, we will bring to market new switches / dimmers that support Matter over Thread.”

While it seems redundant to release two almost identical versions of the same product in the same year, Pineda said the reasoning is that the dimmer launching today supports HomeKit over Thread, “providing consumers with a more responsive, reliable, and secure smart home experience without the hassle of third-party apps,” she said. Matter’s delay (it was originally scheduled to launch this summer), may have also contributed to this split ecosystem.

The new Smart Dimmer doesn’t replace the current Wemo Smart Dimmer Switch, which is still available and works over Wi-Fi. That is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit, and only costs around $40.

The biggest change with the new version, beyond being exclusive to Apple’s platform, is the use of Thread rather than Wi-Fi for connectivity. Thread is a wireless protocol specifically built for smart home devices; it’s designed to be faster and more reliable, as well as use less power than Wi-Fi.

Because the Smart Dimmer uses HomeKit over Thread, you need an Apple HomePod Mini or Apple TV 4K (second gen) to act as Thread border router for the switch. A forthcoming update to Thread will open up border routers from different manufacturers to work together, but the Wemo Switch can only work with Apple’s border routers.

If you don’t have a Mini or newer Apple TV, you can still use the Smart Dimmer over Bluetooth. For this, you would just need an iPhone for local control and an Apple Home hub (an iPad or any model of Apple TV or HomePod) if you want to control the switch when you’re away from home and to set up automations in the Home app.

In addition to Thread and Bluetooth, the Smart Dimmer also has NFC technology for a quicker, tap-to-pair setup.

A wired switch, the Smart Dimmer works with or without a neutral wire, making it compatible with both newer and older homes. There are only a few smart switches that work without a neutral wire: Lutron Caseta, Leviton, Aqara, and GE Lighting’s Cync offer some of the more well-known options.

Wemo’s Smart Dimmer isn’t compatible with three-way switches (lights that are controlled by switches from two locations). It can only replace single-pole switches (Wemo does sell a Wi-Fi three-way smart switch). It can be paired with the Wemo Stage Scene Controller to recreate a virtual three-way setup. Wemo says the switch has flicker-free technology, so works with both standard and dimmable bulbs without creating a flickering effect at lower light levels.

While it’s good to see more Thread products coming to the smart home, launching new Thread devices that won’t be upgraded to Matter today and then promising the same device will be coming later this year with Matter support is going to cause confusion. Confusion in the smart home is one of the main things Matter is supposed to fix.

The main takeaway here is that Wemo’s new Smart Dimmer is designed for those who are all-in on Apple’s HomeKit and have no plans to try any other smart home platform. If you are planning on adopting Matter in your smart home — which brings with it the promise of controlling your home with multiple platforms if you want — then wait for the next version.