Why there's a Secret Thread radio in the new Macs and iPads

  • Apple has included Thread radios in its latest Macs and iPads.
  • Thread is a low-power, low-latency, secure network suitable for smart home devices and more.
  • No conspiracy theories here.

Since last year, Apple has quietly built Thread smart radios into iPads and Macs, but has not made it public or turned on.

Thread is like a mini low-power internet for smart home devices, and Apple is building it into all of its latest Macs and iPads. iPhone has included it in the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. As we will see, Thread replaces Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for communication between home automation devices and offers several advantages. But why would Apple add it to the computer?

"With Thread, Macs and iPads can act as powerful central hubs, facilitating seamless, low-latency communication between smart devices. For example, smart light switches can respond as instantly as physical switches because they pass through a dedicated, low-power mesh network to communicate," cybersecurity expert Reade Taylor, founder of Cyber ​​Command, told Lifewire via email.

The most obvious reason for Apple to bring Thread to Mac and iPad is that its future plans for the Home app have yet to materialize. Perhaps they'll be announced as early as next week when Apple shows off the next versions of its various operating systems at WWDC.

Thread is special because it is designed specifically for smart home purposes. This makes it much faster than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with much lower latency between devices, and should also be more reliable. That's why pressing a light switch should have an immediate effect. Thread is also the physical basis for a smart home standard called Matter, which means your Google devices can work seamlessly with Apple devices.

A smart home setup requires a device to be responsible for it. These "border routers" can be anything from smart speakers to computers. The best part is, if one border router goes offline, another one can take over. Apple's M-series computers (the most recent Macs and high-end iPads) never really turn off, even with the lid closed while sleeping, so whenever one of them is home, it can act as the controller for the entire network. And because Thread is IP-based, just like the Internet, it can route any message along the fastest route, hopping across devices if necessary.

Diasy co-founder and CEO and home technology expert Hagan Kappler told Lifewire: "In addition to smart home integration, Thread can significantly enhance the performance of Apple devices. For example, it can reduce the latency of streaming to AirPlay speakers, making Switching between devices is nearly instantaneous.”

It should be noted here that the music itself is not transmitted through Thread. The protocol also doesn't have enough bandwidth to support devices like home security cameras. But it can still make the connection between your phone and HomePod faster and reduce connection latency.

Thread is also more secure than other wireless alternatives, which has obvious advantages and some less obvious ones.

"Security is another compelling reason for Thread's inclusion. With inherent encryption and authentication capabilities, Thread networks are more secure against attacks than traditional Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. This enhanced security It is well positioned to meet the growing needs for data protection and reliability in both home and business environments," Kapler said.

Another specific use case where security is critical is medical devices or any device that shares biometric data, such as a heart rate monitor. It can also be used in hospitals to connect devices and monitor them securely in real time.

"Security is also important when dealing with private health data. In my experience, 'strong encryption and authentication are critical to protecting patient privacy and remaining HIPAA compliant.' Thread's enhanced security protocols provide an additional layer of defense ," Adam Zagha, addiction treatment expert and founder of Numa Recovery Center, told Lifewire via email.

Well, Apple doesn't seem to have any secret Thread agenda. This is just its daily confidential operation. Maybe it will be turned on in the future, or maybe it's just part of the latest M2, M3 and M4 SoCs and it's easier to keep them there and turn them off for hardware that doesn't need them. Regardless, we'll just have to wait and see.