October 3, 2023

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Why Apple put Thread Radio in the iPhone 15 Pro

Why Apple put Thread Radio in the iPhone 15 Pro

Following Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 15 and the news that the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will come with Thread Radio, I further investigated how Apple is deploying this wireless communication protocol in its ecosystem.

The smart home is the obvious and one answer Apple offered half-heartedly (Thread is the main protocol of the material.) But the addition of the low-power, low-bandwidth, network-based Thread protocol could also signal that the company is moving away from relying solely on Bluetooth to connect to peripherals like the Apple Watch. Here’s a look at some of the ways your new wireless connection can be used.

The iPhone could be a thread limit router, but maybe it shouldn’t be

The obvious use of Thread in iPhone is as Thread boundary guide device A slew of new Apple Home and Matter-enabled smart home devices from companies like Eve, Nanoleaf, and Belkin WeMo. This means you won’t Owns You have to have a HomePod Mini, Apple TV 4K, or other Thread border router to use Thread smart home gadgets with your iPhone.

Jonathan Hui, VP of Technology at Thread Group and a software engineer at Google, confirmed to me that a smartphone could technically act as a Thread border router — even when running on battery power. (The thread group determines this Border routers should always be powered on). “Like any thread device, a smartphone can act as a thread end device, thread extender, and/or thread boundary router or thread saving device,” he said.

Apple’s HomePod (2nd generation) and HomePod Mini are Apple Home hubs, thread border routers, and Matter controllers.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Toohey/The Verge

But using your iPhone as your only device Thread boundary guide device That wouldn’t be a good idea. Thread boundary router Required for connection Subject devices, such as smart sensors, locks, shades and lights, to the Internet and other IP-based smart home networks. If you use your phone to do this, your Thread devices will have issues when you leave the house or when your phone’s battery dies. This is similar to what happens if you connect devices to your Apple Home via Bluetooth using your phone but don’t have an Apple Home hub.

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So, while your iPhone can act as an additional border router (a Thread network can have more than one device on it, which – in theory – helps with mesh network reliability), for most use cases, you’ll still need to have it turned on. Another border router in your home.

iPhone can control smart home devices faster

Hui also says that the smartphone’s Thread connection will allow it to communicate directly with a Thread device. “Compared with current smartphones without Thread, a smartphone with Thread can communicate directly with a Thread device, without relying on a separate Thread border router or any other communication technology,” he said.

Again, this is similar to how devices connected to Apple Home via Bluetooth work today. But the advantage of Thread is that it is a self-healing mesh network With widely lower latency than Bluetooth. The most likely short-term benefit will be speed. Even if you have other Apple Thread border routers, using Thread on your iPhone, you’ll be able to control Thread devices like lights and locks directly without having to go through the border router first.

As a non-cloud-based, on-premises protocol, Thread is already very fast, so this probably won’t make much of a difference – unless you live in a really big house. The floss is designed to use less energy, so there may be some long-term benefits there.

Another possibility with direct control is some sort of trigger or presence detection. Your Thread devices can know you’re home as soon as you enter and respond appropriately. However, presence detection — something a smart home desperately needs — would be easier to do using the UWB chips already found in most iPhones and HomePods (which is already done to some extent).

Thread could replace Bluetooth as a way to connect peripherals like your Apple Watch to your iPhone

“Thread has some interesting applications outside of the smart home, where we’re seeing a move toward Thread in mobile,” says Daniel Moneta, marketing and product consultant at Samsung SmartThings and former product marketing manager at Google. “In particular, it has the potential to be an alternative to Bluetooth for connecting peripherals to smartphones, such as smart watches, medical devices, fitness devices and camera accessories.”

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The theme will be suitable for most smartwatch uses but not for streaming audio

As an IP-based mesh protocol, Thread can be a more reliable way to connect multiple of these devices to your phone while also having multiple “native” devices within the same household (such as an iPad, MacBook, or other family members’ iPhones). Moneta says its IP feature makes it easy to maintain a continuous data connection directly to the device. Additionally, the string being mesh means your device doesn’t have to be in range of the controller (iPhone/iPad etc.), as is the case with Bluetooth.

If Apple adds Thread Radio to the Apple Watch, the wireless protocol can be used to connect it to your iPhone.
Image: Apple

This can apply to Apple accessories like the Apple Watch and third-party devices that use Bluetooth, like camera accessories and medical devices. Of course, all of those will need Thread Radio as well, so that won’t be happening anytime soon. Additionally, Thread is only available on two iPhones in the line at the moment, so any accessories made specifically for the iPhone that rely on Thread will have limited appeal until the chip is rolled out down the line.

There’s also the issue of productivity. According to Google Home developer resources, Thread devices have a practical throughput limit of approx 125 kbpswhile the practical throughput of Bluetooth LE 5.0 It can be up to 10 times that.

The thread will be fine for most smartwatch uses but not for streaming audio (so probably not suitable for AirPods). And there’s no indication that future peripherals couldn’t have both Thread and Bluetooth (as the iPhone 15 Pro does) and use whichever is fit for purpose. After all, many smartwatches have Wi-Fi radios that can be used if they’re out of reach of their paired phones.

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The issue may just be an additional radio

Popular theory in My X (formerly Twitter) feed after the Apple event Was this thread present in the iPhone 15 Pro line in one form or another as a freebie. It stands to reason that the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip that Apple uses in its high-end phones comes as a sort of three-for-one: you pay for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and you get your string for free!

Case in point: the triple radio chip that NXP announced at CES 2022. If that’s indeed the case, we’ll likely see the thread trickle down the iPhone line slowly, likely appearing next year on the base model iPhone 16 — sometime around The time when the substance may already be working. I’ve reached out to Apple for comment on this but have not received any response.

The addition of Thread makes iPhone 15 Pro the smartest smartphone for the home

Given that Apple itself doesn’t seem to have a clear idea or any concrete examples of what Thread’s capabilities will add (beyond vague “Unlocking future opportunities for home application integration” In the iPhone 15 press release), this seems to be the most likely reason – for now. Although Apple rarely does anything without a purpose in mind.

At the very least, the addition of Thread makes the iPhone 15 Pro the smarter choice for the home if you’re in the market for a new phone. At least until the Google Pixel event next month. (Remember: Thread basically started with Nest, and most Google Nest products use Thread.)

The Thread Radio in the iPhone adds some interesting future-proofing, and as a smart home user who bought the iPhone 14 last year and wasn’t planning on upgrading anytime soon – my plans may change.