There's a secret radio inside Apple's new Macs and iPads – here's what it does

A MacBook and IPad on a blue background showing the Apple Home app
(Image credit: Apple)

We knew that Apple's latest Macs and iPads were already packed to the gills with the latest chips and components, but it seems there's also a bonus one that Apple didn't tell us about – a radio that supports the Thread networking standard.

The Verge did some digging in latest reports from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and found indirect evidence of Thread radios in most of Apple's new Mac and iPad models. These include the iPad Air 6, iPad Pro 13-inch (2024), iPad Pro 11-inch (2024), MacBook Air 15-inch (M3), MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3 Max and M3 Pro), and the iMac (M3).

So what exactly does the Thread radio do? Currently, not a whole lot – Apple hasn't commented on whether or not the radios are active. It's more likely to either be a future-proofing move for later smart-home functionality (Thread is the main wireless protocol for Matter, which Apple helped to develop) or simply a default feature of the latest tri-band radio chips.

Those Macs and iPads aren't the first Apple products to have a Thread radio – Apple did also include them in the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. At the time, Apple called them the "first Thread-enabled smartphones" and said that it opened up "future opportunities for Home app integrations".

There's a chance, then, that we could hear more about it at WWDC 2024 on June 10. The developer conference is where Apple launches new software features across the likes of iOS, macOS and HomeKit. Perhaps we'll see the iMac or iPad becoming capable of acting as home hubs that can directly control Matter-supporting accessories over Thread.

Alternatively, the Thread radio could just remain dormant and Matter will continue to be something of a mess. Either way, it's certainly an interesting find.

Hanging by a Thread

Matter standard in the smart home

(Image credit: Connectivity Standards Alliance)

A couple of years ago, the Thread protocol was supposed to be one of the main stars of the new Matter smart home standard, which promised to finally rebuild the largely broken smart home.

Unfortunately, that hasn't quite worked out, as smart home brands simply haven't created the seamless experience that was initially promised. Thread also hasn't delivered on its main benefit, which is that compatible devices don't actually need a smart home hub to talk to each other (as long as they contain a Thread border router).

This means that the discovery of Thread radios inside Apple's latest Mac and iPad models isn't quite as big a deal as it might have been. Still, it potentially shows that Apple still believes in the low-power mesh protocol, and we have also seen signs of like from the Matter standard recently, such as the arrival Matter version 1.3 in May.

While WWDC 2024 is expected to mainly focus on Apple's new AI tech – including an unlikely partnership with OpenAI – we'll also hopefully hear about some smart home developments too, including whether or not Apple plans to actually use those Thread radios inside its new Macs and iPads.

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Mark Wilson
Senior news editor

Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at both TechRadar and Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.