The new Apple TV 4K brings a huge smart home upgrade you probably missed

Apple TV 4K
(Image credit: Apple)

A new version of the Apple TV 4K 2017 was officially unveiled at the latest Apple event on April 20, and features a more powerful processor, revamped Siri remote, and high frame rate (HFR) capability. 

But we spotted something far more exciting for anyone fed up with your smart home devices not functioning as you wanted them to: Thread support.

The new Apple TV 4K also comes with Thread smart home technology built-in, just like the HomePod Mini, making it a great choice for the epicentre of your smart home (as well as your home entertainment system). 

Thread was a less well-known wireless standard that’s been around for a while and wasn’t really attracting that much attention. Until Apple added it to the HomePod Mini last year that is, which brought it to the forefront of smart home tech and garnered far more column inches than before. 

The standard allows smart home devices from different manufacturers to work together far more seamlessly. For example, switching on Philips Hue smart lights if your smart weather centre detects a cloudy dull day, without the need for a third-party service (such as IFTTT), making it easier to automate your home.

Thread is slowly but surely being added to more smart home devices, for example the technology was built-into (but not currently activated) the recently launched Google Home Hub (2nd generation).

Apple’s HomeKit-friendly smart home brand Eve has included Thread in several of its new smart home products, including its latest energy-monitoring smart plug, so it’s clear smart home manufacturers are embracing the technology, and it’s brilliant to see it coming to more mainstream smart devices to help end our disconnected woes.

More stability

The previous Apple TV 4K acted as a smart home hub, so as well as controlling the best smart home devices when you were at home, it also allows you to ask Siri to control them for you, even when you weren’t connected to your home Wi-Fi network; for example turning the heating on as you leave work so your home would be warm and cosy by the time you got home. 

However, if you’ve experienced the frustration of laggy smart home automations due to weak Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections between smart home devices and the smart home hub, you’ll enjoy this upgrade. 

If what you’ve asked doesn’t happen instantly, most get frustrated and ask again - in a louder, more clipped tone, of course. Sometimes this works, while other times it leads to whatever voice assistant in use trying to respond half way through, deepening the frustration. 

I’ve encountered this many times, and let’s be honest, I’ve almost given up on my smart home on occasions because of this. 

However, Thread devices create a mesh network, where all of the devices connect to each other as well as Wi-Fi, which makes the internet connection stronger and more stable. So if one has a weak or failing connection, the others will take over strengthening its connection and putting an end to slow response times. The more Thread-enabled devices you install in your home, the bigger and stronger the mesh network gets. 

There aren’t loads of Thread-enabled devices on the market at present, but I’ve been using a HomePod Mini with a Nanoleaf Essentials smart light bulb for the past six months and it really is a better experience. I haven’t lost my temper as so-far Siri always acts on my commands instantly, so for the moment (at least) my smart home is serene and peaceful. 

Thread also uses less power, so if any of your smart home devices are battery-powered, they will last longer between charges, which is an added bonus. 

I’ve been impressed with Thread so far and as more manufacturers add the technology to their products, smart devices will become less frustrating and automate our home as instantly as we’d expect - and that should be the minimum standard.

Carrie-Ann Skinner

Carrie-Ann Skinner was formerly Homes Editor at TechRadar, and has more than two decades of experience in both online and print journalism, with 13 years of that spent covering all-things tech. Carrie specializes in smart home devices such as smart plugs and smart lights, as well as large and small appliances including vacuum cleaners, air fryers, stand mixers, and coffee machines. Carrie is now a copy editor at PWC.