Apple deploys new AI focussed chip alongside iPad refresh

The new M4 chipset makes it’s latest iteration of the iPad Pro ‘an outrageously powerful device for artificial intelligence,‘ claims the US gadget giant.

Andrew Wooden

May 8, 2024

4 Min Read

Apple launched the new M4 chip alongside updates to its flagship tablet iPad Pro and iPad Air lines. The new chip, which is being pitched as particularly good for AI applications, will power the new iPad Pros, while the refreshed iPad Air’s will come with M2 chips.  

The new iPad Pro comes in 13-inch and 11-inch variants, and has been made more svelte than previous iterations (apparently it’s the thinnest Apple product ever), and has an Ultra Retina XDR display with tandem OLED technology.

It supports 1000 nits of full-screen brightness for SDR and HDR content, and 1600 nits peak for HDR –Apple tells us that ‘no other device of its kind delivers this level of extreme dynamic range.’ It also has an updated camera system and four ‘studio-quality’ mics, and a new version of the Apple Pencil Pro stylus, this time with a gyroscope.

“iPad Pro empowers a broad set of pros and is perfect for anyone who wants the ultimate iPad experience — with its combination of the world’s best displays, extraordinary performance of our latest M-series chips, and advanced accessories — all in a portable design,” said John Ternus, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Engineering. “With the breakthrough Ultra Retina XDR display, the next-level performance of M4, incredible AI capabilities, and support for the all-new Apple Pencil Pro and Magic Keyboard, there’s no device like the new iPad Pro.”

The main thrust of the announcement is around the new M4 chip. It is a 3nm system on a chip (SoC) which features new display engine for the tablet’s fancy Ultra Retina XDR display, a CPU of up to 10 cores, while the new 10-core GPU brings dynamic caching, hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and hardware-accelerated mesh shading to the iPad for the first time.

The M4 has Apple’s fastest Neural Engine ever, we’re told, capable of up to 38 trillion operations per second, ‘which is faster than the neural processing unit of any AI PC today.’ The faster memory bandwidth, machine learning (ML) accelerators in the CPU, and a high-performance GPU, means the M4 ‘makes the new iPad Pro an outrageously powerful device for artificial intelligence,’ states the announcement.  

“The new iPad Pro with M4 is a great example of how building best-in-class custom silicon enables breakthrough products,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Technologies. “The power-efficient performance of M4, along with its new display engine, makes the thin design and game-changing display of iPad Pro possible, while fundamental improvements to the CPU, GPU, Neural Engine, and memory system make M4 extremely well suited for the latest applications leveraging AI. Altogether, this new chip makes iPad Pro the most powerful device of its kind.”

Apple also launched new versions of the iPad Air, this time loaded with Apple’s M2 chips.

Paolo Pescatore, analyst and founder of PP Foresight described new M4 chipset as ‘transformative’. “While rivals have been touting their AI capabilities, Apple has a proven pedigree and has been working in AI for a long time," he said. "Today, Apple demonstrated its AI prowess with the new redesigned iPad Pro powered by Apple Silicon and the transformative M4 chipset. The new premium chipset will be a big draw among users and developers which will allow the porting of the same services across devices. This is just one way we are seeing Apple flex its AI muscles, by leveraging the fruits of its own silicon to transform its products, form factors and capabilities far beyond what users can do today.” 

Apple unveiled its range of M3 3nm PC chips just 6 month ago, which featured a GPU it described at the time as representing the ‘biggest leap forward in graphics architecture ever’ for its silicon.

In its analysis of the M4 and new iPad launches, Radio Free Mobile said: “I think that it is no coincidence that Apple has increased its product release cadence when equivalent silicon products are coming into a market that it has pretty much had to itself for several years. This is one of Nvidia’s strategies to keep competition at bay by updating its chips so frequently that its competitors are always at least one or two generations behind. Qualcomm’s latest generation of X Elite chips sits just behind the M3 in terms of raw performance and performance per watt and this latest release edges Apple further into the lead.”

Last year a Bloomberg report citied sources claiming Apple had developed its own framework for large language models (LLMs) in an effort to compete with OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google Bard. Using this framework, called ‘Ajax’, Apple has created a chatbot service that is supposedly referred to internally by engineers as “Apple GPT,” said the report.

This month an article from AppleInsider offered more details, reporting that there will be a big focus on Siri and Safari gaining the ability to analyse and summarise text and webpages using AI.

A new set of powerful chips with AI smeared all over the marketing will presumably not be unrelated to what Apple has up its sleave on that front.    

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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