Apple Silicon sets scene for a new AI ecosystem


Apple’s Let Loose event saw the company introduce an iPad Pro equipped with a next-generation M4 chip, an iPad Air running an M2, a new Apple Pencil Pro, and powerful updates to the company’s pro apps on iPads.

There’s a lot to like about all these announcements. The iPad Pros are thin — at 5.1mm, marginally thicker than the USB-C slot they use. They are also highly performant, with better cameras and improvements across the board. The M4 chip shows Apple pushing far ahead of the entire tablet (and PC) industry, as do the advanced Ultra Retina XDR display and LiDAR capable pro camera. (Apple CEO Tim Cook calls the display, “the most advanced display we’ve ever produced.”)

But it’s not just pulling ahead in the tablet business. 

Setting the stage for AI with better chips

Apple made no secret of the built-in AI capacity ready to be pulled out of these things. It doesn’t just want video editors and musicians getting creative with iPads — it also wants data scientists and machine-learning developers using these oh-so-portable products. The fact that the M4 chip in the Pro is capable of 38 trillion operations a second is just icing on the cake.

These tablets are built to eat up all of the on-device computing you can throw at them. That’s great for the iPad and spells an even brighter future for the Mac. How else can you see Apple’s boast that the M4 chip means the high-end iPads are now already “more powerful than any AI PC today.” In comparison, the company claimed the chip delivers 60 times the performance of the A11 chip of seven years ago.

“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 senior vice president of hardware technologies.

Apple has also introduced machine-learning accelerators to improve features you use a lot, including FaceID, QuickType suggestions, photo categorization and more. I’ve a feeling that power is going to mean so much more later this year when the company introduces new AI features in its operating systems. Like so many previous Apple releases, what these things can do is only going to show itself over time.

The M4 chip: Performance excellence

The new processor hosts the fastest Neural Engine Apple has made yet. It also pushes an even wider lead between Apple’s silicon and promised competing chips — even the best of which continue to struggle to match Apple’s still-new M2 processor. What matters is that the M2 is only just two years old, meaning Apple now has a road map for processor innovation that should give anyone turning to its platforms confidence in their longevity.

It means if you move to Apple, you’ll get cutting-edge performance that will last years, and you won’t need to migrate anywhere because the manufacturer goes bust or disappears. It also means Apple remains at least two generations of nearest mobile chip rival, Qualcomm.


iPad Air purchasers get that M2 chip, which was used in previous iPad Pro models. That processor is a 5nm chip.

Some stats:

  • The M4 is 1.5 times as fast as that two-year-old M2 processor. 
  • The M4 also provides up to 10 CPU cores — four performance and six efficiency cores — and it supports hardware accelerated AV1, H.264, HEVC, and ProRes. 
  • The GPU also gains 10 cores, hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading.
  • The new on-chip display engine supports both OLED and ProMotion with 10Hz-120Hz refresh rates.
  • The M4 delivers the same performance as the M2, but demands half as much power.

The first Geekbench tests claim 9,234 points on the Core ML Neural Engine Inference test for the 10-core version of the chip. More robust test results will no doubt appear once the device ships May 15.

Oh, and Apple strongly hinted that M4 Macs will arrive later this year.

About the new iPads

It is interesting to explore the different iPad Pro models, as you’ll find huge differences between them. For example, the 256GB/512GB models carry 9-core CPUs, while the 1TB/2TB storage models have 10-core processors. Memory on the larger capacity models is double that of the lower end.

You can argue that iPads have now become sufficiently mature that Apple can make very different configurations, in a similar way to the different Mac SKU’s. That also means if you are planning to invest in these tablets for you or your teams, do check which models are used when considering reviews of any apps you happen to need.

You also need to know that all Apple’s cellular iPads are eSIM only in all markets. And Apple no longer provides a charger in the box for iPads sold in the European Union or UK.

iPad Pro

No doubt the iPad Pro is the star of Apple’s tablet dance. That new M4 chip is built on a second-generation 3nm process tech, which means it delivers desktop performance with mobile battery life. It’s a good sign of what’s to come from Apple in the next 12 months: supercomputer performance distributed across a wide range of platforms. This will be the platform of choice for personal genAI — at least, I think that’s what Apple hopes.

The chip isn’t the only thing that’s small. The device is thinner than an iPod nano (remember them? I keep one on my desk). How thin?  5.3mm on the 11-in. model and 5.1mm on the 13-in. models. You also get less weight and a smaller battery which still delivers up to 10 hours of active life, thanks to the increased power efficiency of the processor.

The new display

The iPad Air display remains the same as the previous model. The iPad Pro, however, uses what Apple is calling a Tandem OLED display. It consists of two panels stacked one above the other to deliver better color accuracy, brightness, and longevity. Anecdotal reports are extremely enthusiastic about the screen quality, the best in any tablet today. Data-wise, expect 1,000 nits of peak full-screen brightness, and 1,600 nits of peak HDR.

Apple had been expected to introduce the screen, but what is surprising many is the cost. Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) founder and CEO Ross Young had said he thought the move to this kind of display combined with the new M4 chip would mean a much higher product price — he had estimated prices would be 50% higher. (You can spend more if you want; for $100 Apple will apply a nano-texture on the display surface to combat glare.)

Additional details include:

  • 12MP rear and front cameras, with the front camera at center of screen edge. Apple has silently removed the 12MP ultra-wide camera it fielded in these iPads before.
  • Prices start at $999 for the 11-in. and $1,299 for the 13-in., available for pre-order today and hitting stores May 15.
  • Two colors: silver or black.
  • Support for the new Apple Pencil Pro.
  • Dimensions: 11-in. — 249.7mm-x-177.5mm-x-5.3mm; and for the 13-in. — 281.6mm-x-215.5mm-x-5.1mm. 
  • Weight: 11-in: 444g or 446g with cellular. (roughly 0.98 pounds). 13-in: 578g or 582g with cellular. (roughly 1.28 pounds).

More specifications are  available on Apple’s website.+

About the iPad Air

Apple confirmed speculation announcing both 13- and 11-inch models of the iPad Air, now with M2 processors and the same LCD processor as the previous model. The introduction of M2 chips to the iPad Air is a big step up for that tablet, but it’s clearer now than ever where the investment is taking place – iPad Pros now weigh even less than their lower priced “Air” sibling (579g versus 617g). The 6.1mm Air is also thicker than the Pro.

Additional details include:

  • 12MP rear and front cameras, with front camera at center of screen edge.
  • The iPad Air is available in four colors starting at $599 for the 11-inch model and $799 for the new 13-inch configuration.
  • Brightness ranges between 500-600nits.
  • Supports new Apple Pencil Pro.
  • 13-inch: Dimensions: 280.6mm-x-214.9mm-x-6.1mm.
  • 13-inch: Weight: 617g or 618g with cellular. (c.1.36 pounds).
  • More specifications are available on Apple’s website.

Buried in the tidal wave of information, Apple also lowered the price of its entry level iPad to $349, $100 less than the original price. I’m not certain, but I’d like to know if this is the only thing in the world that’s gone down in price, given everything else has seen costs increase. The ninth-generation iPad previously sold at $349 has been removed from sale, taking with it the last Apple tablet sold with either a headphone jack or TouchID button. 

The Apple Pencil goes Pro

The Apple Pencil Pro ($129) deserves its own mention. This is effectively a computer in its own right, with squeeze controls, haptic feedback, and a range of gyroscopically handled tools that make the device both precise and intuitive to use. It also includes Find My, so you won’t lose it, and charges while magnetically connected to the tablet.

The Magic Keyboard, too, has seen a really significant update. Not only does it deliver an aluminum palm rest, but also a larger trackpad that provides haptic feedback and even hosts a row of function buttons. Available in silver and space black, the addition of the keyboard means using the iPad will feel far more like the experience you expect using a MacBook. At (from) $299, they aren’t cheap, but with the slim iPad they promise a mobile computing experience second to few.

Finally, some environmental achievements. Apple claims the iPad Pro comprises over 20% recycled or renewable content, including 100% recycled aluminium and 99% recycled rare earth elements. All the tin, gold, and copper used on printed circuit boards are also recycled. You can read the product environmental report here.

Who are these iPads for?

Apple continues to lean into creative markets with the iPad range. To support this, it introduced powerful updates to both its Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro lines, introducing new tools and features and integrating even better support for multiple devices. You can now use one or more iPhones and iPods to capture multicam footage, for example. Apple also announced new AI features, enabling artists to get more done faster and better.

All the same, I think Apple is missing something here. We know that iPads are seeing increasing use across the enterprise. Retail employees, frontline customer services, aircraft cabin crew (and pilots), field service engineers, and huge numbers of C-suite executives already use iPads at work; I think Apple should work a little harder to celebrate that.

It does have some information about this; a search of its enterprise website yields case studies explaining use of iPads at United Airlines  and across the Tokyo Metro, for example. However, I think that by focusing so much on creative uses, Apple is missing the chance during these launches to celebrate some of the less colorful but still incredibly valuable ways in which its powerful mobile devices are used. These iPads aren’t just for creatives and consumers, they are suitable for a growing array of uses across business and commerce, too.

What analysts said

Carolina Milanesi at Creative Strategies said: “It seems that Apple is positioning the silicon as the real way they are competing in the AI world. It’s really about enabling developers more so than it is about Apple bringing to life a new Siri or services that are AI-driven. This could all change at WWDC, but we always need to go back and remember the business model. While for Microsoft or Google everything goes back to the cloud, for Apple, everything goes back to the hardware.”

“The flexibility of Apple silicon architecture remains one of their biggest technical advantages over competitors,” said Ben Bajarin, Creative Strategies analyst.

“Apple is getting a lot faster at updating its silicon with the announcement of the M4 chip. This is important as more AI features are run on device, and Apple looks to make hardware an AI competitive advantage,” wrote Deep Water Management analyst Gene Munster

“We believe the seeds for an Apple growth turnaround are being planted in the field by Cook & Co.,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives added. (Wedbush had previously said: “We believe the worst is in the rear-view mirror for Apple and now there is a massive iPhone product cycle with pent-up demand and AI now coming to Cupertino looking out over the next 6-9 months.”)

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Apple, Computers and Peripherals, Generative AI, iOS, iPad, Mobile

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