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Apple’s iPad event was an AI teaser for its future

In Technology
May 08, 2024

Apple’s (AAPL) AI push has begun. On Tuesday, the company unveiled its latest iPad Pros packing an all-new M4 processor. The chip provides the Pro with a number of benefits including a faster CPU and updated graphics processing unit.

But it was Apple’s focus on the M4’s AI capabilities that stood out the most. Apple has been putting its neural engine into processors since 2017 and has previously talked up how it helps power a number of iPhone, iPad, and Mac features for some time.

But the M4 unveiling was different, serving as an appetizer for the AI features the company will serve up at its WWDC event in June, when Apple is widely expected to debut a slew of generative AI-powered software features for its various devices.

Apple pointed to a number of the M4’s AI bona fides during the keynote, with vice president of platform architecture Tim Millet specifically noting that the chip is capable of 34 trillion operations per second, a measurement commonly used when describing a chip’s AI performance.

Millet also said that the M4’s neural engine is more powerful than any neural processing unit in any AI PC. That’s a direct shot at Intel (INTC), AMD (AMD), and Qualcomm (QCOM), which are preparing to or are already rolling out their own AI PC chips designed to run large language models on Windows laptops and desktops.

Apple's M4 chip brings with it increased AI capabilities, which could tip what's to come at WWDC next month. (Image: Apple)

Apple’s M4 chip brings with it increased AI capabilities, which could tip what’s to come at WWDC next month. (Apple) (Apple)

Outside of the M4’s AI processing fundamentals, Apple was mum on any substantive discussion of AI software updates. Sure, Millet said that the M4 helps the iPad Pro quickly isolate a subject from its background in a 4K video, but the M2-equipped iPad Air can do the same thing, just a bit slower. All the company had to offer was that the M4 would make AI apps and features run faster and more smoothly.

The company also didn’t provide information about the M4’s performance while training or running large language models (LLMs), something that Intel, Qualcomm, and AMD regularly point to as indicators of their chips’ strengths.

Still, the fact that Apple gave consumers, and Wall Street, an early look at its AI thinking is important.

The company is widely viewed as behind the curve when it comes to the generative AI race, and investors are banking heavily on WWDC serving as Apple’s big AI coming-out party.

CEO Tim Cook has been steadily mentioning AI more over the past few months, and said during the company’s most recent earnings call that the iPhone maker is investing heavily in the technology.

That includes buying up smaller AI firms, and, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, holding talks with both OpenAI and Google about potentially using their large language models to power Apple’s AI experiences.

Analysts expect Apple’s generative AI offerings to serve as a catalyst in helping to boost iPhone sales at a time when consumers are increasingly holding on to their phones longer and splashy new features differentiating one generation from another are in short supply.

Now Apple just has to deliver.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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