Apple introduced a new AI-focused chip in the upgraded iPad Pro model

Apple introduced a new AI-focused chip in the upgraded iPad Pro model

Apple ( AAPL.O ) on Tuesday introduced a new chip called the M4 that it says will supercharge personal computers designed for artificial intelligence – but put the new chip in iPad Pro models instead of laptops.

The move is unusual for Apple, which typically puts its latest chips into its Mac lineup, where the M3 chip first appeared last fall. But analysts told Reuters that Apple is likely eager to get its latest chips, which are more power-efficient and have larger chip sections dedicated to handling AI tasks, into the hands of app makers ahead of its annual software developer conference next month.

The iPhone maker’s latest product launch event comes as Silicon Valley heavyweights trail Big Tech rivals as they race to build AI into its products across their businesses and dominate emerging technologies.

Apple said the iPad Pro – its highest-priced model – will have an upgraded display and start at $1,000 for the 11-inch (27.9 cm) model and $1,300 for the 13-inch (33 cm) model.

It will come with an M4 chip with a larger “neural engine”, a part of the chip designed specifically for the type of computing required by AI features such as generating text or images. Apple’s chips have featured neural engines since 2017, but rivals such as Intel ( INTC.O ) and ( QCOM.O ) have begun touting their competitive technology for personal computers.

“The neural engine makes the M4 a very powerful chip for AI,” said Tim Millet, vice president of platform architecture at Apple, during the presentation. “In fact, with this level of performance, the neural engine and M4 are more powerful than any neural processing unit in any PC AI today.”

Apple also introduced a new model of its mid-priced iPad Air, which will now come in a larger 13-inch screen size at $800, as well as an 11-inch size that previously sold for $600. The model comes with Apple’s M2 chip, which was first marketed in Apple’s MacBook in 2022.

Apple often introduces new iPads in May, the time when education customers make purchasing decisions for the next academic year. But in recent years, Apple has begun to transform its higher-priced models into devices for creative and business professionals with its iPad Pro model.

Exactly what AI features the new chip can power may not become fully clear until Apple’s developer conference, where it often shows off new capabilities for Siri, its voice assistant, as well as its entire operating system.

For now, many AI features — such as helping zoom in on users during video calls and slightly altering their eye gaze to make it appear as if they’re looking directly into the camera — are unlikely to inspire a wave of upgrades. , according to some analysts.

“Is it really enough for people to see it and buy it? Probably not,” said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner. “It must be an incredible kind of experience.”

Apple’s rivals Microsoft ( MSFT.O ) and Alphabet’s Google ( GOOGL.O ) have dived into AI, introducing chatbots intended to act as virtual assistants for tasks such as writing emails or typing lines of computer code.

While the company’s shares have soared to record highs, Apple shares have fallen 6% year to date as it struggles with weak iPhone demand and fierce competition in China, and as investors wait to show how it will leverage AI technology.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said last week the company was “very confident about our opportunity in generative AI” and planned to make more announcements later this year.

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, said an upgraded iPad could be a way for Apple to get new chips to market ahead of its developer conference next month, where it may reveal more about how it plans to tackle AI.

That could come in the form of automating mundane tasks to make them faster, or letting Siri, the company’s voice-based assistant, delve deeper into apps to perform tasks on the user’s behalf.

The main question facing Apple is how much it can improve its AI features while processing most of the information on the device itself, for privacy reasons.

“I’ve always said that AI is only as smart as the data it can get,” Milanesi said.

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