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New Apple iPad Pro with M4 chip ready for AI

Apple's latest iPad Pro is the first product to get the company's new M4 chip with a neural processing unit designed to power AI applications and services.

Apple's latest iPad Pro with new M4 hardware for AI hints at the computer maker's upcoming software plans.

The M4's specs include a neural processing unit (NPU) capable of processing AI applications at up to 38 trillion operations per second. Also, the system on a chip contains a 10-core CPU with machine-learning accelerators and a GPU upgrade with the same number of cores.

Apple introduced the iPad Pro's AI horsepower on Tuesday without providing details on what new services and software it would run on the product.

"While they hinted at some of the AI capabilities today - aimed squarely at content creators - I suspect Apple will tell a more complete story at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June," IDC analyst Tom Mainelli said. "And that story will include not just the iPad, but also iPhone, Mac, and its other products."

Apple typically uses the annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco to introduce upcoming technologies, tools and frameworks for iOS, iPadOS and macOS.

Apple's introduction of AI hardware in a product that it hasn't upgraded in almost two years wasn't surprising, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates. During that time, PC makers have added the latest Intel and AMD chips with AI capabilities.

"Everybody is putting out a chip these days with some sort of an NPU built in," Gold said.

Apple M4 iPad Pro.
Apple's M4 iPad Pro is available May 15 in a silver or space black case.

Apple M4 specs

The M4 contains 28 billion transistors built on 3-nanometer technology, making the latest iPad Pro more power-efficient than previous models, according to Apple. The M4 uses half the amount of power to deliver the same performance as the M2 chip.

The M4's GPU makes better use of memory to boost the performance of applications and games, the company said. Also, the chip renders more realistic shadows and reflections in images and video than Apple's older GPUs.

The M4 is critical for powering AI and the iPad Pro's new Ultra Retina XDR display. Apple built the screen by combining two OLED panels that offer better precision when drawing on the display, improved color accuracy and more uniform brightness.

Ultimately, Apple's list of M4 specs and capabilities won't be a critical factor for iPad Pro buyers, Gold said. Instead, it will be how well the hardware runs AI software.

"At the end of the day, none of those matters," Gold said of the specs. "It's how you use the hardware to the best advantage of the software."

The iPad Pro also includes a 12-megapixel camera in the back for video and stills and a flash for better document scanning. The front camera is also 12 megapixels.

Other features include a USB-C connector with support for Thunderbolt 3 and USB 4 connectivity. The USB-C has a maximum throughput of 40 Gbps.

Apple plans to release an 11-inch and 13-inch iPad Pro on May 15. Pricing starts at $999 for the smaller model and $1,199 for the larger unit.

Apple M4 system on a chip.
Apple's new M4 includes a neural processing unit for AI applications.

iPad Air

For people who do not need the advanced technology in the iPad Pro, Apple introduced two versions of the iPad Air with the older M2 chip. Like the Pro, the Air is available in either an 11-inch or 13-inch display, each with a 12-megapixel back camera.

The iPad Air's older technology comes with a lower price tag. The base price is $599 for the smaller Air and $799 for the larger model. Apple plans to release the products the same day as the iPad Pro.

Antone Gonsalves is an editor at large for TechTarget Editorial, reporting on industry trends critical to enterprise tech buyers. He has worked in tech journalism for 25 years and is based in San Francisco.

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