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The Apple M4 feels wasted without new iPad Pro software

OPINION: This week, Apple shocked the world by unveiling yet another generation of Apple Silicon chips, this time in the form of the Apple M4 chip. 

The fact that Apple is launching a new chip isn’t surprising in itself, but rather the timing. After all, the Apple M4 was announced just seven months after the release of its predecessor, the M3 chip

Many have suggested that this short gap between generations is likely due to Apple’s eagerness to capitalise on the growing popularity of AI. All of the major technology companies, such as Microsoft, Intel, Google, Nvidia, AMD and Qualcomm, are investing heavily in AI right now, so Apple seemingly wanted to act quickly before being left behind. 

According to Apple, the M4 features the most powerful neural engine ever, capable of a stunning 38 trillion operations per second. For comparison, the preceding Apple M3 is restricted to just 18 trillion operations per second, which is less than half the AI performance of the M4 processor. 

The AI power of the Apple M4 is remarkable, but all of that power will be wasted if Apple doesn’t develop enough software to make use of the processor’s cutting-edge neural engine. AI performance differs from raw processing power, as it only impacts the performance of AI-powered workloads. Right now, there aren’t a huge number of AI features that Apple offers, at least not enough that will benefit from the added power that the M4 chip promises. 

When the M4 was first announced, Apple gave a couple of examples of AI features that could benefit. The first involves being able to isolate a subject from its background when editing a 4K video in Final Cut Pro. However, this is a feature that’s already available via the Google Pixel 8 smartphones, and is quickly becoming available in a wider range of devices. 

Apple M4 specs
Credit: Apple

Apple also says the AI power of the M4 allows iPad Pro users to automatically create musical notation by simply listening to someone play the piano. It’s an impressive feat, but it’s a feature that the vast majority of people will have no interest in. 

As of now, there isn’t really any Apple AI feature that’s enticing enough to make me consider an iPad Pro purchase, or any future Mac that will be upgraded to the new M4 chipset. 

This isn’t an exclusive issue to Apple. It’s currently the same problem for Windows devices, as the AI power of Intel’s 14th Generation processors currently feels underutilised, with a dearth of advanced AI features to whet the appetite. 

iPad Pro M4
Credit: Apple

That said, I find the issue more surprising with Apple, as the company is in the unique situation of having full control of both the hardware and software of its products. As a result, it should be easier for Apple to harness the full potential of its M4 chip via new software updates and apps. 

I expect Apple will eventually address this issue. In fact, the upcoming WWDC event on 10th June 2024 is the perfect opportunity for the company to release a slew of AI-powered features that will make the purchase of an iPad Pro far more compelling. 

Nevertheless, I still can’t help but feel the release of the M4-powered iPad Pro is a tad premature. The record-breaking AI performance may be an exciting development, but if you buy the tablet this month, you won’t really be able to benefit from its untapped potential. 

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