New iPads are the first step in Apple’s AI play

Apple’s big event yesterday was less about getting a look at new tablets and more about what’s inside of them.

What happened: Apple debuted its new iPad lineup, led by an updated iPad Pro. It has an OLED screen for better image quality, and is the first device to be outfitted with the new M4 chip that will run AI features directly on the tablets, instead of remotely on the cloud.

By the numbers: M-series chips contain both a CPU — used for general processing — and a GPU — used for more advanced tasks, like editing video, creating 3D graphics, and AI. Apple says the M4’s CPU is 50% faster than the M2 chip in the last iPad, while the GPU is four times faster.

Why it matters: Apple hasn’t had as many flashy AI announcements as its competition, so these iPads are the first public look at the defining feature of the company’s strategy. The big advantage of on-device AI is offering more personalized features using personal data on iPads, iPhones, and MacBooks that can’t be sent to the cloud.

  • Also, new products drive sales. Sluggish iPad sales were one factor that dragged Apple’s earnings last week, largely due to how long it has been since a new model.

Yes, but: While Apple has been quiet about AI publicly, it has been busy internally. It has been hiring AI talent away from Google, made more AI acquisitions and investments than its rivals, and published research on things like getting on-device AI to run more efficiently and making Siri smarter.

What’s next: You can expect AI-related announcements at Apple’s annual developer conference next month, though iPhones with the M4 probably won’t come until September, which is when Apple typically unveils new smartphones.