Apple’s new iPad Pro desperately wants to beat the PC with AI

At Apple’s recent iPad event, the company announced two new iPad models, each in 11-inch and 13-inch sizes. This was Apple’s biggest announcement since the iPad’s original launch in 2010 in terms of new models and improved capabilities, and I think these improvements are considerable across the board. However, there are clearly some holes in what Apple announced for the new iPad line and places where the company has exposed some of its vulnerabilities. As I’ll explore further in this article, the company also wanted this event, along with its new M4 chip, to counter the growing rumor coming from the Windows ecosystem about what will become Microsoft Copilot+ PCs.

iPad air

With this update, the iPad Air gets an upgrade to the M2 processor from the M1 after two years, while maintaining the same $599 price for the 10.9-inch model. It also debuts a 13-inch iPad Air model with the same specs, except both models now start with a default storage capacity of 128GB, instead of 64GB. Apple also eliminated the color pink, dropping to four colors for the new generation.

Probably one of the most confusing parts of the entire launch is that the new iPad Air is heavier (617g) than the absurdly thin and light new iPad Pro (579g), which was announced at the same event. I call it absurd because this iPad Pro probably sacrifices battery life for the sake of being so thin and light. One good thing Apple did in the new iPad Air and iPad Pro models was move the front camera to a horizontal location, making it friendlier for traditional video calling apps. Apple also updated the iPad Air to Wi-Fi 6E, although Wi-Fi 7 is now the standard for most devices (although it’s not as ubiquitous in routers as Wi-Fi 6).

iPadPro

The iPad Pro was truly the star of the new iPad event, with a host of new features and, of course, the introduction of the Apple M4 processor with improved AI performance. It seems like Apple really tried to make the iPad Pro feel like a versatile device capable of productivity, creativity, gaming, and content production. The only problem is that Apple has designed iPadOS to prevent the iPad Pro from really competing with MacOS-based MacBooks. This is a problem because most people don’t find iPadOS functional for multitasking. Additionally, Apple continues to tell consumers that if they want a touchscreen and 5G connectivity, they should get an iPad instead of a MacBook, which is also absurd. People should not be expected to buy two devices to get features that should be inherently available on a single device to begin with.

Interestingly, Apple mentioned that the M4 is a 10-core CPU with four performance cores and six efficiency cores, but during the launch it forgot to mention that the 10-core variant will be available only for the 1TB and 2TB versions of the iPad. Pro… The “base” iPad Pro 13, starting at $1,299, will have just three performance cores and six efficiency cores. Apple is also tying 16GB of RAM to the 1TB and 2TB models, meaning it’s offering just 8GB of RAM with the 256GB and 512GB models. Apple also limited its new $100 optional nanotexture anti-glare feature to the 1TB and 2TB models.

Going back to the M4, Apple claims it’s up to 50% faster than the M2 in the previous iPad Pro. Apple uses the M3 in its MacBook and MacBook Air, but skipped the M3 generation entirely for the iPad Pro. The new M4 also It brings ray tracing to the iPad for the first time, which should be welcome for gaming titles and certain video streaming apps like Octane because it offers 4x faster performance than the M2. Apple also claims that the M4 can deliver the same amount of performance as the M2 with half the power and that the M4 can deliver the same performance as the “latest PC chip in a thin and light laptop” with a quarter of the power. the power.

In addition to the M4 processor, the new iPad Pro has a new tandem-stacked OLED display. This tandem stacking allows for a 30% brighter display while consuming 40% less power. Apple claims 1000 nits of full-screen brightness and a maximum small area brightness of 1600 nits. Samsung has been using OLED panels in its tablets since the Galaxy Tab 7.7 in 2011, so it’s good to see Apple finally competing on this front. This display, combined with a thin film encapsulation, is one of the reasons Apple was able to deliver a 5.1mm thick iPad Pro, the thinnest device Apple has ever created. In fact, it’s a level of thinness for which I’m not sure Apple has really explained the reason; He definitely hasn’t explained what other sacrifices he made to achieve that thinness.

Moving on from the screen, the iPad Pro also offers 5G connectivity for $199, $50 more than any other iPad Apple has offered. As expected, Apple also includes Thunderbolt 4 wired connectivity via the USB-C port for super-fast wired data transfers with external drives or cameras. Mirroring its decision for the iPad Air, Apple also opted to upgrade the iPad Pro to Wi-Fi 6E, but not to the latest Wi-Fi 7, which is available from major carriers, including Apple’s preferred carrier, Broadcom. I think this is a colossal mistake, mainly because iPad Pro users are the most likely to benefit from the faster connectivity available via Wi-Fi 7.

Apple chose to downgrade the iPad Pro’s camera, removing the ultra-wide-angle camera, meaning the device is not capable of spatial video. Some people speculate that Apple did this to preserve the absurdly thin form factor. Anyway, I’m a little disappointed because I see the iPad as a great opportunity to capture spatial video. While the iPhone 15 Pro Max is still great for that purpose, it’s in Apple’s best interest to have more devices that support spatial video for Vision Pro. Apple upgraded the Pencil to a pro model complete with haptic controls, pressure, proximity, and even sensors. tilt, which I’m sure will be very popular with people who draw and draw on the iPad. Personally, I’m more interested in the new backlit Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, even though it costs a ridiculous $350.

Speaking of pricing, if you get an iPad Pro 13 with 5G and a Magic Keyboard, it will cost you $2,000 after taxes; If you want the 1TB version with 5G and a Magic Keyboard to get the maximum CPU performance and 16GB of RAM, you’re looking at $2,500, and that’s even without the $129 Apple Pencil Pro. The 2TB model with everything included costs more than $3,100. And remember, this isn’t even a laptop: it’s a tablet.

Apple’s relationship with the AI ​​PC

During the event, Apple made a lot of comparisons to the PC, which reinforced my assessment that the purpose of this launch was to counter Microsoft and Qualcomm’s AI PC announcements at BUILD (earlier this week) and Computex 2024 (coming soon). ). . In fact, it explains why Apple chooses to launch the M4 so early in the year instead of the next-generation MacBooks, which is a more natural time to do so.

Apple’s own page on the M4 even mentions the AI ​​PC twice, both times when comparing the M4’s 38 TOPS of AI performance to other products. Apple insists that its AI performance is better than any PC currently available, which, thanks to the timing of the M4’s launch, is technically accurate now, but won’t be on June 18, when it will be released. release the Snapdragon Apple also stated that it has been including an NPU in its chips for years, while others (read: Intel) are just beginning to integrate an NPU in the current generation.

Based on presentations at Apple’s event and messages on the M4 page, it’s pretty clear that Apple’s intention was to counter Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X Elite launch and make many of the M2 and M3 benchmark comparisons irrelevant. from Qualcomm. However, when the Snapdragon ninethNext-generation Neural Engine: It will have 45 TOPS of AI performance and will likely be the most competitive processor to date for the Windows ecosystem. As I noted in my recent industry-wide NPU assessment, we can also expect processors from AMD and Intel in the second half of this year at something close to parity with the Snapdragon X Elite in terms of TOPS. To be fair, Apple’s M4 is the first chip with TSMC’s N3E process node, which gives it a temporary (repeated, temporary) advantage in power and clock speed.

While the iPad Pro and M4 messaging is directly aimed at diminishing any ads coming from Microsoft, Qualcomm, Intel et al. In the coming month, it also demonstrates how behind Apple really is with its approach to AI. Most of what Apple is demonstrating today using its NPU are in-app features. Sure, Apple will likely talk more in-depth about AI at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, but right now the operating system still hasn’t embraced AI at the platform level and hasn’t really shown developers taking advantage of that performance. In fact, Apple has shown many different GPU capabilities to developers, but it hasn’t really done so with AI. I suspect WWDC will be a great time to correct this, but that’s almost a month away, and Apple hasn’t made much headway in this regard even though it’s had plenty of opportunities.

Apple has kept its attacks on the AI ​​PC somewhat vague. The big question is what the M4’s actual performance will be on the iPad Pro and how it will compare to the Snapdragon X Elite. Because even if Qualcomm is on par with the M4, it will still be an achievement that no x86 or Arm chip supplier has yet achieved. The iPad Pro’s M4 may not even be much of a comparison, as it will likely be more thermally limited than the Snapdragon X Elite, and a MacBook M4 later in the year might be a more appropriate comparison.

Ending

In the new iPad lineup, Apple’s goal is clearly to target consumers with the iPad Air for content consumption and the iPad Pro for content creation and editing. The iPad Pro is also now Apple’s spearhead for new Apple silicon with the M4 and cutting-edge display technologies with the introduction of tandem OLED technology it has dubbed Ultra Retina XDR. Apple accomplished this while also releasing an absurdly thin 5.1mm form factor and pricing it accordingly, starting at $1,299 for the 13-inch model. I think iPad Pro customers are a very specific audience and they will be happy with what Apple has created.

That said, Apple is also using the M4 in the iPad Pro to counter the AI ​​PC (Windows) push that began late last year, a wave of momentum that could impact Apple’s sales for the rest of the year. The AI ​​PC continues to evolve with Copilot+, and once the other relevant chipmakers release their new designs that compete with the M4, we’ll finally have a proper apples-to-apples comparison.