M4 Chips in New iPad Pros?

Mark Gurman, in his Power On column for Bloomberg:

Earlier this month, I broke the news that Apple is accelerating its computer processor upgrades and plans to release the M4 chip later this year alongside new iMacs, MacBook Pros and Mac minis. The big change with the M4: A new neural engine will pave the way for fresh AI capabilities. Now here’s another development. This year’s Macs may not be the only AI-driven devices with M4 chips.

I’m hearing there is a strong possibility that the chip in the new iPad Pro will be the M4, not the M3. Better yet, I believe Apple will position the tablet as its first truly AI-powered device — and that it will tout each new product from then on as an AI device. This, of course, is all in response to the AI craze that has swept the tech industry over the last couple years.

This would be a delightful surprise, but I have to say this makes no sense to me, especially given that in the very same column Gurman reiterates that Apple originally hoped to unveil these new iPads in March. The M3 generation of chips only debuted in November. The M3 MacBook Airs only debuted in March, when, according to Gurman, Apple had hoped to ship these iPads. How does that make any sense?

I have no doubt that Apple is poised to promote a slew of “AI” features across its platforms. But is the message at WWDC going to be that this year’s OS releases will bring new AI-powered features to all Apple devices — existing and new — or only to brand-new devices? Gurman is saying it’s the latter, but what are these “fresh AI capabilities” that require an M4, rather than just run a little faster on an M4?

Also, while Apple’s M-series chips have not yet settled into any sort of predictable pattern — as I wrote last week — Apple silicon has been on a very predictable annual schedule since 2011 or so. That’s when the iPhone 4S shipped, with the A5 chip, and new generations of A-series chips have appeared in September or October every single year since. Every generation of M-series chip has been developed alongside a corresponding generation of A-series chips. The M3 chips are the M-series siblings of the A17 Pro. The M4 generation chips, presumably, are siblings to the A18, which we presumably won’t see until the iPhones 16 launch in September.

Even putting aside the rumor — from Gurman himself! — that these new iPads were originally slated for March, it just seems highly unlikely that M4 chips are ready to go in May, just 6 months after the M3 debuted and 8 months after the A17 Pro. And it just doesn’t make sense that Apple would put them in iPad Pros first when they just launched MacBook Airs with the M3. It makes sense for the iPhone to get the first crack at each new generation of Apple silicon, because the iPhone is the most popular line of computers ever made. It makes sense of the Mac to get new M-series generations shortly after new iPhones, because the Mac is Apple’s workstation platform. It makes little sense for a new generation of Apple silicon to debut in iPads.

M4 iPads next week feel about as realistic as those flat-sided Series 7 Apple Watches that Gurman reported three years ago. So I’d bet money against this. In some sense it’s a can’t-lose bet — either I’m right and these iPad Pros will have M3 chips, or Apple’s silicon game is racing far ahead of what I considered possible, which would be rather amazing. Am I nuts or is no one else even skeptical about this?

Sunday, 28 April 2024