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New Apple M4 chip ups AI ante, debuts in OLED iPad Pro

Technology / news
New Apple M4 chip ups AI ante, debuts in OLED iPad Pro
Apple M4
Apple M4 with the new display engine for OLED support. Source: Apple

Apple's "Let Loose" event overnight saw the introduction of a new chipset, an OLED screen iPad Pro tablet, an updated iPad M2 Air and accessories for the devices.

Starting with the latest iteration of Apple Silicon, the highly integrated M4 system on a chip (SoC), is aimed at edge artificial intelligence processing with a new Neural Engine, and improved central and graphics processing units.

Apple said the 16-core M4 Neural Engine is 60 times as fast as the first such part that was introduced with the A11 Bionic chip in 2017, at 38 trillion operations per second (TOPS). A more relevant comparison would be with the current M-range of Apple Silicon, where the 134 billion transistor M2 Ultra provides 31.6 TOPS, and the M3 Max with 92 billion transistors, which offers 18 TOPS.

"AI PCs" is the current hardware theme with computer makers, which hope the addition of specialised neural network circuitry will appeal to users, despite tough economic conditions globally. Chip giant Intel has launched Core parts with AI acceleration, ditto Qualcomm.

The Neural Engine in the M4 enables things like real-time audio captions, Visual Look Ups of objects in videos and photos, and creating musical notation with StaffPad automatically by playing back instruments.

Like the M3, the M4 is built with a 3-nanometre process. The new SoC retains the M3 Dynamic Caching for dynamic, real-time memory allocation for better graphics performance in apps and games, along with hardware-accelerated ray tracing for realistic rendering if imagery.

Apple is debuting the M4 in the updated iPad Pro, with the SoC having a new display engine that drives the Ultra Retina XDR OLED screen. Other updates include 9 and 10-core central processing unit (CPU) in the M4, with three or four performance, and six efficiency cores, along with go-faster tweaks to its internal ARM-based architecture.

In the presentation earlier today, Apple said the Unified Memory (UM) speed in the M4 is 120 gigabytes per second, which is up from the 102.4 GBps in the M2 and M3.

The memory technology appears to be low power double data rate 5 (LPDDR5) still.

Further details such as the M4 clock speed is yet to be revealed; the M3 runs at 4.05 GHz for the performance cores, and 2.75 GHz for the efficiency cores. 

As in the past, Apple will likely larger versions of the M4 to go into its Mac range later this year. 

OLED iPad Pro "thinnest Apple product ever"

Apple's iPad Pro tablet is receiving a major upgrade with the M4 chipset, featuring a new Ultra Retina XDR screen that uses two OLED panels in tandem. The display uses the light from the two panels for improved brightness, which is quoted as 1000 nits for SDR and HDR content, and 1600 nits peak for HDR. ("Nits" is a measurement of luminance, with one nit = one candela per square metre).

Aimed at content creators, Apple touts the tandem OLED technology as providing "sub-millisecond control over the colour and luminance of each pixel". The display also has a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio for deep blacks, P3 colour range support, and dynamic ProMotion 10-120 Hz refresh rates. Pixel density is 264 ppi.

The iPad Pro comes in 11 and a 13-inch versions, with the latter being thinner at 5.1 mm than the former at 5.3 mm, oddly enough. Weight for the two is given at just 444 grams for the 11-incher and 579 grams for the 13-inch model in Wi-Fi only configuration.

The thin new Apple iPad Pro

Other updates for the iPad Pro include a new 12 megapixel camera and True Tone flash at the rear, and a new wide-angle TrueDepth camera in landscape orientation at the front. A Thunderbolt 3 with USB 4 connector with up to 40 Gbps speed is included so you can connect a 6K external display to the iPad Pro.

Apple continues to offer the iPad Pro with models that support 5G cellular data as well as Wi-Fi 6E, at an additional cost, with eSIM.

How much you have to pay for the new iPad Pros depends on the model and configuration.

New Zealand pricing for the 11-inch iPad Pro with M4 starts at $1999 including GST, for the Wi-Fi only model with 256 GB storage. A fully specced 11-inch iPad Pro with 5G as well as Wi-Fi, 2 TB storage and nano-texture glass for extremely low reflectivity costs $4599.

Similarly, the 13-inch iPad Pro starts at $2599 for the base spec model, and going the full Monty will set buyers back by $5199. Complicating buyer selection somewhat, there are two memory configurations: the 256 and 512 GB models get 8 GB, and the 1 and 2 TB models 16 GB.

If you opt for the 256 and 512 GB models, you'll miss out on one performance core as well for the CPU. 

Battery sizes are different as you'd expect in the iPad Pro 11-inch model and 13-inch one, at 31.29 and 38.99 watt hours respectively. For Wi-Fi only models, this gives a quoted 10 hours of battery life, whereas cellular data reduces it by an hour. A 20 Watt charger is included.

Apple's redesigned iPad Air meanwhile doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the Pro model, but does get an M2 chipset upgrade. The iPad Air is priced more moderately, starting at $$1199 for the 11-inch model, and $1549 for the 13-inch version.

There are refreshed iPad Pro accessories as well, like the new Apple Pencil Pro ($249) that has improved sensors to detect user interactions such as squeezing, and better haptics, and the Magic Keyboard ($599, 11-inch and $699, 13-inch) and Smart Folio covers ($159 and $199).

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Overhead from teenage boys (sadly, I am distantly related to one of them) ...

Boy 1:The Neural Engine in the M4 enables things like real-time audio captions ...

Boy 2: Cool! ... So I'll be able to understand what the f*** is happening in Japanese p*** ???

(Technology is so wasted on the young.)

[feel free to delete if this crosses some line]




I'm always floored at how affordable Apple are able to make their products. Can't wait to get my hands on one of these and put it through it's paces!


Volume, and the negotiation power that brings.