iPad Pro might launch with AI-powered M4 — should you wait?

Apple Event Let Loose
(Image credit: Laptop Mag / Apple)

The new iPad Pro could skip an M3 processor altogether and go straight to M4 according to a new leak from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman.

It was previously rumored that the MacBook would launch as the first product with M4 chips later in the year. But the new report could signal that the first step in Apple's shift towards AI is coming far sooner than expected.

This also contradicts previous leaks suggesting the next iPad Pro models—which will be unveiled at Apple's "Let Loose" on May 7—would feature the M3. But Gurman claims there's a "strong possibility" that this might no longer be the case. 

WWDC 2024 begins on June 10 and will unveil macOS 15, iOS 18, watchOS, and most importantly, iPadOS 18. Since the M4's neural engine is rumored to be expanding the possibilities of AI in Apple Silicone chips, and iPad Pro with M4 could be revealed on May 7, this timeline makes perfect sense as an opportunity for the company to provide a taste of the software that is set to make the most of its neural engine.

But should you care about Apple's AI plans with M4?

Should you care about M4's AI capabilities?

Why does it matter if the iPad Pro's potential M4 processor has a powerful neural engine with expanded AI capabilities? You're probably wondering "what will I use it for?" Beyond the basics like blurring backgrounds and noise reduction, that's not an easy question to answer right now.

Before you raise your pitchforks, this is a vital stepping stone in the quest for AI to prove itself. It's impossible to create software for something without the hardware that can perform it, and by implementing an M4 processor into the iPad Pro a generation earlier than expected, Apple could get a head start in the AI race.

For example, Windows Copilot didn't launch alongside Intel's Meteor Lake processors. And even now, it's currently rumored that Microsoft is working on a Windows 11 feature called AI Explorer

This would allow users to put their NPU (AI accelerator) to work to find web pages, documents, applications, photos, and videos they opened in the past. Users could ask Copilot to find a recipe they were looking at the other day or a song they can't remember the name of. Since all this data is stored locally and runs directly on the processor's NPU, it could act as a user's second memory.

iPad Pro 2021

(Image credit: Laptop mag)

Software developments of these kinds are impossible without an AI-focused chip designed to test and develop it. Apple jumping into it sooner than later is worth being excited about, not necessarily because we can guarantee greatness, but because there's plenty of potential for what it could bring in the future.

If WWDC 2024 is used as a first step for Apple to prove how AI will make iPadOS 18 better, it would make for an excellent showcase of the neural engine's capability. But it's also worth noting that the leak suggests M4 is exclusive to iPad Pro models, which means iPad Air will likely feature an M3. 

This could create a disparity between user experiences if it leans into its AI heavily. If all new iPad models are running iPadOS 18 and entire applications or features are off-limits, it could make a great point on the necessity of the technology in the company's plans. On the other hand, if its new feature lacks gusto, users could be even less convinced by the necessity of AI.

It's also possible that iPadOS 18 doesn't delve into AI quite yet, and instead, iPadOS 19 will be our first proper look. If so, we'll likely have to wait for compelling software to be developed once the M4 launches

The latest iPad models will be unveiled at Apple's Let Loose event, which goes live on Tuesday, May 7 at 7AM PT / 10AM ET / 2PM GMT and can be watched on Apple's websiteApple TV, or YouTube.

Momo Tabari
Contributing Writer

Self-described art critic and unabashedly pretentious, Momo finds joy in impassioned ramblings about her closeness to video games. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Media Studies from Brooklyn College and five years of experience in entertainment journalism. Momo is a stalwart defender of the importance found in subjectivity and spends most days overwhelmed with excitement for the past, present and future of gaming. When she isn't writing or playing Dark Souls, she can be found eating chicken fettuccine alfredo and watching anime.