The 5 subtle AI announcements Apple made at its big iPad 2024 launch event

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May 7, 2024

Today’s Apple iPad Air and iPad Pro event was big on product launches, but quieter about AI. Or was it? 

While there weren’t any AI announcements to rival the launch of the iPad Pro (2024) or new M4 chip, Apple did uncharacteristically mention ‘AI’ on eight different occasions during the event – and those covered five different new announcements about the tech.

Apple has previously been reluctant to join the chorus of AI hype, preferring to stick to the less zeitgeisty (if often more accurate) ‘machine learning’ during its launch events. But back in February, Tim Cook started making unexpectedly bold statements about AI, calling it a “huge opportunity for Apple” and that AI tools would be coming to Apple devices “later this year”.

So what exactly were those subtle AI announcements at the iAPd-centric Apple event? Here are the times the Cupertino crew gave us a taster of what’s to come next month at WWDC 2024

1. The M4 chip is more powerful than ‘any AI PC today’

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s next-gen silicon had been rumored for the iPad Pro (2024), but it was still something of a surprise to see the M4 appear for the first time during a tablet announcement. Naturally, Apple was keen to flag its serious AI potential.

Tim Millet, Apple’s VP of Platform Architecture, said that “the Neural Engine makes M4 an outrageously powerful chip for AI”, pointing to the simple example of it letting you isolate a subject from its background in 4K video with a tap in Final Cut Pro.

Clearly, Apple thinks its silicon makes for a strong foundation for AI apps, with Millet adding that “the Neural Engine is an IP-block in the chip dedicated to the acceleration of AI workloads”. And he finished with the bolder statement that “the Neural Engine in M4 is more powerful than any neural processing unit in any AI PC today”. We can’t verify that yet, but it doesn’t sound like an outlandish claim.

2. The Logic Pro 2 app has AI-powered Session Players

(Image credit: Apple)

The Logic Pro app landed on the iPad about a year ago – and the new version that Apple’s just announced has some AI-powered ‘Session Players’ for you to dabble with.

These are designed to play alongside the existing Drummer feature to give you something like a virtual band. Will Hui, Apple’s Product Manager of Creative Apps, said: “Now Drummer is getting some new bandmates in a feature we call Session Players. We’re introducing an all-new Bass and Keyboard Player, and like Drummer, they’re built using AI.”

Given Apple’s digital audio workstation was already a lot of fun, we’re looking forward to giving them an audition.

3. The iPad Pro uses AI to help you scan documents

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(Image credit: Apple)

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(Image credit: Apple)

This might not be the most wildly exciting AI use case, but sometimes the tech is best suited to helping us with more mundane tasks – and Apple reckons it does just that with the iPad Pro (2024)’s AI-powered document scanning.

This comes courtesy of a new ‘adaptive’ True Tone flash, which works in tandem with AI algorithms to adjust the lighting depending on the document and ambient lighting. John Ternus, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Engineering said: “We’ve all had the experience of trying to scan a document in certain lighting conditions where it’s hard to avoid casting a shadow – the new Pro solves this problem.”

“It uses AI to automatically detect documents like forms and receipts,” he added. “If shadows are in the way, it instantly takes multiple photos with the new, adaptive flash. The frames are stitched together and the result is a dramatically better scan.”

We’ll have to see how well that works in practice, but because it’s built into iPadOS it’ll also be in the Camera app, Files, Notes, and third-party apps, too.

4. The iPad Air 6 isn’t left out of the AI party 

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple was keen to stress that the iPad Pro (2024) isn’t the only tablet in its range suitable for AI-powered tasks or future apps, despite that tablet being the only one with the new M4 chip.

Melody Kuna, Apple’s Director of iPad Product Design, said that “with M2, the new [iPad] Air is also an incredibly powerful device for AI. It’s blazing fast for powerful machine learning features in iPadOS, like Visual Look Up, Subject Lift, and Live Text capture.”

So while the iPad Pro’s M4 chip is capable of an impressive 38 trillion operations per second (which apparently makes it sixty times faster than Apple’s A11 Bionic neural engine from the iPhone 8), the iPad Air 6 won’t be left out of future AI apps and features on Apple’s tablets.

5. iPadOS is just getting started with AI

(Image credit: Apple)

On a similar theme, Apple’s final mention of AI during its long-awaited iPad launch was reserved for iPadOS.

Will Hui, Apple’s Product Manager of Creative Apps, said that “iPadOS has advanced frameworks like Core ML that make it easy for developers to tap into the Neural Engine to deliver powerful AI features, right on device”.

Clearly, Apple is treading carefully with AI in its own apps, with only Logic Pro’s session players and the iPad Pro’s document scanning making much use of it so far. But it also put out a call to developers to tap the potential of its software (and chips) for AI-powered features. And we can expect to hear a lot more about those next month at WWDC 2024.

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