Apple Nears Production Of AI-Focused M4 Chip

Apple is reportedly planning to overhaul its Mac line with next-generation M4 processors that will highlight upcoming artificial intelligence (AI) features.

The company released new Macs with M3 chips only last October, but is already nearing production on its M4 chips as it moves to boost Mac sales and compete on AI with the likes of Microsoft and Google, Bloomberg reported.

Mac sales peaked in 2022 amidst a pandemic-era surge in demand for consumer electronics, and fell 27 percent in the fiscal year ended last September.

Sales of Apple’s desktop and laptop computers recovered somewhat in the first quarter of this year, according to recent figures from IDC, but the company faces stiff competition from Windows systems being touted as “AI PCs”.

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AI acceleration

Those devices are based on chips with added AI acceleration capabilities such as AMD’s Ryzen 7040, Intel’s Core Ultra and Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X, and are seen as one of the main drivers for a recovery in desktop and laptop sales.

Apple touted the AI capabilities of its existing M3 chips at a March event, but is expected to go further with the M4 line.

The chip is expected to support AI features in the next update of macOS, which Apple is likely to announce at its annual developer conference in June.

The chips powering AI PCs are typically engineered with AI accelerators enabling them to run AI workloads locally rather than relying on cloud computing power, and Apple is expected to announce such locally running AI features at its World Wide Developer Conference.

New hardware

Apple is also expected to add AI acceleration to the chip that will power this year’s iPhone.

The company is planning to release new iMacs, low-end 14-inch MacBook Pros, high-end 14-inch MacBook Pros and Mac minis with the AI-tuned M4, beginning late this year and extending into early 2025, Bloomberg said.

The iMac and MacBook Pro were both updated with the M3 in October, while the Mac mini was last updated in January 2023.

The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air laptops are to see M4 versions in the spring, followed by the Mac Studio desktop workstation in the middle of the year and the Mac Pro later in the year, although Apple’s plans could change, Bloomberg said.

Heavy-duty chip

There are to be at least three versions of the M4, with the mid-range version, code-named Brava, set to power high-end MacBook Pros, an upper-tier Mac mini and possibly the Mac Studio.

The highest-end “Hidra” chip will power the Mac Pro workstation, Bloomberg said.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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