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A woman uses her Apple iPhone and laptop in a cafe in New York City. Picture: REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
A woman uses her Apple iPhone and laptop in a cafe in New York City. Picture: REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

San Francisco — Apple plans to hold a virtual event where it is expected to show new iPad models, some of which could come with a new chip aimed at speeding up artificial intelligence (AI) tasks carried out on the devices.

Its latest product launch event comes as the Silicon Valley heavyweight trails big tech rivals as they race to build AI into its products across their businesses and dominate the emerging technology.

Apple often introduces new iPads in May, a time when education customers are making purchasing decisions for the next academic year. But in recent years, Apple has started to transform its higher-priced models into devices for creative and business professionals with its iPad Pro models.

It is these tablets, which come with Apple-designed chips that earlier appeared in the company’s MacBook laptops, that could get an upgrade with a new processor optimised for AI work. But precisely what AI features the new chips could power might not become fully clear until Apple holds its annual software developer conference next month.

For now, many AI features — such as helping zoom in on a user during a video call and slightly altering the look of their eyes to make it look as though they are looking directly into the camera — are not likely to inspire a wave of upgrades, according to some analysts.

“Is it really enough for people to look into it and buy them? Probably not,” said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner. “It has to be some kind of remarkable experience.”

Apple rivals Microsoft and Alphabet’s Google have dived headlong into AI, introducing chatbots that aim to act as virtual assistants for tasks such as writing emails or tapping out lines of computer code.

While those companies’ stocks have surged to record highs, Apple’s share have fallen 6% year to date as it struggles with weak iPhone demand and tough competition in China, and as investors wait for it to show how it will leverage AI technology.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said last week the company was “very bullish about our opportunity in generative AI” and planned to make more announcements later this year.

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, said upgraded iPads could be a way for Apple to get new chips onto the market ahead of its developer conference next month, where it might reveal more about how it plans to address AI.

That could come in the form of automating common tasks to make them faster, or letting Siri, the company’s voice-based assistant, delve deeper into apps to carry out tasks on the user’s behalf.

The question facing Apple is how much it can improve its AI features while processing most information on the device itself, for privacy reasons.

“I always say that the AI is only as smart as the data it can get its hands on,” Milanesi said.

Reuters

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