Apple M4 processor family tipped to deliver AI focus — three next-gen chips believed to be nearing production

Apple M4 on the way
(Image credit: Apple)

The next generation of Apple Silicon is already nearing production, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. The Apple-centric reporter was told by insiders that three distinct Apple M4 processors have been prepared. Interestingly, the new silicon is designed to revamp the Mac computer line with a new AI focus – addressing an IT industry trend where Apple is clearly lagging.

Gurman explains that Mac computers haven’t enjoyed the most buoyant sales in recent months. Machine sales saw a 27% drop in sales during the last fiscal year, and the tepid critical response to the new M3 computers was a sign that the move from M2 to M3 wasn’t enough to entice customers to part with their hard-earned cash.

With the IT industry riding waves of enthusiasm for all things AI, even if consumers are yet to be convinced of its on-device merits, Apple probably hopes that adding an AI focus to its M4 processors / marketing will help provide an uplift.

Donan, Brava, and Hidra

The Bloomberg report highlights three Apple M4 chip codenames, but we don’t have much in the way of hard specs, sadly. Gurman’s sources say that the entry-level M4 chip will be codenamed Donan. A more powerful SoC named Brava will address the mid-range market. Meanwhile, the Apple M4 Hidra will be the top-end SoC of the next generation. These three products look set to fill the roles of the M4, M4 Pro and M4 Max, perhaps.

So, Donan, Brava, and Hidra will undoubtedly deliver a step up in performance vs their M3 brethren, but we have no idea how much better they will be. With the AI-focus, you might expect a lot more dedicated processing to accelerate AI. However, Apple already introduced a “powerful” 16-core Neural Engine offering 18 TOPS with the M3 range (60% faster than M1 chips could manage). Few people may be using that built-in processing on the Mac day-to-day right now, though, and the M4’s presumably strengthened Neural Engine should have more to do if the insider-based info from Bloomberg is correct.

(Image credit: Apple)

Whether more AI processing power (and marketing) can make a difference to the deceleration of Mac sales remains to be seen. Gurman says that the M4 chips will permeate the full Mac lineup from “new iMacs, a low-end 14-inch MacBook Pro, high-end 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, and Mac minis.” Though, this is no surprise. Hopefully, more direction and compelling AI application planning will be evident during the Apple WWDC, which kicks off on June 10.

Whatever happens, Apple’s competitors haven’t let their foot off the AI acceleration pedal for months. We also have exciting new chips like “100+ TOPS” Lunar Lake and the “breakthrough” Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite to look forward to later this year.

Mark Tyson
Freelance News Writer

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • cknobman
    Even with Apples loyal following they are not immune to macroeconomics.
    A new processor with AI is unlikely to entice more people to buy, especially if they raise prices.
    Apple should be looking at reducing cost/price if they want to gain more sales.
  • Findecanor
    With "GHz" and "number of cores", people can infer that higher numbers means that their programs run faster.
    And with more "shader units", people can infer that they'd get higher frame rate/resolution in games.

    However, "TOPS" is not a measurement that drives sales.
    It is not directly connected to anything that people care about.
    To make that happen, you would need applications whose performance depends on the size of the TPU, and that does not exist in the consumer space today. The "AI" that people know about are on black-box servers in the "cloud".
  • shawman123
    I am looking forward to AI Macbook with 8GB Ram/256GB SSD. That would be lit for sure.
  • JamesJones44
    You can only get the M3 in the MBP and MBA. It's not available in their other lines so comparing sales based on that isn't really a fair comparison.

    The other issue is many people upgraded once Apple pushed the M1 variants into MBP line. Most people are not going to drop a couple grand on a new laptop for what is largely marginal improvement from an M1 Pro/Max to an M3 Pro/Max for normal workloads (yes, yes, multi score benchmarks blah, blah, blah. Most average workloads don't benefit from 16 cores)
  • Notton
    I like how that single graph is very clearly not a 60% increase, and more like a 40%.
  • artk2219
    shawman123 said:
    I am looking forward to AI Macbook with 8GB Ram/256GB SSD. That would be lit for sure.
    It'll run amazingly with those specs, who needs more ram and storage? We're apple, we'll tell you what you need, don't worry about it, we want you to think differently by not having to think at all.
  • Pierce2623
    While I was a huge fan of the M1, the M2 and m3 are such small improvements that I assume “AI focus” is really just shorthand for “we kinda hit a wall on CPU performance”