What is the Apple Neural Engine?

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Apple continues to work on dedicated chips to perform specific tasks and integrate seamlessly with iOS. According to Bloomberg, the company is developing a Neural Engine to handle artificial intelligence-related tasks. The custom silicon would join others such as the Apple A10 Fusion chip, M10 motion coprocessor, and the Apple W1 wireless audio chip.

Apple has been working on AI technologies, most notably in its mobile devices using the Siri assistant. The company is competing in the marketplace for AI with Google and Amazon, both of which have released their own voice assistants along with stand-alone household devices. Google Home and Amazon Echo have opened up a new space for AI, however Apple is expected to enter the market with its own smart home speaker. The device could be announced at WWDC next week in San Jose.

Currently most AI processes are executed using the main processor and the graphics processing unit. A dedicated chip for AI tasks would presumably improve performance and extend battery life on mobile devices. Apple would not be the first to devise its own AI-specific processor. Qualcomm, Nvidia and Google have all developed similar technology for handling AI functions.

Examples of complex tasks that could be optimized using an Apple Neural Engine include facial recognition, predictive typing, and voice recognition among others. Apple may introduce the Neural Engine to the public at WWDC alongside the smart home speaker and iOS 11. This would also mean that third-party developers could take advantage of the AI chip in their apps.