AI for the rest of us.” That’s how Apple advertises Apple Intelligence on its website, the company’s upcoming generative AI experience. The problem is, that tagline only applies if you have the right device: namely, a newer Mac, or a brand-new iPhone.

Apple Intelligence is chock-full of features we haven’t seen on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS before. Following in the footsteps of ChatGPT and Gemini, Apple Intelligence is capable of image generation, text workshopping, proofreading, intelligent summaries, as well as enhancing Siri in ways that make the digital assistant, you know, actually assist you.

In order to run these features, Apple is only making Apple Intelligence available on select iPhones, iPads, and Macs. For the latter two categories, it’s a rather wide net: Only M-series iPads and Macs can run Apple Intelligence. Sure, that leaves out plenty of the Intel Macs still in use today, as well as the iPads running Apple’s A-series chips, but the company has been selling M-series devices since 2020. Many Mac users have adopted to Apple silicon, which means they’ll see these AI features when they update to macOS Sequoia in the fall—or, at least, the features Apple has managed to roll out by then.

However, things aren’t so liberal on the iOS side of things. Only those of us with an iPhone 15 Pro or 15 Pro Max can run Apple Intelligence when it’s available with a future version of iOS 18. That’s because Apple requires the A17 Pro chip for running Apple Intelligence on iOS, which the company has only put into these particular iPhones so far. Even the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, which launched at the same time as the Pros, can’t run Apple Intelligence, because they’re using the previous year’s A16 Bionic chip.

Why Apple Intelligence is only available on newer Apple devices

Apple’s stance is that Apple Intelligence is so demanding that it needs to run on the most powerful hardware the company currently has available. A large part of that is the processing power the desktop-class M-series chips have, as well as the minimum 8GB of unified RAM. (The iPhone 15 Pro also comes with 8GB of RAM.) But the main component as far as Apple Intelligence is concerned is likely the Neural Engine: While Apple has included a Neural Engine in all iPhone chips since the A11 Bionic in the iPhone X, 8, and 8 Plus, Apple only started adding a Neural Engine to the Mac with the M1.

That stance is largely reflected in an interview between John Gruber of Daring Fireball and Apple’s marketing chief Greg Joswiak. Joswiak had this to say to the question of why older Apple devices couldn’t run Apple Intelligence:

So these models, when you run them at run times, it’s called inference, and the inference of large language models is incredibly computationally expensive. And so it’s a combination of bandwidth in the device, it’s the size of the Apple Neural Engine, it’s the oomph in the device to actually do these models fast enough to be useful. You could, in theory, run these models on a very old device, but it would be so slow that it would not be useful.

Essentially, Apple feels that a compromised Apple Intelligence experience isn’t one worth having at all, and only wants the feature running on hardware that can “handle it.” So, no Apple Intelligence for Intel Macs, nor an iPhone other than the 15 Pro.

Apple Intelligence should probably be able to run on more devices

While there is sense to that argument, it’s definitely easy to take the cynical view here and assume Apple is trying to push customers into buying a new iPhone or Mac. I don’t really think that’s the case, but I don’t buy the idea that Apple Intelligence can only run on these devices. Keeping Apple Intelligence to the M-series Macs makes the most sense to me: These are the Macs with Apple’s Neural Engine, so it’s easiest to get these AI features up and running.

It’s the iPhone and iPad side of things that rubs me the wrong way. These devices have Neural Engines built into their SoCs. Sure, they might not be as powerful as the Neural Engine in the iPhone 15 Pro (Apple says the A17 Pro’s Neural Engine is up to twice as fast as the Neural Engine in the A16) but I have trouble believing an Apple Neural Engine from 2022 isn’t fast enough to handle features a chip made in 2023 can. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Apple could get Apple Intelligence working well on a higher-end Intel Mac, but at least these devices don’t have Neural Engines at all.

Not to mention, not all the processing is going to be happening on-device anyway. When iOS or macOS thinks a process is too intensive for the A17 Pro or M-series chip to handle itself, it outsources that processing to the cloud—albeit, in Apple fashion, as privately as possible. Even if the A16 Bionic can’t handle as many local AI processes as the A17 Pro, how much would the experience be downgraded by outsourcing more of those processes to the cloud?

Who wants Apple Intelligence anyway?

But here’s the thing: Even if Apple is choosing to omit Apple Intelligence from the iPhone 15 and earlier unnecessarily, I don’t think it’s to sell more iPhone 15 Pros. I think it simply doesn’t want to waste the resources optimizing a feature that doesn’t have a ton of demand. Despite ChatGPT’s popularity and notoriety, I don’t see “more AI” as something most iPhone and Mac customers are looking for in their devices. I think most customers buy a new iPhone or new Mac for the essential features, like keeping up with friends (especially over iMessage), taking solid photos, and using their favorite apps. AI features baked-into the OS could be a plus, but it’s tough to say when there’s really no precedent yet for consumers purchasing hardware made for AI.

Personally, if I had an Intel Mac or an iPhone 14 Pro that was working fine, I wouldn’t see this as a reason to upgrade: Even if Siri sounds more useful now. I think Apple knows that, and doesn’t want to waste time on developing these features for older devices. It probably doesn’t have the resources for it anyway—the company is staggering the release of key AI features, like Siri’s upgrades, so it has time to make sure everything works as it should before committing to the next set of AI options.

While Apple Intelligence might be the feature set grabbing most of the headlines, most people are going to update their iPhones and find other useful changes instead—some indeed powered by AI. You’ll have the option to totally customize your Home Screen now, with control over where app icons go and even what they look like. You’ll be able to send messages over satellite without a cellular connection, and you’ll find new text effects and options in Messages. You’ll even be able to mirror your iPhone’s display to your Mac, if that’s something you want to do.

The point is, there are a lot of new features coming to iPhones and Macs compatible with iOS 18 and macOS 15—even if Apple Intelligence isn’t among them. I get Apple’s reasoning here, and while I bet the company could run Apple Intelligence on older devices, I don’t think you’re going to be missing out on much. We’ll have to see once Apple Intelligence does actually arrive—one piece at a time.