Apple Intelligence compatibility — here's why older iPhones won't work

iPhones showing Apple Intelligence features
(Image credit: Apple)

Update: Apple's leadership has confirmed the importance of RAM on Apple Intelligence compatibility, among other factors.

While the unveiling of Apple Intelligence has been met with positive feedback from the majority of users, some have been disappointed at the lack of support for most iPhones. Currently, the only models that will support Apple Intelligence are the iPhone 15 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max

Since Apple revealed its AI strategy at the WWDC 2024 keynote this week, there's been fair speculation on why this is. Now, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has outlined his thoughts.

In a report posted to Medium, Kuo goes into an explanation between the A16 Bionic chip inside the iPhone 15 and the M1 chip present in iPads dating back to 2021. While the iPhone 15 from late-2023 can't run Apple Intelligence, the three-year old iPad Pro can, and it's less to do with overall computing power, known as TOPS, as it is about memory. 

Kuo states the obvious distinction between the two is the on-device DRAM (dynamic random access memory) — that's the key part.

iPhone 15 Pro Max in blue

(Image credit: Future)

For reference, the computing power of the M1 chip is around 11 TOPS, while the A16 chip runs around 17 TOPS. Meanwhile, the iPhone 15’s A16 chip has 6GB of DRAM, compared to the 8GB in the M1 chip and the A17 Pro chip found in the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. 

As such, we can speculate that Apple Intelligence must require around 2GB of spare memory to function, which is an issue considering Apple’s general lack of on-device DRAM for its phones. 

While it is common to see Android phones with DRAM options as high as 16GB, and even as high as 24GB (that'd be the recent Asus ROG Phone 8 Pro), Apple has offered fewer DRAM options in their devices, with most not exceeding 6GB. However, we will likely start to see this change and there are rumors that the iPhone 16 will have higher DRAM across the board, which is more likely considering this 2GB requirement to use Apple Intelligence.

There is the obvious argument that Apple has deliberately levied this 2GB requirement to push consumers into upgrading their phones. However, another mindset is that Apple has focused on offering the best product it can, and with that comes certain limitations. We'll know for sure over the next few months as we start to dig further into Apple Intelligence.

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Staff Writer

Josh is a staff writer for Tom's Guide and is based in the UK. He has worked for several publications but now works primarily on mobile phones. Outside of phones, he has a passion for video games, novels, and Warhammer. 

  • horrido
    I am pissed at Apple. I spent CAN$1,129 on my iPhone 15 just 8 frickin' months ago and it's already frickin' obsolete???

    At the very least, Apple should provide over-the-air AI functionality in addition to on-device AI. It may be slightly slower but at least my iPhone wouldn't be frickin' bricked.

    Apple should be able to optimize the AI codebase to work better in 6GB of memory. Hopefully, they will do that after the software comes out of beta.

    I resent being forced to upgrade my phone just to get AI. Normally, I don't upgrade my devices for at least 5 years. CAN$1,129 is not chump change and I won't take a loss in resale. Hey, Apple, I'm not exactly made of money!
    If Apple doesn't make me a happy camper in the near future, I will abandon the Apple ecosystem. I will not be treated so shabbily.