Apple has been relatively absent from last year’s AI hype cycle, and Microsoft even briefly surpassed it as the most valuable company in the world. But don’t count out the iPhone maker as some analysts expect the move into AI will happen with iOS 18 at this summer’s Worldwide Developers Conference, according to the Financial Times on Wednesday.
Is This the End of Apple’s Lightning Cable?
Like the tortoise and the hare, Apple has proven to be the slow-moving winner of numerous technology races before AI. CEO Tim Cook likes to let competitors go first, and then Apple slides in with a sleek, optimized product (see Vision Pro). The slow and steady AI efforts from Apple will have enormous ripple effects, putting AI in the face of nearly 1.5 billion iPhone users when deployed. In preparation for this moment, Apple has bought out 21 AI startups since 2017, which is more than Microsoft and Google combined, according to the FT. The iPhone maker is pouring resources into what seems to be a huge AI announcement, and that could be in iOS 18.
Apple doesn’t like to talk about its AI projects, or even say the word, but it’s working on “machine learning” quite a bit in the shadows. The latest iPhones and Apple Watches are equipped with chips powerful enough to run on-device AI technology, according to CNBC.
It does appear that Apple is working on a new version of Siri powered by large language models, according to code found in the first beta of iOS 17.4 as reported by 9to5Mac Friday. The company is even using OpenAI’s ChatGPT API for internal testing to develop its own AI models. The code seems to include a new summarization framework for Siri, powered by AI technology.
Apple has also been exploring deals with news publishers to train its AI systems, which could allow it to avoid legal headaches that early innovators like OpenAI have run into. This is part of its strategy to learn from the mistakes of its rivals before it dives in head first.
The company also published a breakthrough research paper on running LLMs on-device using flash memory in December. Apple’s study concludes that this breakthrough will help democratize generative AI, “making it accessible to a wider array of individuals and devices.” Perhaps, that includes your iPhone or Macbook. If Apple has truly cracked running its generative AI systems on a local device, that would give it a significant leg up on competitors who are burning up cloud capacity with complex LLMs.
The real question is how will AI be integrated into iOS, and many are pointing to Siri to receive a gen AI turbo boost. ChatGPT’s voice features proved that today’s digital assistants could be a lot better, and now there’s a convincing case that they will. Amazon is reportedly working on an AI-powered version of Alexa, and Apple may have similar plans to give Siri a boost as well. I sure hope so, because right now, Siri can barely tell me the weather outside.