Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Apple sets vision for unified AI strategy at developer conference

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Apple laid the foundation to bring artificial intelligence to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, sending a strong message to the industry that it is ready to head into a new era on its own terms. On Monday, the company showcased tools and features at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in Cupertino, California, demonstrating how it plans to capitalize on the AI boom and become a major player despite being a later entrant.

The artificial intelligence capabilities called “Apple Intelligence” are part of a new platform, with the company describing the technology as personalized, safe, and deeply integrated into the operating systems. CEO Tim Cook emphasized Apple’s push into AI while keeping both privacy and personalization in mind, moving “beyond artificial intelligence” into “personal intelligence.”

“This is the beginning of an exciting new chapter of personal intelligence built for your most personal products: your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Intelligence is grounded in the things that make you unique and is available to you system-wide, so you can get things done in the way that works for you,” said Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple.

In a two-hour-long presentation, Apple highlighted how it wants artificial intelligence to be a part of the core user experience, integrated into its most popular devices and apps. This involves weaving AI into the new versions of the operating systems powering the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, which were previewed at WWDC and are due for rollout later this year.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team of top executives spent a significant amount of time demonstrating what generative artificial intelligence can potentially do to simplify users’ daily lives. This includes things like summarizing notifications, text messages, and emails, creating custom emojis, and offering writing tools that can do proofreading. Apple also showcased a more powerful version of Siri, its voice-based digital assistant, which is now more conversational and can take actions on users’ behalf thanks to its integration within applications.

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These new AI capabilities embedded within the operating systems have been developed using in-house AI models or in partnership with OpenAI. Siri, for instance, is now being powered by ChatGPT, OpenAI’s AI chatbot. Apple has partnered with OpenAI to provide generative AI technology. For example, a user can ask to create a document or a story, and ChatGPT will generate it. Apple said its users will be able to access ChatGPT for free without creating an account, and requests for information will not be logged.

“You are in control of whenever ChatGPT is used,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.

Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO, was in attendance at the Apple event.

Apple is using a combined approach of on-device processing for some features and the cloud for more advanced tasks. While much of its new artificial intelligence functions can be done on devices like the iPhone and the Mac, it will also offer a private cloud for processing functions or queries that need more computing power.

Apple’s AI “architecture is built with privacy at its core,” said Craig Federighi. He emphasized that Apple’s systems will be aware of consumers’ personal data without collecting or storing any personal data. The company made it clear that it will not store user data, nor will that data be accessible to Apple, offering a new standard for AI privacy.

The company said the new AI tools will be available to users who have the iPhone 15 Pro models and people with Macs and iPads housing M1 chips or later versions of Apple’s custom silicon.

“Apple is focusing on security and privacy as a key part of its AI pitch,” said Ben Wood, Chief Analyst and CMO at London-based CCS Insight.

The shift to artificial intelligence proves to be a turning point for Apple, which needed the next big thing to create interest in its products and services. Though many of the AI features that Apple showcased at the event aren’t advanced, they will move the AI story forward and give Cupertino the visibility it needs to catch up to its rivals and respond to the AI frenzy sweeping the technology industry.

Wood agrees that the big story at the developer conference is how Apple has been able to communicate its new AI-powered features. “Apple’s strength in storytelling may leave consumers with the impression that Apple has created these ‘new’ capabilities rather than just catching up with Samsung and others,” he said.

But Apple has one big advantage over the competition: a large, loyal user base and the brand pull to mainstream AI. This means that even if the new AI features aren’t “breakthrough” by the industry’s standards, Apple could still become a major player in AI just by rolling out those AI-led features to existing iPhones and Macs.

“Apple’s AI announcements are the beginning of Apple’s answer and will represent Apple’s first salvo in many battles over the future of AI,” said Anshel Sag, Principal Analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

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