For the past year or two, the world has watched as a string of incredible artificial intelligence (AI) tools have appeared, and everyone has been wondering one thing: when will Apple join the party? Now, we finally have an answer.
On a recent earnings call (via The Verge), Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that AI tools are coming to the company’s devices as soon as “later this year.” Cook then added that “I think there’s a huge opportunity for Apple with generative AI.” While the Apple chief didn’t reveal any specifics, the small amount he did discuss has already been enough to get tongues wagging and for speculation to run riot.
It’s no surprise that Apple is working on generative AI tools – Cook admitted as much back in August 2023, when he explained that Apple has been developing its own generative AI “for years.” But the latest admission is the first time we’ve seen anyone put a launch date on things, even if it is a very rough date.
Given that this is a software update (and a big one at that), it seems likely that Apple has is its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in mind. The company will use this June event to unveil its upcoming operating systems and software upgrades (like iOS 18). And with its audience mostly comprised of developers, it makes sense for Apple to tease something like generative AI that could give devs a new tool in their iOS arsenal.
As well as that, industry analyst Jeff Pu has previously claimed that iOS 18 will be one of Apple’s biggest software updates ever precisely because of its inclusion of generative AI, so Cook’s statements seem to confirm Pu’s claim. That means there could be a lot to look forward to at WWDC – and some big new features coming to your iPhone.
What's en route?
The most likely upgrade that Cook is referring to is a rebooted version of Apple's Siri voice assistant. Bloomberg's reliable Apple commentator Mark Gurman recently predicted that iOS 18 will be “one of the biggest iOS updates – if not the biggest – in the company's history” and that this will be largely tied to a “big upgrade to Siri”.
According to another respected leaker Revegnus, Apple is building a proprietary LLM (large language model) to “completely revamp Siri into the ultimate virtual assistant”. It's about time – while Siri was impressive when it landed over a decade ago, it's since plateaued. So we can expect a much more conversational, and powerful, voice assistant by the end of 2024.
But what else might benefit from the generative AI that Apple's been working on? Messages, Apple Music and Pages are all expected to receive significant AI-based improvements later this year, with some of Apple's rivals recently giving us hints of what to expect. Google Messages will soon get added Bard powers for texting help, while Spotify has already shown that the future of streaming is AI-powered DJs.
Lastly, there's photography and video, but it seems likely that Apple will tread more carefully than Samsung and Google here. The Galaxy S24 cameras are all about AI skills, which are something of a mixed bag. While Instant Slow-Mo (which generates extra frames of video to turn standard 4K/60p video into slow motion clips) is very clever and useful, Generative Edit opens the floodgates to digital fakery (even with its watermarks).
It'll be fascinating to see how Apple treads this line across all aspects of the iPhone. But one other key iPhone feature, privacy, could also put the brakes on Apple getting too carried away with generative AI…
Why Apple is taking its time
Apple has been consistently criticized for not launching its own generative AI, especially as arch-rival Microsoft has been so decisive in spreading its Copilot AI to almost every aspect of Windows and its own apps.
But there’s a likely reason for Apple’s sluggishness, and it comes down to user privacy. Apple takes a strong stance on this, and often touts its devices’ privacy-protecting capabilities as one of their main benefits. AI tools are known to sweep up user data and have been known for their privacy compromises, so it’s no surprise that Apple has taken its time here, presumably to ensure its AI is as pro-privacy as possible.
As well as that, Apple doesn’t usually rush into a new market before it is ready, instead preferring to wait a little longer before blowing its rivals away with something it thinks is far superior. We saw that with the original iPhone, for example, and also with the Apple Vision Pro, and it seems that generative AI is just the latest thing to get this treatment from Apple.
Whether Apple’s own AI actually is better than the likes of ChatGPT and Copilot remains to be seen, but it looks like we’ll find out sooner rather than later.