Will Apple enter the Generative AI race? All eyes are on WWDC

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the term “Generative AI” at least a handful of times, perhaps thanks to the wildly popular ChatGPT service. The success of the AI-powered chatbot has not only shone a spotlight on OpenAI, the creator behind it, but it has also catalyzed an AI arms race in the tech sector, one from which Apple has been conspicuously absent.

In May, Google has been making a flurry of announcements related to AI at its annual developer conference, including a new version of AI-powered search and Bard, its AI-powered chatbot, launching worldwide. It’s not just Google. Before that, Microsoft integrated generative AI into its suite of established productivity apps like Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook, in a move that’s changing the way more than a billion people work. In February, Meta released its sophisticated AI model, which has many of the same features as ChatGPT and Bard, as open source software for public use.

But what about Apple?

The short answer: Even if AI technology is by no means new to Apple, the iPhone maker still remains at least publicly absent from the current generative AI gold rush.

“We are in the heart of the generative AI hype cycle and there are major new developments weekly,” Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart told CNET. “Apple can afford to be deliberate in how it applies new technologies to fit its ecosystem.”

GPT Chat on iPhone

OpenAI recently released a ChatGPT app for iPhone. The new app, which is free, gives you a way to take OpenAI’s AI chatbot on the go.

Teodoro Liggians/CNET

Apple’s wait-and-see approach

Apple has typically taken a wait-and-see approach to emerging technology, and that’s often worked for the tech giant. For example, the iPad wasn’t the first tablet ever, but for many, including CNET editors, it’s the best tablet. A more recent example from a hardware perspective are foldable phones. Apple is the only major resistance, with Google beating them to the punch. The search giant launched its inaugural foldable phone, the Pixel Fold, at its developer conference in May and hasn’t been making phones for as long as Apple. There are rumors, however, that a foldable iPhone, perhaps known as the iPhone Flip, could hit the market in 2025.

Based on CEO Tim Cook’s remarks, it appears Apple is taking a similar approach with generative AI. “I think it’s very important to be deliberate and thoughtful in how you approach these things,” Cook said in response to a question about generative AI on Apple’s earnings call in May. “And there’s a number of issues that need to be resolved that AI is being talked about in different places. But the potential is certainly very exciting.”

However, with rapidly developing AI technology, Apple could risk falling far behind its rivals. For all of Apple’s corporate success, it has lagged behind in specific categories. For example, its HomePod smart speaker didn’t hit the market until years after the Amazon Echo and Google Home, which have a much higher market share than Apple in the smart speaker category.

When it comes to AI, Apple isn’t alone in taking a cautious approach. It also comes from the tech’s own proponents, including OpenAI founder and CEO Sam Altman, who have concerns ranging from election misinformation to mass job displacement.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks at a Microsoft Bing press event

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman describes Microsoft’s AI partnership at a Bing search engine press event.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Speaking before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, Altman said he was “eager” to see artificial intelligence regulated. He also spoke about the promise of artificial intelligence and discussed its potential harms. “If this technology goes bad, it can go very bad,” he said.

Altman’s comments followed calls by a group of AI researchers and technology leaders, including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, to halt development of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4 due to concerns about the risks fleeing without sufficient protective barriers. Geoffrey Hinton, credited as the “godfather of AI,” resigned from Google in May so he could freely share his concerns about the technology he helped create, which he says could cause great harm to the world.

Does Generative AI fit Apple’s business?

While Apple hasn’t publicly jumped into the fight against generative AI, a recent report from 9to5Mac said the iPhone maker is working on an update to Siri, one that could improve the virtual assistant’s conversational capabilities via AI concepts. similar to ChatGPT. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

While Apple hasn’t publicly discussed any plans for AI-powered generative products, Cook did discuss the company’s focus on AI during its May earnings call. He mentioned AI-powered features like fall and crash detection, both of which are available on the latest iPhones and Apple Watches.

“We consider AI to be huge,” he said. “We will continue to build that into our products on a very thoughtful basis.”

Artificial intelligence is far from a brand new concept for Apple. Siri, which was released 12 years ago, uses speech recognition and machine learning to understand a question and provide an answer. Over the past few months, Apple has been rolling out camera enhancements like photo styles and the ability to cut and paste a subject from an image, both of which depend on AI.

In addition, Apple’s Macs and MacBooks, which now run on Apple-designed M1 and M2 chips, have dedicated neural engines with 16 cores, targeted at AI and machine learning tasks. Apple claims AI performance is 40% faster than its older Intel chips.

“You can expect AI performance to become increasingly important as more developers figure this out,” wrote CNET’s Stephen Shankland in a January article detailing Apple’s M2 chipset.

But as Greengart points out, it would make sense for Apple to bring the technology to certain products that go beyond Siri and its current AI-powered offerings.

“Apple loves to position itself at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts,” Greengart told CNET in an email. “Generative AI would be a perfect fit for Apple-provided tools and software for artistic and personal expression; this could include everything from GarageBand to photo editing to email on iPhone, iPad and Mac.”

However, a chatbot in the vein of OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google’s Bard probably isn’t in Apple’s books. The technology behind these chatbots, known as large language models, has a high resource requirement for development. This means significant investments in the form of computer resources, human talent and power, making it a possibility for large enterprises with vast resources. While Apple presumably has these assets, it will need to be a worthwhile investment for the iPhone maker.

All eyes on WWDC

After Google devoted a significant amount of airtime to generative AI during this month’s conference, all eyes are on Apple and what it may reveal at the Worldwide Developers Conference on June 5th. Apple executives could offer more clues about how the iPhone maker views the AI ​​generation and how it fits into the broader business. At WWDC, Apple typically introduces new software for iPhones, Apple Watches, iPads, and so on, and it’s possible Apple could incorporate more AI into those updates.

Ahead of the conference, Apple previewed a number of accessibility software features that are expected to reach its upcoming iOS 17 mobile operating system. One of the notable drops is called Personal Voice. It uses on-device machine learning to enable users at risk of speech loss to replicate a voice after approximately 15 minutes of training. The phone can then speak aloud typed phrases and is compatible with FaceTime and phone calls in a feature that could be a form of voice-generative AI.

More likely to be the focus, however, is Apple’s highly anticipated mixed reality headset, which would mark the company’s first entry into a new hardware category since 2015. According to a January Bloomberg report, it will cost around $3,000, which runs on the latest Apple Chipset M2, boasts eye and hand tracking systems and features a Digital Crown that allows users to switch between AR and VR modes. It’s also likely that Apple will take advantage of the rapidly developing AI technology for its latest device as well, even if it doesn’t get explicit mention.

“We have to keep in mind that generative AI is not just about generating text, but other types of content like graphics as well,” Will Wong, of market researcher International Data, told CNET. “As such, it will be a favorable area for Apple to look into, especially if there is an AR/VR headset coming into its product portfolio.”

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