Apple's AI Ambitions Emerge Ahead of iPad Event

The next Apple event is upon us—kicking off at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday—and while the focus is typically on the latest and greatest hardware, investors and consumers alike are meanwhile hoping to learn more about whether and how the tech titan plans to take a bold step into harnessing artificial intelligence.

The secretive, Cupertino-based company has telegraphed nothing, although late leaks have confirmed what the event logo telegraphed when it was first unveiled last month: new iPads are coming, according to famed Apple reporter Mark Gurman. While there will undoubtedly be new features and apps announced to take advantage of the upgraded specs, industry watchers will likely have to wait until next month for solid AI news.

June will bring the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where AI is expected to be integrated across the Apple ecosystem.

Most tantalizingly, Gurman suggests that Apple plans to replace or enhance Siri with a generative AI model through a partnership with OpenAI or Google. Following similar moves by Microsoft, Apple is also reportedly planning to add AI-powered summarization and autocomplete features to its Pages, Numbers, and Keynote applications.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s software development Xcode tool will likely get AI features to keep up with Microsoft Copilot and Github Copilot. Generative AI chatbots will help handle AppleCare services. Even Apple Music is expected to get an AI upgrade, allowing the platform to create personalized Spotify-like playlists.

Meanwhile, Apple Insider claims the native iPhone web browser Safari will also get an AI upgrade, including an advanced content blocking tool called Web Eraser. The Apple-centric media outlet also says the company is working on an AI-powered visual search feature.

Apple’s latest quarterly earnings call, held last week, included talk of AI, with Apple CEO Tim Cook saying it has saved lives via the Apple Watch.

“We’re harnessing AI and machine-learning to power lifesaving features like a regular rhythm notifications and fall detection,” he said. “We see Generative AI as a very key opportunity across our products, and we believe that we have advantages that set us apart there.”

He went as far as saying the company’s current MacBook Air laptop is “the best consumer laptop for AI.”

When pressed to explain whether AI would become a major factor in consumer purchasing decisions, when software upgrades don’t usually generate the same buzz that new hardware does, Cook demurred.

“I don’t want to get in front of our announcements, obviously,” he said. “We’ll be talking more about it as we go through the weeks ahead.”

While Apple has not been as visible in the global AI arms race as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, the company says it has been working with the emerging technology for years.

“We’ve been doing research across a wide range of AI technologies, including generative AI, for years,” Cook told Reuters in August. “We’re going to continue investing and innovating and responsibly advancing our products with these technologies to help enrich people’s lives.”

In November, speaking to singer Dua Lipa on the At Your Service podcast, Apple CEO Tim Cook emphasized that AI needs to be developed with safety in mind.

“What is needed with this new form of AI, generative AI, is some rules of the road and some regulation around this,” Cook said. “I think many governments around the world are now focused on this and focused on how to do it, and we’re trying to help with that. And we’re one of the first ones that say this is needed, that some regulation is as needed.”

In December, Apple launched MLX, an open-source framework for machine learning on its M-series CPUs, entering a field traditionally dominated by Linux and Microsoft.

In February, Apple teamed with the University of California Santa Barbara to develop its Multimodal Large-Language Model-Guided Image Editing (MGIE) software, an AI model that can edit images based on natural language.

And just last month, in a bid to challenge Microsoft’s Phi-3, Apple released a series of small AI language models, known as OpenELM, in 270 million, 450 million, 1.1 billion, and 3 billion parameter versions.

Apple’s push into AI has not gone unnoticed by regulators like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, calling the anti-trust lawsuit against Google critical, highlighting potential deals with Apple.

“Google controls 90% of the search engine market, paying billions to Apple to be the default web browser,” Warren wrote on Twitter. “What’s next? Google’s in talks to embed its AI tools in iPhones.”

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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