Apple announces new focus on AI with launch of Apple Intelligence

At the 2024 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the company’s shift towards generative artificial intelligence (AI) with the introduction of “Apple Intelligence” and a new partnership with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT. This development is seen as a significant move for Apple, which has faced criticism for lagging behind competitors in AI integration.

“Apple Intelligence” aims to provide a highly personalised experience across Apple devices, including Mac laptops, iPads, and iPhones. The new AI system will integrate with operating systems and applications, offering features such as summarising notifications, emails, and texts, and connecting information across different apps.

A key standout feature is the updated Siri, which now incorporates ChatGPT technology, allowing for more natural, contextually relevant, and personalized interactions. Siri will also be capable of functioning as an AI chatbot, accepting written instructions, and taking actions within apps based on voice prompts.

images courtesy of Apple

An Apple executive demonstrated practical applications, such as Siri identifying specific contacts from emails or summarizing group chat messages about trip planning. New tools also include an image generation feature for creating unique emojis and an “Image Playground” for producing complex visuals.

The conference also revealed updates to the Vision Pro headset, set to launch in multiple countries beyond the US, and incremental updates to various Apple services, including improved messaging protocols and new customisation options for iMessage.

Apple’s recent AI push comes amid declining global sales and a perceived lag behind competitors like Google and Microsoft, who have aggressively integrated AI into their core services. The partnership with OpenAI and the introduction of AI-driven features are part of Apple’s response to growing investor and analyst pressure to innovate in this space.

Despite the potential privacy concerns associated with AI, Apple emphasised its commitment to user privacy. The company assured that most AI processing would occur on-device through a new “private cloud compute” system to safeguard personal data.

During the keynote, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering, highlighted that most of the new AI features were developed in-house, with the OpenAI partnership focusing primarily on search functions and enhanced writing tools. Users will need to opt-in before using external AI models like ChatGPT.

Why is this important?

Apple is perceived as being late to the AI party, and it certainly has misstepped trends with its, now cancelled, electric vehicle project. Still, its continuing investment in AI startups and its relationship with OpenAI marks a significant pivot for Apple and no doubt this will be just the first of many new AI-related announcements.

While some critics, including Elon Musk, expressed privacy concerns over the ChatGPT integration, Cook reassured that Apple would set a new standard for privacy in AI. The company plans to publish a paper detailing their responsible use of AI.

Apple’s strategic shift in balancing privacy with the need for cloud-based AI solutions, is a move reflecting a broader industry trend seen with competitors like Microsoft and Google. Apple’s introduction of “Apple Intelligence” marks a crucial step in its AI journey, balancing innovation with its long-standing focus on privacy and security.

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