Tim Cook brings Apple’s GenAI plans into the light

Apple CEO Tim Cook turned speculation concerning his company’s future plans for generative AI into expectations, saying the company plans to announce new features before the end of 2024.

He confirmed that Apple is putting “tremendous amount of time and effort” into the effort, adding, “We’re excited to share the details of our ongoing work in that space later this year.”

Winners and losers

This is great news for Apple users who have wondered when Apple will rise to the genAI challenge. It’s concerning news for Apple’s competitors, who must now hope that the company’s implementation is weak in comparison to their own. It’s pleasing news for pundits and analysts who now know they have a few months during which they can speculate on what Apple will introduce and how it will be done.

As we’ve noted before, Apple pretty much always tells the truth, albeit through its own unique corporate filter. That’s why it is important to note that many of Apple’s AI revelations during this conversation emerged as Cook talked up the introduction of Vision Pro. This suggests there will be deepening links between whatever Apple comes up with in AI for its existing devices and its newest device.

What Cook said

“Without getting into more details and getting out in front of myself, in terms of generative AI, which I would guess is your focus, we have a lot of work going on internally as I’ve alluded to before…,” he said. “We’ve got some things that we’re incredibly excited about that we’ll be talking about later this year.

“Let me just say that I think there is a huge opportunity for Apple with gen AI and AI.”

Despite what you’ve read elsewhere, Apple is no slouch when it comes to applied machine intelligence. Kick its products around a while and you’ll find numerous tools and features that lean in heavily on the technology.

The only difference is that Apple hasn’t yet introduced its own take on genAI. On the strength of Cook’s words, that’s about to change.

So, what’s coming?

Late last year, Mark Gurman’s sources told him Apple was scrambling to bring this tech to market, spending $1 billion on the project and even building its own internal Apple GPT LLM (Large Language Model) engine. The project leaders included senior vice presidents John Giannandrea and Craig Federighi.

At that time, he claimed Apple would begin with a smarter Siri, following up by making the technology available across its product range over time. The big winner might be iOS, which Gurman has previously claimed Apple decided to “fill” with LLM features.

These will range from better auto-complete, playlist generation, and powerful new additions to the company’s creative and productivity apps, including (we’ve been told elsewhere) enabling Siri to automate complex tasks with Shortcuts integration.

To realize those ambitions, Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives believes Apple will make a sizeable acquisition this year. “There’s an AI arms race going on, and Apple is not going to be on the outside looking in,” he said.

Gurman now thinks the combination of GenAI features mean iOS 18 will be one of the most important iterations of Apple’s mobile operating system. “I’m told that the new operating system is seen within the company as one of the biggest iOS updates — if not the biggest — in the company’s history,” he wrote.

He may have a point: competitors including Google, Meta, and Microsoft are already on board, with Meta promising to bring “the most popular and most advanced AI products and services.” Microsoft has seen an 18% boost in revenue as a result of its extensive AI efforts.

Apple can deliver AI at scale

Apple already has the scale.

During its most recent fiscal call, the company confirmed an installed base in excess of more than 2.2 billion devices. With that kind of presence, whatever Cook does have up his sleeve is going to hit the market hard. And if it is indeed the kind of highly focused edge intelligence we think the company wants to bring into the light, then the impact on server-based LLM solutions will be immense.

Those tasty sluices of revenue and mind share could swiftly vanish if Apple gets this right.

But will it get this right? Only time – and several more months of disagreement, rumor, and speculation from the chattering classes – will tell. And whatever Apple plans to tell us at WWDC….

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Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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