HomeAutomation/AIApple seeks to up the ante with AI announcements

    Apple seeks to up the ante with AI announcements


    Tim Cook updates the faithful at its annual bash for developers – what does it mean for telecoms? Is Apple really running behind the bus?

    The launch of the iPhone had a profound effect on the telecoms industry. The combo of Apple’s devices and AI has generated huge amount of anticipation, criticism and speculation.

    Apple is perceived to be playing catch up on AI, hence the CEO’s address at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2024 was much anticipated and somewhat unexpected. So the big news is a new, personalised AI system to be known as Apple Intelligence which is intended to make it easier for users to navigate Apple’s devices.

    Apple’s own generative AI (GenAI) models – built and trained by Apple – got star billing under the umbrella of Apple Intelligence but new versions of the iPhone and Mac’s operating systems* will allow access to ChatGPT through an agreement with its developer OpenAI, acting as a gatekeeper, for when more smarts than Apple can offer is needed. Although, obviously, Apple didn’t put it quite like that.

    So ChatGPT can be added to other tools too, such as for text and content generation which no doubt will make for ever more intrusive illiterate and biased suggestions. Expect the test version in autumn.

    What does it mean to me?

    The telecoms lobby lost no time in figuring out what the announcements mean for the sector – in short, a lot more traffic and processing power.

    Jurgen Hatheier, International CTO at Ciena commented, “We have seen millions of users gravitating to ChatGPT since its release but only approximately 14% are using it regularly. Providing easy access to AI assistants is a vital step in creating broader adoption. Google recently replaced its traditional assistant on its phones with Google Gemini, while Apple has taken a different approach by bringing ChatGPT to its handsets. 

    “This move will also bring massive demand to communication service provider networks and AI inference sites, be it on device, on-premise, at the network edge or in a metro data centre. As a result, service providers are investing to upgrade and fortify their networks and connect the data centre sites that process all of this data, to ensure users can experience a reliable and positive AI experience.”

    Cool reception

    CEO Tim Cook, promised that Apple Intelligence will raise products “to new heights” as he opened proceedings at WWDC at HQ in Cupertino, California. Irritated shareholders who have seen Apple overtaken by overtaken by arch-rival Microsoft then chipmaker NVIDIA as the world’s most valuable company earlier this year weren’t impressed. Apple’s share price fell almost 2% on Monday.

    [UPDATE: Right after publication of this post, Apple’s shares hit a record high and push the company’s market cap up past $3 trillion again]

    Clearly Apple’s premise that the first wave of GenAI was all about navigating the wider world, but it is perfectly placed to use GenAI to understand individuals – aka Apple users in an unprecedented way – is not gaining traction.

    Meanwhile Elon Musk has threatened to ban iPhones from his companies over data security concerns, claiming that Apple would have no control over what happens to users’ data once it passed into OpenAI’s hands.

    Power is nothing without control

    Apple prides itself on protecting its customers’ privacy (and its ecosystem) and was at pains to stress that some processing that involves Apple Intelligence will be done on the device itself. Bigger tasks, requiring more processing power, will be carried out in the cloud on servers owned and controlled by Apple. Furthermore, no data will be stored there.

    Also, before any of that off-device processing happens involving ChatGPT, Siri will prompt the user first, not move to the cloud automatically.

    Interestingly, the global face of GenAI and CEO of OpenAI, Sam Altman, was present at the announcement but he wasn’t invited to do a double-hander on stage with Tim. Apple was emphasised that OpenAI will just be one of several AI firms that Apple will partner.

    How long Apple can maintain the level of control that it is promising now on third-party GenAI remains to be seen. Whether its perceived failure to develop and train its own sufficiently good models does long term, serious damage remains to be seen.

    It has survived one near death experience and if you want proof a tech giant can reinvent itself, Microsoft, the former PC software firm that almost missed the internet, is a stunning example.

    *Oh yes, I almost forgot. ChatGPT will be integral to new versions of Apple’s operating system – iOS 18 for iPhones and iPads, and macOS Sequoia. Only more powerful devices will be able to run the features, such as the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max that have the A17 Pro chip. Only laptops and tablets that run on the M series of chips will be able to use Apple Intelligence.