Apple’s AI opportunity is all about the big picture

Estimated read time 4 min read

We’ve seen two approaches to AI in mobile tech in this year: “AI That’s Not Your Phone” and “AI That Does Random Stuff on Your Phone.”

The “Not Your Phone” group includes devices like the Rabbit R1 and the Humane AI Pin, two small gadgets that sought to make AI more useful by building it into a smaller, simpler gadget. It hasn’t gone very well. Both devices came with big promises to help us get things done without looking at our phone screens. Neither delivered.

Now it’s time for Apple, like Google and Microsoft before it, to announce a whole bunch of AI features at its annual developer conference today. But the current state of AI on our phones is, well, unimpressive. “AI Doing Random Stuff on Your Phone” includes Google’s generative AI tools like Magic Editor, Samsung Galaxy AI, and that kind of thing. Right now, it’s a bunch of party tricks that vary in quality from “kinda helpful” to “doesn’t really work” to “oh, dear GOD, no.” It’s definitely not the bold new future of mobile computing we’ve been promised.

It’s Apple’s turn to make the case for AI as our daily assistant

The company that has come the closest to showing us an AI feature that might actually save us some time is Microsoft. At its developer conference last month, the company announced Recall for its new Copilot Plus PCs — a feature that takes screenshots every few seconds of whatever you’re doing on your computer so you can use AI to search for it later. I could use that, like, yesterday. But maybe it’s a good thing Recall isn’t more widely available yet; it sounds like there are some serious security concerns.

During its keynote today, it’ll be Apple’s turn to make the case for AI as our daily assistant — and the signals so far are encouraging. Some of the rumors sound like stuff we’ve heard before, like AI voice memo transcriptions and summaries, but the most recent reports point to features with “broad appeal.” Siri would be a sensible home for stuff like that, and all signs point to a big update for iOS’s virtual assistant. Most compelling of all, Siri might be able to do things on your phone for you. You know, the stuff virtual assistants have promised to do for the past decade.

Apple has a real balancing act to pull off to make this a reality, though. The company reportedly doesn’t have a blockbuster LLM of its own ready to announce, so it’ll probably call in a ringer: OpenAI. But public trust in that company isn’t exactly at an all-time high, and Apple will have to square its emphasis on privacy with the need to hand off data to the cloud. It might have some clever privacy solutions on hand, but it seems likely that the AI era might push Apple to rely more on third parties than it has historically preferred to.

As always, Apple comes to the table with a big advantage: control over both the software and hardware. In theory, that’s something that Google has with its Pixel phones, but there’s only so much it’s been able to do with Android since it needs to work for everyone else in the ecosystem, too. Google’s recent re-org suggests that it sees the advantage in hardware and software teams working closer together, but for better or worse, Apple has a big head start here. Even if new and improved Siri can only access Apple apps for you at first, that’s still a whole lot of apps that plenty of people use on a daily basis.

One thing is clear: Apple, the company that is “late” to AI, finds itself with an opening in the field wide enough to drive a truck through.

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