Apple iPhone AI: How the company is boosting its next iPhones with AI

Apple is not very vocal about its artificial intelligence plans, but it is quietly increasing its AI capabilities. The company has been making a series of moves, such as acquisitions, hires, and hardware updates, that are aimed at bringing AI to its next generation of iPhones and other devices.

According to industry data and academic papers, as well as insights from tech insiders, Apple has focused most of its attention on solving the technological challenge of running AI on mobile devices. This would enable AI chatbots and apps to run on the device’s hardware and software, rather than relying on cloud services in data centers.

Apple iPhone AI: What has the company done so far?

Apple has been more active than its rival Big Tech companies in buying AI startups, acquiring 21 since the beginning of 2017, according to research from PitchBook. The most recent of those acquisitions was its purchase in early 2023 of California-based startup WaveOne, which offers AI-powered video compression.

“They are getting ready to do some significant M&A,” said Daniel Ives at Wedbush Securities. “I’d be shocked if they don’t do a sizable AI deal this year, because there’s an AI arms race going on, and Apple is not going to be on the outside looking in.”

Apple has also been hiring AI experts, such as Google’s top AI executive, John Giannandrea, who joined the company in 2018. According to a recent research note from Morgan Stanley, almost half of Apple’s AI job postings now include the term “Deep Learning”, which refers to the algorithms powering generative AI – models that can produce humanlike text, audio, and code in seconds.

Apple has been typically secretive about its AI plans, even as Big Tech rivals, such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, boast about their multibillion-dollar investments in cutting-edge technology. However, according to industry insiders, Apple is working on its large language models (LLMs) – the technology that powers generative AI products, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Chief executive Tim Cook told analysts last summer that the company “has been doing research across a wide range of AI technologies” and investing and innovating “responsibly” when it comes to the new technology.

apple iphone ai

Apple iPhone AI: What is the company’s goal?

 Apple’s goal seems to be operating generative AI on mobile devices, which would give users more privacy, speed, and convenience. This, however, requires reducing the size of the LLMs that power AI, as well as developing higher-performance processors.

Other device makers have moved faster than Apple, with both Samsung and Google releasing new devices that claim to run generative AI features on the phone. Apple, however, is expected to catch up soon, with its latest operating system, iOS 18, which is likely to be revealed at its Worldwide Developers Conference, usually held in June. Morgan Stanley analysts expect the mobile software will be geared toward enabling generative AI and could include its voice assistant, Siri, being powered by an LLM.

“They tend to hang back and wait until there is a confluence of technology, and they can offer one of the finest representations of that technology,” said Igor Jablokov, chief executive of AI enterprise group Pryon and founder of Yap, a voice recognition company acquired by Amazon in 2011 to feed into its Alexa and Echo products.

Apple iPhone AI: What are the company’s new chips and software? 

Apple has also unveiled new chips, which have greater capabilities to run generative AI. The company said its M3 Max processor for the MacBook, revealed in October, “unlocks workflows previously not possible on a laptop,” such as AI developers working with billions of data parameters.

The S9 chip for new versions of the Apple Watch, unveiled in September, allows Siri to access and log data without connecting to the Internet. The A17 Pro chip in the iPhone 15, also announced at the same time, has a neural engine that the company says is twice as fast as previous generations.

“As far as the chips in their devices, they are being more and more geared towards AI going forward from a design and architecture standpoint,” said Dylan Patel, an analyst at semiconductor consulting firm SemiAnalysis.

Apple researchers published a paper in December announcing that they had made a breakthrough in running LLMs on-device by using Flash memory, meaning queries can be processed faster, even offline.

In October, it released an open-source LLM in partnership with Columbia University. “Ferret” is at present limited to research purposes and in effect acts as a second pair of eyes, telling the user what they are looking at, including specific objects within the image.

“One of the problems of an LLM is that the only way of experiencing the world is through text,” said Amanda Stent, director of the Davis Institute for AI at Colby College. “That’s what makes Ferret so exciting: you can start to connect the language to the real world.” At this stage, however, the cost of running a single “inference” query of this kind would be huge, Stent said.

Such technology could be used, for example, as a virtual assistant that can tell the user what brand of shirt someone is wearing on a video call, and then order it through an app.

Apple iPhone AI: What are the implications and challenges? 

Apple iPhone AI is a promising strategy that can open up new possibilities for video generation and editing, but it is not without implications and challenges. The company is facing competition from other tech giants, such as Microsoft, which recently overtook Apple as the world’s most valuable listed company, with investors excited by the software group’s moves in AI.

Still, Bank of America analysts last week upgraded their rating on Apple stock. Among other things, they cited expectations that the upgrade cycle for iPhones will be boosted by demand for new generative AI features to appear this year and in 2025.

Laura Martin, a senior analyst at Needham, the investment bank, said the company’s AI strategy would be “for the benefit of their Apple ecosystem and to protect their installed base.”

She added: “Apple doesn’t want to be in the business of what Google and Amazon want to do, which is to be the backbone of all American businesses that build apps on large language models.”

Apple iPhone AI also raises ethical and social issues, such as the potential misuse of the technology for creating fake or harmful videos, or the impact of the technology on human communication and creativity.

The company has been typically secretive about its AI plans, but it is quietly increasing its AI capabilities. The company has been making a series of moves, such as acquisitions, hires, and hardware updates, that are aimed at bringing AI to its next generation of iPhones and other devices.