Apple’s AI Strategy: Personal, Private and Made ‘for the Rest of Us’

Apple unveiled its AI strategy at WWDC, showing a revamped Siri and introducing Apple Intelligence.
"The AI Economy," a newsletter exploring AI's impact on business, work, society and tech.
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The news AI watchers have been waiting for has arrived: Apple has revealed its technology strategy. But while its rivals have taken to the spotlight to unveil model after model and how they’re baking it into every one of their products, the iPhone maker seems to be taking a different approach, positioning it as “AI for the rest of us, personal intelligence you can rely on at work, home, and everywhere in-between.”

Dive deeper into how Apple’s AI play differs from other Big Tech players in this week’s issue of “The AI Economy.” Plus, learn why security concerns have forced Microsoft to delay the release of a controversial and major piece of its Copilot+ PC.

Apple AI is a Feature, Not a Product

The five aspects of Apple Intelligence.
The five aspects of Apple Intelligence.

Admittedly, it took me a while to understand what was happening when I watched the opening keynote for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. Unlike Google I/O and Microsoft Build, there was only one mention of “artificial intelligence” in the first minutes of the presentation, and I doubt it was uttered more than 120 times in total. For certain, the approach to AI was markedly different from Apple’s peers.

Perhaps what best sums it all up is a tweet by Jessica Lessin, The Information’s CEO and founder, in which she remarks that Apple is pitching AI more as a feature, not a product. Unlike Microsoft, which has productized Copilot and infused it into everything, or Google, which is pushing to have its Gemini models power the world, Apple is putting it in the background and doing what it typically does: Focus on the user experience and leverage AI to improve it.

Further contrasting its AI approach from its competitors, Apple is showing the technology’s practicality in our everyday life in ways that perhaps the average person can relate to—and on a mobile device! The company has opted not to kick its virtual assistant to the curb, unlike Microsoft, Google and Amazon. As reported, the OG of its era is getting new life, empowered with more capabilities and intelligence that some may have hoped it could have had years ago when it first came to the iPhone.

With richer language-understanding capabilities, Siri is more natural, more contextually relevant, and more personal, with the ability to simplify and accelerate everyday tasks. It can follow along if users stumble over words and maintain context from one request to the next. Additionally, users can type to Siri, and switch between text and voice to communicate with Siri in whatever way feels right for the moment. Siri also has a brand-new design with an elegant glowing light that wraps around the edge of the screen when Siri is active.

Generative AI has been around for more than a year, and its effect on convenience and productivity is apparent. But companies differ in terms of where they put their emphasis: Is the AI the star of the show, or should we celebrate the software that is getting elevated because of the AI? To me, Apple falls into the latter, while everyone else is the former. Apple is prioritizing its apps that are designed to solve problems over its AI work. And in doing so, it’s helping educate Apple customers, easing any fears they may have about the technology and not needlessly throwing it in their faces.

Apple is also continuing to play up its privacy-first approach and this could also help make customers feel more comfortable when they use their new iPhone, iPad, or Mac. After all, it’s only a matter of time before Apple Intelligence becomes available and there’s no escaping it. People may be worried about how their data is being used to train Apple’s models or be used externally. To counter those claims, Apple is taking what seems to be a novel approach: Using on-device models.

Why is this novel? While there are models from Google, Microsoft, and others designed for on-device, Apple is perhaps the first to actually implement this. The majority of Apple Intelligence’s functionality will be run on whatever iOS, iPadOS, or MacOS device you have. However, in some instances involving complex prompts, Apple will turn to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Requests run in the cloud will be processed on servers Apple has branded Private Cloud Compute. These are Apple Silicon-powered servers the company is deploying across the U.S. that “allow Apple Intelligence to flex and scale its computation capability, and draw on even larger, server-based models for more complex requests while protecting your privacy.”

So, while Apple’s keynote may seem “meh” to some (it was for me at some parts), the company did paint a different picture compared to the rest of Silicon Valley. It’s something it’s very good at, showing the personal appeal of its new services and making its subtle pitch to developers on how they can adapt their apps and services for new AI-powered Apple devices. It was a good step forward, but as AI innovation accelerates, how will Apple’s strategy scale? Will it continue to take a Jobsian approach versus putting its foot on the pedal to keep up with the rest of the industry?

Further Reading:

Microsoft Recalls Recall Before Launch

Microsoft's Windows chief Pavan Davuluri speaks at the company's Recall AI feature at its Copilot+ PC event on May 20, 2024. Image credit: Ken Yeung
Microsoft’s Windows chief Pavan Davuluri speaks at the company’s Recall AI feature at its Copilot+ PC event on May 20, 2024. Image credit: Ken Yeung

Microsoft led the charge in ushering in the AI PC era with its Copilot+ PC announcement. But when the first supported devices hit store shelves next week, they’ll be without one of the more controversial features—at least for now.

If used as originally designed, Recall would use local AI models to help it continuously take screenshots of what you’re doing on your device. That information could then be used to help you search and retrieve documents, files, photos, videos, apps, and any other bits of data you’re looking for.

Facing criticism from those who basically accused Microsoft of installing “spyware,” the company first tried to smooth things by making Recall opt-in. But that didn’t seem to satisfy privacy advocates and security experts, which is leading Microsoft to delay the broad release of Recall. Instead, those participating in the Windows Insider Program will have initial access to this AI tool.

It’s the right move for Microsoft, which spent the days after its Copilot+ PC convincing the media and the public that its Recall was secure and non-invasive. But now, it’s forced to reverse course and find ways to build a better proverbial mouse trap. The (a-hem) recall is a blemish on what I’m certain Microsoft hoped would be a celebratory event on June 18. As a result, Copilot+ PC doesn’t have one of the core features that Microsoft hoped would show how AI could run locally on these computers.

However, could this be a bellwether for future AI PCs? Does the scrutiny Microsoft faces now foreshadow similar issues manufacturers have to deal with? And how will this stumbling block impact sales of AI PCs, which Gartner predicts will top 295 million units worldwide this year?

Today’s Visual Snapshot

How ecommerce marketers are using AI worldwide, as of February 2024. Image credit: eMarketer
How ecommerce marketers are using AI worldwide, as of February 2024. Image credit: eMarketer

I often hear how knowledge workers in corporate roles are generically using AI to boost their productivity. So, I was fascinated to see this visual chart produced by eMarketer outlining how marketers are using the technology to sell products online. Unsurprisingly, AI is used to address customer service issues and generate images. In fact, many of the listed tasks seem to be commonplace use cases for AI.

However, it’s important to note that this is a snapshot in time. Klaviyo and Qualtrics, the source of this data, have queried this for February 2024, so as AI innovation continues, not only will these percentages change, but the tasks themselves could evolve. Also noteworthy: This survey includes only e-commerce marketers from Australia, France, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S.

▶️ See the eMarketer report

Quote This

We wanted to establish an entirely different bar. So we viewed it as foundational, and as a prerequisite to how we offered personal intelligence, that your personal information remained entirely yours and under your control. And no one, not even Apple, would have any visibility onto that information, even if our data center was processing your request.

— Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, on how the company made privacy a key part of Apple Intelligence’s friendly, personalized experience (Fast Company)

Can’t Miss Event

VentureBeat’s flagship conference is coming up.

You’re invited to attend VB Transform 2024 in San Francisco, California, from July 9 to 11. There’s an incredible lineup of speakers and engaging topics. Plus, you’ll have plenty of top-tier networking opportunities.

Scheduled to speak are OpenAI’s Head of Product, API Olivier Godement; Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for AI at Work Jared Spataro; Perplexity CEO Aravind Srinivas; Groq CEO Jonathan Ross; Google Cloud’s Global Head of Regulated Industries Zac Maufe; Nvidia’s Vice President of AI Models, Software and Services Kari Briski; Walmart’s Vice President of Emerging Technology Desirée Gosby; Wayfair’s Chief Technology Officer Fionna Tan; and more.

This is a great event for enterprise executives interested in learning about practical generative AI case studies and applications directly from industry leaders

▶️ Register here

This Week’s AI News

🏭 Industry Insights

🤖 General Artificial Intelligence

✏️ Generative AI

☁️ Enterprise

⚙️ Hardware

🔬 Science and Breakthroughs

💼 Business and Marketing

📺 Media and Entertainment

💰 Funding

⚖️ Copyright and Regulatory Issues

💥 Disruption and Misinformation

End Output

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