At Apple, AI stands for 'Apple Intelligence' - and it's coming to everything

WWDC At its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, CEO Tim Cook proclaimed from the roof of Apple's headquarters the arrival of "profound" intelligence capabilities in the iPhone giant's products.

Late to lard its products with what's charitably called "artificial intelligence," Apple would have the world believe it's merely fashionably cautious with "Apple Intelligence," machine learning that's grounded in personal data and privacy.

Apple has a history of taking ideas and refining them as platform products. Its Macintosh borrowed from innovations at Xerox PARC to commercialize the graphic interface, the iPod/iTunes combination transformed the MP3 player market and the selling of digital music, and its iPhone changed the way people think about mobile devices, computers, and the internet.

Similarly its ads build upon what's come before. Just as Cupertino's poorly received iPad Pro "Crushed" ad echoed LG 2008's ad for its KC910 Renoir phone, Apple's WWDC intro with skydiving execs recalls Google's slightly more impressive Project Glass skydiving stunt at Google I/O 2012.

The iCompany's approach to artificial intelligence follows a similar script, which is to say letting early market entrants like Microsoft make mistakes before coming out with a more polished approach.

"Apple Intelligence is the personal intelligence system that puts powerful generative models right at the core of your iPhone, iPad, and Mac," said Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering. "It draws on your personal context to give you intelligence that's most helpful and relevant for you. It protects your privacy at every step."

Apple's focus is on enabling specific AI functions in various applications. For example, iOS 18, iPadOS 18, and macOS Sequoia are all getting a framework called Writing Tools that allows users to use machine learning to Mail, Notes, Pages, and third-party apps for rewriting text, proofreading, and summarization.

The Mail app is finally getting Gmail-style message categorization that sorts missives into Primary, Transactions, Updates, and Promotions views, while highlighting Priority Messages - again using machine learning. Priority Notifications will also be flagged this way. And the Notes and Phone apps will let users record, transcribe, and summarize audio.

Apple Intelligence has also been applied to image generation, via Image Playground, an image generation service surfaced in apps like Messages and Notes to allow on-demand image creation. And in Photos, there's to be a Clean Up tool for removing unwanted elements from a photo.

Siri has been injected with Apple Intelligence too, making the venerable voice assistant service more aware of data across apps and better able to interact, it's claimed. As a signal of that broader scope, Siri activation on an iPhone shows a visual effect that frames the entire screen.

With Apple's pending software releases for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, Siri users can type commands as well as say them, and Siri should be able to follow along in either mode while maintaining context. Thus a query about weather in a location could be followed by a command to make an appointment "there" and Siri should infer that "there" means the location mentioned in the previous exchange. Siri will also be able to orchestrate hundreds of actions that span multiple apps, such as taking an image from the Photos app and adding it to an existing entry in the Notes app.

According to Federighi, "The cornerstone of the personal intelligence system is on-device processing. We have integrated it deep into your iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and throughout your apps, so it's aware of your personal data without collecting your personal data."

But since performance depends in part upon model size, and not all machine learning system can fit on a mobile device, Apple has made provisions for privacy-focused cloud-based models.

"We want to extend the privacy and security of your iPhone into the cloud to unlock even more intelligence for you," said Federighi. "So we have created Private Cloud Compute. Private Cloud Compute allows Apple Intelligence to flex and scale its computational capacity and draw on even larger server-based models for more complex requests while protecting your privacy."

Federighi said that when a user makes a request that utilizes an AI model, Apple Intelligence determines whether the request can be processed on-device and, if it can't, processes it privately on Cupertino's servers.

"Your data is never stored or made accessible to Apple," he said. "It's used exclusively to fulfill your request. And just like your iPhone, independent experts can inspect the code that runs on these servers to verify this privacy promise. In fact, Private Cloud Compute cryptographically ensures your iPhone, iPad, and Mac will refuse to talk to a server unless its software has been publicly logged for inspection."

Apple Intelligence is available in iOS 18, iPadOS 18, and macOS Sequoia at no cost, but according to Federighi, Apple intends to support other artificial intelligence tools, starting with OpenAI's ChatGPT.

"You'll be able to access ChatGPT for free without creating an account," explained Federighi. "Your requests and information will not be logged. And for ChatGPT subscribers, you'll be able to connect your account and access paid features right within our experiences."

Federighi said users will be asked before any information is shared and that support for other models is planned.

As WWDC is a developer conference, Federighi noted that developers will have access to Apple Intelligence capabilities through various updated SDKs and new APIs. "For example, developers can add the Image Playground experience to their app with just a few lines of code," he opined.

The expansion of the App Intents framework, for example, should make it easier to have Apple Intelligence services and associated capabilities like Siri handle automation tasks that span multiple apps.

"Unsurprisingly, as it enters the AI era Apple is dialing up its security credentials as a core pillar of Apple Intelligence. However, it won't escape people's attention that like rivals, it has had to offer a cloud-based solution for some functions," ​​Ben Wood, chief analyst and CMO at consultancy CCS Insight told The Register.

"This comes with unique challenges and although Apple has created its own private cloud for many functions, the partnership with OpenAI for ChatGPT marks a new direction for Apple which has previously been reluctant to partner for core technology."

The developer beta of iOS 18 is available to registered Apple developers today. A public beta release is planned next month. When iOS 18, iPadOS 18, and macOS Sequoia see general availability this fall, Apple Intelligence will still be considered to be in beta testing. ®

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