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Apple is silently developing its own generative AI products.
It has been a big year for tech giants Microsoft, Google and AWS in making advances in the generative AI market. Microsoft and Google, notably, have incorporated the technology into their office productivity products. However, Apple has stayed largely quiet amid the frenzied pace of the generative AI race.
That could soon change.
The tech giant, which largely focuses on consumer products such as the iPhone and Apple Watch, is on track to spend $1 billion annually developing generative AI tools, as first reported by Bloomberg earlier this week. This technology, including Apple's large language model Ajax or rumored chatbot Apple GPT, could soon be incorporated into Siri, Messages and Apple Music.
Apple's mode of operation
While Apple is seemingly behind in generative AI, its pace does not surprise industry observers.
David SmithAnalyst, Gartner
"They don't usually say much about where they're going in any area, so it's not surprising that they haven't said too much about what they're doing," Gartner analyst David Smith said.
After its innovative first few decades, Apple has also been known in recent years for lagging in the market for new disruptive technologies, according to Futurum Group analyst Olivier Blanchard.
For example, Apple was late in releasing extended reality, or XR, goggles. Even in the mobile smartphone market that it dominates, the company sometimes introduces new features after they come out in the competing Android ecosystem. And Apple has yet to release a touchscreen laptop.
"It's sort of a general normal operational function of Apple to be behind the rest of the market and to spend more time perfecting new technologies and adapting them to their own ecosystem before releasing them," Blanchard said.
Apple is not trailing, however, in back-of-the-house AI technologies, he said.
For example, it is keeping up to date on discrete AI functions, such as the technology that helps with power management in devices to make batteries last longer and keep chips and systems from overheating.
However, front-facing AI technologies, such as the generative AI within digital assistants like Siri, is where Apple has slipped behind other tech giants, Blanchard said.
A shift in the market
Apple might not have realized that generative AI would turn out to be as important as it has become, and perhaps sees it as more of a cloud- and app-based technology than for devices, according to Blanchard.
However, the generative AI market is shifting, and the technology is starting to move on to devices.
For example, chipmaker Qualcomm on Oct. 24 introduced its latest mobile chip, Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, during the vendor's Snapdragon Summit.
The new chip brings generative AI capabilities to the chipset and supports a chatbot trained on Meta's Llama 2 open source LLM. The chatbot can talk back to users and generate text and images.
The chip also runs the image-generating LLM Stable Diffusion on device and can generate an image within seconds, Qualcomm said.
During the summit, Qualcomm showed a demo of Llama 2 running on smartphones and a prototype laptop. It also showed a demo of Stable Diffusion producing an image on a smartphone using the mobile chip.
The first set of phones with the new chips will be released in the coming weeks, according to Qualcomm.
"Apple doesn't have this because Apple doesn't think it needs this yet," Blanchard said. "So, is Apple behind? If you compare chipsets and devices and features side by side, it looks that way."
Apple users also might not care if Apple is trailing because most users are already well integrated into the tech giant's ecosystem of products, Blanchard added. Therefore, according to this line of thinking, Apple customers are loyal and do not care to consider other products, even if they have more features and advancements.
Apple and the GenAI market
Moreover, Apple also doesn't necessarily need to immediately dominate the generative AI market, Gartner's Smith said.
"While Apple may not be perceived as one of the early leaders, they have the capability -- they have the investment, technology and data," he said. "I think they're well positioned to become more of a player."
The tech giant is not dismissive overall of the AI technology and has been acquiring AI companies. It has bought at least 10 AI companies since 2019, the most recent being the $9 million acquisition of WaveOne in January 2023.
That indicates Apple is working on AI technology while continuing to advance the power and capabilities of the chips that power its hardware products.
The question is whether Apple will still be competitive when it finally releases its generative AI products, Blanchard said.
"I just wonder if when Apple comes out with its AI solutions -- especially with generative AI, especially on-device -- if it will be on par with the rest of the market, or if initially there'll be a year or two behind the rest of the market," he said.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Esther Ajao is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering artificial intelligence software and systems.