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Apple Intelligence GenAI, ChatGPT to boost Siri on iPhone, Mac

The consumer electronics giant finally made its long-anticipated move into generative AI, emphasizing privacy. But most features will only be available on the newest iPhones.

Apple on Monday unveiled its own generative AI system, Apple Intelligence, along with plans to use OpenAI's ChatGPT large language model to turn its 14-year-old Siri voice assistant into a conversational chatbot.

The move came after the consumer electronics giant fell behind in the GenAI race while other big tech vendors leaped ahead with AI-fueled multimodal chatbots and digital personal assistants.

In keeping with the messaging for which Apple has been known for decades, the company leaned heavily on privacy, assuring customers that their personal data would stay private even when user prompts are offloaded to ChatGPT.

"With Apple Intelligence, powerful intelligence goes hand in hand with powerful privacy," CEO Tim Cook said during a streamed keynote in which he pledged that independent experts could inspect the system's code and servers to verify privacy. "We want to extend the privacy and security of your iPhone into the cloud to unlock even more intelligence."

Apple Intelligence, which Apple plans to roll out gradually into the fall, was built with multimodal fusion LLM technology. It runs on-device on the latest iPhones using Apple chips to process actions involving users' emails, texts, calendars, photos, notes and other Apple apps.

For information that requires a larger context about the world apart from personal data, the system routes queries to a private Apple cloud hosting an instance of ChatGPT based on GPT-4. Users will be asked to approve these outbound requests.

"Apple touts its AI-on-device capabilities where they have a huge advantage over others," said Andy Thurai, a Constellation Research analyst. "Given that they own the ecosystem, phones and the chips in the phone, technically they can infer many AI models and make them work locally without ever hitting any outside cloud."

Possible enterprise role

While Apple is a consumer-facing company, it has reach into the enterprise world if only by virtue of so many corporate employees and executives using iPhones for work, said Tim Miner, CEO of By the People Technologies, an AI strategy firm.

Apple iPhone with Siri using ChatGPT to answer a question.
Siri can tap into ChatGPT to deliver answers to user questions after they have approved use of the OpenAI chat technology.

For these enterprise users, a fully activated Siri could be the modern, capable personal assistant that many have envisioned for GenAI chatbots.

"My phone can suddenly turn into a real assistant, where I just ask Siri, 'How many people were on that call? Send an email to all of them and connect them with the notes that we just took. And by the way, put me on a flight at four o'clock,'" Miner said. "With that kind of stuff, we're suddenly getting to the point where real usefulness is suddenly met with the phone."

However, Miner said his enterprise clients will need to be assured that their data remains private.

"The big thing with Apple is privacy. Now, how they're going to pull this off is the question," he said. "They need to make sure that ChatGPT isn't recording any of this stuff, and they claim they will."

Apple and rivals

For some observers, Apple did what it needed to do catch up. But it essentially came up with a system that is similar to GenAI tools from Microsoft; OpenAI, its partner; and Google, which have the advantage of being geared toward enterprise data.

Both Microsoft and Google also let users run their GenAI systems on their personal devices with privacy measures, said Rowan Curran, a Forrester Research analyst.

"Apple's approach is not necessarily fundamentally different from that," Curran said. "But this is very important from the consumer side, because Apple is able to put all these things through the same operating system and the same hardware-software stack."

As for working with OpenAI, Curran said that appears to be a practical choice in a GenAI arena in which Google, Amazon and even Microsoft offer users a choice of multiple large language models from many different vendors, as well as their own.

Whether Apple can turn its dominant position in smartphones and accessories, such as Air Pods and the Apple Watch, into an enterprise play might hinge on future arrangements with third-party app providers, including Microsoft and Google.

"In the generative AI market, collaboration and learning from one's peers and competitors is essential," Curran said. "I see more amicability between a lot of the tech providers than I might normally expect to see in a market like this. So I certainly think that there's space for that."

Looking ahead

Cook noted a few times that some of the new Siri features will be effective with third-party apps. Apple will likely work in the future with LLM providers other than OpenAI.

Apple touts its AI-on-device capabilities where they have a huge advantage over others.
Andy ThuraiAnalyst, Constellation Research

For some 1.4 billion iPhone users worldwide, updating Siri, which has long suffered from spotty voice recognition and inability to carry out even slightly complicated tasks, will likely be welcome.

"Making Siri conversational is a big deal," said Dan Miller, an Opus Research analyst. "Yet returning to the spirit of the founders of the original Siri is what will be interesting to watch."

However, many Apple customers will need to upgrade to the latest iPhones for the new technology to work. While Apple Intelligence and the new Siri will work on iPadOS 18, now in beta, and iOS 18, available in the fall, the operating systems need to be on an iPhone 15 Pro or Pro Max or future versions.

The new GenAI tools will also work on devices that run Apple's M-1 chip, including newer iPad Air, iPad Pro and Mac models.

Shaun Sutner is senior news director for TechTarget Editorial's information management team, driving coverage of artificial intelligence, unified communications, analytics and data management technologies. He is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of news experience.

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