Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

There have been hints about Apple’s AI ambitions coming this year but CEO Tim Cook laid it out, saying Apple had, “incredible breakthrough potential for generative AI.” Here’s what I think is coming at Apple’s WWDC developer conference on June 10.

1 Siri Will Become a Proper Chatbot/LLM

Instead of having people turning to ChatGPT, I think Apple wants people to give Siri another chance to answer all their questions, without hearing, “I can show you some results if you look at your iPhone.” During the most inopportune times, it feels like a lot of times Siri instantly shoves people to a website, rather than fully handling response generation.

Microsoft, Google, and other tech companies are completely revamping their businesses around generative AI and natural language processing using LLMs. In contrast to those advancements, Siri feels rudimentary and completely outdated. It can’t really parse lots of commands in the same sentence. It can’t continue conversations from previously stated information. There are more areas where it seems stuck than it doesn’t at the moment.

I’m betting Apple completely overhauls its voice and text input assistant. You can currently type to Siri, but I imagine that aspect being given even more priority for use on phones and tablets—maybe even in macOS. Based on the WWDC announcement theme with gradient blues and purples, it sure seems to hint that Siri will be on full display.

The twist? Apple may partner with OpenAI, Google, and others to provide some of Siri’s AI smarts.

A WWDC2024 logo on a black background.

2 Siri Will Remain the Brand for Apple’s (New) AI Assistant

This isn’t “new Coke,” but it could be “new Siri.” Apple is infamous for its product branding, often replacing one MacBook or iPad with a new one and letting customers and media default to calling it the new whatever. I think the same thing could happen here. There’s just too much inherent brand recognition for Apple to leave behind, despite some of it being frustrating.

We should get a new Siri, completely revamped and improved, but it will still be Siri in name. If that happens, so be it. The important part is the functionality. If I had my way, I wouldn’t hate some differentiation from the old to the new, however. “Siri AI” rolls off the tongue nicely.

3 Apple Watch Will Become a Better Assistant Conduit

Tech startup, Humane announced its Ai Pin, a self-contained AI-powered device, and all I could think about was how all its pieces, save for a camera, were pretty much already in the Apple Watch. Apple almost has an AI device on its hands. If Siri is going to become more assistive, it would be handy to not even need to pull your phone out of your pocket.

The Apple Watch is a screen right on your wrist that can be used to show text, images, and other content. It could even be a conduit into the iPhone so commands you give it through the Apple Watch can begin to run and trigger on the more powerful mobile computer.

Smartwatches have gotten stale over the last couple of years. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is great, but it’s more of the same. (Even on the Android side, nothing exciting is happening.) Using AI to make Apple Watch the always-accessible smart companion is one way to raise interest.

4 Apple Won’t Focus Generative AI on Photos Right Now

Being a great camera is one of the primary selling points of new iPhone models each year. Apple has long sold its camera and photo technology as life-like, tending to avoid over-saturation and unrealistic imagery. “Shot on iPhone” has been a long-running ad campaign in this vein. Apple is very proud of iPhone photography if you weren’t aware.

The company’s obsession with creating the most popular camera in the world gives me pause to think that it would muddy those waters with generative AI features right out of the gate.

I hope there will still be some minor additions like better editing tools built into Photos; erasing unwanted items as the primary example. But I don’t think there’s a chance Apple will suddenly begin letting the Photos app or Camera app dabble in fantasy. Unlike the Pixel 8, I don’t see Apple letting generative AI create wholly fictional photo scenes for people, at least not this year.

5 Generative AI Will Come to Apps Like Mail, Music, Fitness, and Others

Instead of shoving AI into Photos immediately, I think Apple will spend its time injecting other, more unexpected, apps full of artificial intelligence.

Apple Music could be much better at creating smart playlists. “Hey Siri, make a playlist of all the pop-punk songs I’ve listened to more than 10 times this year,” as an example.

The Fitness app is dying for more personalized recommendations to replace all the generic encouragement it sticks in the main screen area—see Whoop as a fitness band that incorporates an AI coach.

The Mail app could benefit from a dose of smarts. Even if a lot of your emails shouldn’t be responded to or written by AI, there are a fair amount of emails that don’t need much thought. They just need a response. I think we’ll see a lot of Apple’s own apps get some sort of AI features.

This brings me to an underlying app in all this: Shortcuts. A lot of miscellaneous tasks across iOS can be done using Shortcuts. It’s a powerful utility but remains too niche for its own good (and a mainstream audience). I have a gut feeling that Shortcuts will be used, likely in conjunction with Siri, to let people do almost anything they want across the operating system, just by asking.

Instead of needing to essentially code a Shortcut, you’ll be able to tell it to do something and a Shortcut will appear, run, and do what you want, even if you don’t really know what the Shortcuts app is or how it works. Because of all these things, at the end of WWDC Apple should come away looking like an AI rockstar, instead of falling behind like it does a few months before its June event.

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By John P.

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