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Apple has tossed another crumb to investors wondering when the world will get to see some ‘Made in Cupertino’ GenAI: Expect Apple to reveal what it’s been working on in this buzzy slice of artificial intelligence “later this year”, per CEO Tim Cook.
During an earnings call yesterday, Apple’s chief exec emphasized its ongoing investment in AI, alongside other — as he put it — “groundbreaking innovation”, such as the technologies which underpin Apple’s Vision Pro VR/AR headset, saying: “We continue to spend a tremendous amount of time and effort and we’re excited to share the details of our ongoing work in that space later this year.”
There was no more steer on when exactly Cupertino will pull back the curtain on its AI efforts. But its annual developer confab, WWDC, typically takes place in June — and will certainly be one date to watch for any big reveals here.
Analysts tuned into the call were curious about “potential upcoming announcements on AI”, and during the Q&A section of the Q1 2024 results call, Cook tickled the fire of anticipation a little more, segueing from enthusing about “enterprise opportunities” for Vision Pro to referencing generative AI directly.
“In terms of generative AI, which I would guess is your focus, we have a lot of work going on internally, as I’ve alluded to before,” he said. “Our M.O., if you will, has always been to do work and then talk about work and not to get out in front of ourselves. And so we’re going to hold that to this as well. But we’ve got some things that we’re incredibly excited about, that we’ll be talking about later this year. ”
Apple’s senior leadership team was also asked about the level of investments it’s making in AI, given the scale of some of the bets being made by other tech firms.
Chief financial officer Luca Maestri responded briefly and bullishly — but without putting any figures on the level of spend — to that one. “We’ve always said we will never under invest in the business. So we are making all the investments that are necessary throughout our product development, software development services development,” he said. “So we will continue to invest in every area of the business — and at the appropriate level — and we’re very excited about what’s in store for us for the rest of the year.”
The iPhone maker also fielded a question about edge processing and AI during the call, with another analyst asking if it’s “a believer in the edge thesis that AI and processing on smartphones and devices like yours is going to have a huge role in AI and AI apps and that it’s something you guys can take advantage of”.
Cook wasn’t going to be drawn into tossing anything larger than crumbs (to continue the metaphor) — but he offered, perhaps, the equivalent of a wink toward the substance of the query, affirming: “Let me just say that I think there’s a huge opportunity for apple with Gen AI and and AI — without getting into more details and getting out in front of myself.”
Apple’s long-standing positioning of itself as pro-privacy and pro-user presents both a challenge and an opportunity when it comes to generative AI which demands vast amounts of (often personal) data to train AI models in the sought for drive for utility.
However if Apple can offer users GenAI tools that don’t demand users’ data is uploaded to a third party cloud somewhere, with all the privacy and security risks that can entail, and instead processing to power the tech can be done locally, on device, it could — potentially — carve itself (and its ecosystem) a differentiating niche vs the current data-gobbling market leaders in GenAI. (OpenAI, for instance, is now facing a charge its AI chatbot, ChatGPT, breaches Europe’s data protection laws in areas such as AI model training.)
When it comes to edge AI, performance will of course be key. But this is Apple — and finessing products, via its own hardware and software development, is its business — so if anyone has both the rational and resources to pull off development of privacy-conscious GenAI it’s going to be Apple.