As WWDC draws near, anticipation of Apple’s long-rumored VR headset is high. The company is widely expected to announce an impressive, albeit expensive new product at the June 5 Keynote event. In short: people expect Apple to make a strong showing in this field.
People are justifiably less confident about Apple’s prospective plans in the area of artificial intelligence (AI), and particularly in the realm of large language models: the technology behind such imagination-captivating products as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, and GitHub Copilot (which itself uses another OpenAI language model).
I zeroed in on ChatGPT and Copilot because it’s easy to imagine the functionality of these services shining in the context of two important Apple products: Siri, and its Xcode developer tools. In fact, technology is advancing so quickly that the absence of something like ChatGPT and something like Copilot in these products seems likely to be viewed as major shortcoming in the near future, if it isn’t seen that way already.
The industry-wide excitement around AI is so great that it’s hard to imagine any company of Apple’s stature letting a major developer conference come an go without at least mentioning the technology, if not enumerating the specific ways in which they are using it in their products. Most people I know are confident it will be mentioned in the Keynote, but less confident that any news will be Earth-shattering, or even Earth-tickling.
Which leads me to my somewhat far-fetched prediction for WWDC: Apple will talk about AI, but they won’t once utter the letters “AI”. They will allude to a major new initiative, under way for years within the company. The benefits of this project will make it obvious that it is meant to serve as an answer comparable efforts being made by OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. During the crescendo to announcing its name, the letters “A” and “I” will be on all of our lips, and then they’ll drop the proverbial mic: “We’re calling it Apple Intelligence.” Get it?
Apple often follows the herd in terms of what they focus their efforts on, but rarely fall into line using the same tired jargon as the rest of the industry. Apple Intelligence will allow Apple to make it crystal clear to the entire world that they’re taking “AI” seriously, without stooping to the level of treating it as a commodity technology. They do this kind of thing all the time with names like Airport, Airplay, and Airtags. These marketing terms represent underlying technologies that Apple embraces and extends. Giving them unique names makes them easier to sell, but also gives Apple freedom to blur the lines on exactly what the technology should or shouldn’t be capable of.
Apple Intelligence won’t be as good as ChatGPT or GitHub Copilot, at least not to start with. But it will be Apple’s. They can frame the pros and cons however they see fit, working their typical marketing magic to make its shortcomings seem less important, if not downright advantageous. And, being an abstraction on the already broad subject of “AI”, they can evolve its capabilities over time, gradually improving on it and increasing its brand recognition. In five years, when every other company is still talking about “AI”, or whatever other buzzword has taken its place, Apple may well have already incorporated the technology into its own A.I.