Apple's Artificial Approach to 'Apple Intelligence'

Apple is doing "AI" their way, in ways likely good and well, TBD

If you were playing a drinking game today during Apple's WWDC keynote around how many times Apple said "AI"... right now you're stone cold sober. Well, unless you're very small perhaps. As I believe Apple said "AI" once. Once!

At the very end of Craig Federighi's remarks he gave the zinger tagline they've clearly been sitting on for months, if not years. 'Apple Intelligence' is "AI for the rest of us". Boom. That was it.

You could have predicted this pretty much from the get-go – as I did – as Tim Cook kicked off his remarks to start the show by noting that Apple would be showing off some "profound new intelligence capabilities" in a way that was mildly awkward. If he had said "profound new AI capabilities" that would have sounded normal. So it was clear that Apple was not going to take the "normal" path here. And the reality is that once Mark Gurman broke the news of the "Apple Intelligence" name a few days ago, we all should have known where this was headed. There is no "VR", there is "Spatial Computing". There is no "AI", there is "Apple Intelligence".

The only real surprise today was that it took Apple over an hour to actually talk about those capabilities. We got through updates to visionOS, iOS, Audio & Home (note to Apple: needs a better name), watchOS, iPadOS, and macOS before we finally returned to Cook to kick off talking about "Artificial Intelligence" (the only time the entire phrase was uttered). Because it's not Artificial Intelligence you see. There's nothing "artificial" about it. It's "Apple Intelligence". Got it?

We then got about 40 minutes about the "Apple Intelligence" capabilities and features with only very minimal levels of technical detail. The core message was clear: Apple is going to do this the Apple way. Which is, slow and steady and well thought-through. Read another way: cautious. They won't be the first to most of these features, but they'll aim to be the best, if you use Apple products, that is. And, of course, the most private.

But again, we'll have to wait to hear a lot more on any and all real details there.

Also unsurprising, Wall Street isn't really buying what Apple sold today. At least not yet. On an overall up day for the markets thus far, Apple's stock is down nearly 2%. It was swinging quite a bit during the keynote. But the market clearly didn't love what they heard about AI. Again, this was expected. Because what they heard about AI was what many others have already said about AI. Apple just did it without actually saying "AI".

The market didn't seem to react positively until Federighi announced the partnership with OpenAI. ChatGPT would indeed be coming to Apple products – but as an option – yes, opt-in – when Apple's own non-AI AI wasn't quite up to certain tasks. I was pretty much exactly wrong in thinking that Apple might mention OpenAI by name but might not mention ChatGPT. Not only did Federighi talk about ChatGPT quite a bit, he even noted how it was "powered by GPT-4o" a detail that only those following the space closely will care about – meaning, the version Apple will give users access to is running the latest model.

Also not a surprise given that GPT-4o has now been rolled out to everyone using ChatGPT – free and paid. And again, while we're light on details here, clearly Apple is going to be using the free version of ChatGPT for their users, unless you bring your own premium account, as was mentioned. This was also a bit awkward because it certainly made it seem like Apple would not be giving OpenAI a direct route to let users upgrade to a premium version of the service. We'll see though, all of this isn't coming for a while. A lot can change in between now and then – including, potentially the underlying models.

Speaking of, that was one of the more subtle, but interesting elements of Apple's own non-AI AI: that features will be rolling out over the next year. So this doesn't sound like a one-time roll-out, but an iterative approach to software instead. That makes sense given the state of AI, but it's pretty new for Apple.

The "Apple Intelligence" features that were demoed all looked pretty good. But they were all leaked and all fairly obvious.1 The upgrades to Siri are likely to be the biggest deal, but this sure doesn't seem to be a brain-transplant with OpenAI or someone else now serving the backend. Instead, it just seems like Apple believes they've finally made Siri smarter and more capable for the modern AI environment. Again, we'll see. Apple will not be given a lot of leeway here given the history and promises over the years that "this time, it will be different".

Anyway, a lot more to think about and analyze over the coming days as more details about all of the above trickles out. For now, I need one of those drinks I didn't get to have during our collectively failed game of "AI" Bingo.

1 Perhaps the 'Image Playground' stand-alone software was the only mild surprise.