Might Apple Rock and Pop OpenAI on Stage at WWDC?

Let's remember 15 years ago...
Apple Intensifies Talks With OpenAI for iPhone Generative AI Features
Apple Inc. has renewed discussions with OpenAI about using the startup’s technology to power some new features coming to the iPhone later this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

There's not much new in Gurman's latest report about Apple's apparently ongoing talks with partners for some AI elements of iOS 18. The key takeaway would seem to be that Apple had paused talks with OpenAI, and now they're back on again. A few thoughts on this...

First and foremost, while we're a mere 44 days away from the WWDC keynote on June 10, unlike with hardware, Apple can and often does shift software capabilities at the last minute. This is especially true with potential partner-powered capabilities. Presumably this means that Apple has APIs that they can swap any would-be partner – or partners – into and out of iOS 18.

Second, Gurman writes:

The next iPhone operating system will include several new features based on Apple’s in-house large language model — AI software that can generate human-sounding text — but the company also has been seeking partners to power a chatbot-like feature akin to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Bloomberg first reported in March on the discussions, which have included AI startup Anthropic as well.

In-house built and presumably, on-device, which is, of course, the key element of the just-published OpenELM papers. This is exactly what Alex Kantrowitz and I were discussing a couple weeks back on his Big Technology Podcast: the notion that Apple could keep the core AI functions of iOS 18 on-device with their own models but "outsource" the other AI stuff, like chatbots, to a third-party or third-parties. Why? To get around the risk such features pose to Apple's brand with hallucinations and the like. And, presumably, the results will be better with the cloud-based massive LLMs versus Apple's own on-device models.1

The needle Apple will have to thread here is around privacy. If they're sending stuff to OpenAI, Google, or any other partner, it's obviously not in their hands anymore. Or in your hands, quite literally, anymore, as it were. But the reality is that they already do this via Google search for Safari, of course. But it will be slightly more nuanced if it's an entirely new product/feature – especially if Apple is touting the benefits of privacy for their own AI work:

The latest development comes about a month and a half before Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, where it’s poised to introduce new AI software and services. The company is planning to tout its features as more seamlessly integrated into its devices than rival AI offerings, with better privacy protections.

One other element they'll clearly tout with the on-device stuff? Speed.

Anyway, my bet, based on nothing but common sense, is that Apple partners with multiple players here on the off-device LLM stuff. The state of the art is moving too fast to pick one and this can let Apple have a bake-off, of sorts. Maybe they surface which model is doing what to the end user, or maybe it's more buried in the fine print (again, this will be key for how they position it all from a brand perspective).

Google is obvious because of the aforementioned search partnership. But OpenAI is more of a wildcard. Then again, remember who was on stage at WWDC in 2008... That's right, one very young Sam Altman, rocking and popping not one but two collars, no less. How great of a moment would it be for Sam to strut back out on stage in the same watermelon ensemble exactly 15 years later to announce an Apple/OpenAI partnership?2 The crowd would go wild. Boom.3 Ship it.

1 Here you have to wonder what sort of behind-the-scenes pricing deal Apple would negotiate for such queries. Or if they somehow pass those off to the user? That would seem pretty un-Apple like, but maybe if there is a new AI app that they could tie in their own new services too as well?

2 You know who else Apple doesn't like too much? Elon Musk. The estranged OpenAI co-founder currently suing the startup...

3 Altman, of course, was on stage to showcase Loopt, his location-based social network -- one of the first in the then-new App Store. The subtle message in bringing him back would be that Altman got his start thanks to working with Apple all those years ago...