Apple AI: Everything you need to know about artificial intelligence changes coming to iPhone, iOS 18 and beyond

Apple AI
(Image credit: Future / Apple)

Artificial intelligence is going to be everywhere this year in the world of tech — and Apple is hoping its own AI efforts will be at the forefront of the technology's progress.

2024 has already proven busy for Apple, with new M3 MacBook Air models revealed, the Vision Pro launched, and new OLED iPad models expected, too. But artificial intelligence opens up whole new avenues of exploration for the company, both in its existing software and in terms of how it will integrate with Apple's forthcoming hardware.

We know that iOS 18, the next version of the company’s mobile operating system that powers the iPhone, is tipped to be one of the biggest upgrades in the software's history — and a big part of that is said to be down to Apple’s new focus on AI.

With the company hinting already that this is going to be a big year for its AI projects, what can we expect? With iPhone, Mac, and iPad all expected to get in on the action, where will we see the biggest changes? Here’s all we know about Apple’s AI plans for 2024 and beyond. 

Siri

(Image credit: iMore)

Where could Apple implement AI?

Siri

It’s strange to think that Apple’s Siri was one of the earliest mainstream “digital assistants”, but that’s partially down to just how slowly the development of Siri has been, and how underwhelming efforts to improve it have been.

We’ve seen Alexa and Google Assistant leapfrog Apple’s offering, but with Siri reportedly getting a big AI boost in 2024 we could see the tables turned.

Apple’s internal project, reportedly dubbed “Ajax”, is expected to bring chatbot/large language model (LLM) functionality to Siri. That means that, theoretically, Siri will be able to more accurately and naturally respond to and understand a user’s queries.

A large language model is essentially an AI program that can recognize text and generate conversational responses to questions. In that sense, it's a lot like Siri, however, the data LLMs use is much more extensive, making for deeper and more helpful responses to questions. While Apple's Siri assistant is useful for basic iPhone commands, anything more taxing usually makes it stumble. The real difference between LLMs compared to a digital assistant like Siri is size, most have billions of parameters and can ingest an eye-watering amount of information from billions of web pages and other data sources. 

Siri could also gain access to generative AI technologies, which Apple has reportedly been working on. Reports even suggest these new features will persist across devices, as well as Siri being able to tie into external (non-Apple) services.

Apps and Services

The AI could extend to services, too, with AI-generated Apple Music playlists expected (Spotify already does something like this), while XCode is likely to get new AI tools to help develop apps more quickly.

While many developers are implementing generative AI within their apps, though, reports suggest Apple is behind the curve on that. Given the potential legal ramifications of generative AI, it perhaps doesn't behove Apple to jump in without doing its due diligence, and all signs to Apple using on-device technology to get the job done without reaching out to cloud-based and potentially copyright-infringing external sources.

The 2024 MacBook Air M3 on a wooden table in front of a bookshelf.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

What devices are getting new AI functionality? 

As reported back in October of last year, Apple was reportedly “caught off guard” by the sharp spike of interest in AI and is looking to catch up. We saw an improved Neural Engine in the Apple Watch Series 9, seemingly hinting at fresh capabilities and on-device processing.

Naturally, the iPhone is many users’ first thought when it comes to AI adoption via Siri, but iPadOS is just as likely to see some upgrades - although given Apple likes to keep a year between iOS and iPadOS releases, we may have to wait until iPadOS 19. The upcoming reveal of fresh iPads may give us a better idea of what to expect.

On the Mac side, the new MacBook Air with M3 was revealed this month. Apple made a big deal out of dubbing it the "world's best consumer laptop for AI," backing up that lofty claim by pointing at the more efficient 16-core Neural Engine and macOS features like “powerful camera features, real-time speech to text, translation, text predictions, visual understanding, accessibility features, and much more."

But wait, what about Machine Learning?

For years, Apple has used the term Machine Learning to describe its own AI technology framework. It’s been working on it for quite some time; Machine Learning is what highlights the Siri Suggestions when you look to use an app or learns the way you type on your iPhone, among others.

Why the company has changed to more plainly refer to it as AI is unclear, but there’s every chance the shift in semantics is down to just how pervasive the term “AI” has become over the last 18 months or so.

As if to underline its seriousness, Apple acquired DarwinAI in 2024, with the startup’s staff joining Apple’s AI effort. DarwinAI is a "visual quality inspection" company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. It has a patented Explainable AI platform that has been adopted by "numerous" Fortune 500 companies. “DarwinAI has developed AI technology for visually inspecting components during the manufacturing process and serves customers in a range of industries,” Mark Gurman reported.

“One of its core technologies is making artificial intelligence systems smaller and faster. That work could be helpful to Apple, which is focused on running AI on devices rather than entirely in the cloud.” According to Betakit, DarwinAI's platform was built "under the guidance of University of Waterloo professor and Canada AI research chair Alexander Wong," who is now employed by Apple as Director of Machine Learning research. The company was founded in 2017 and has been helmed by CEO Sheldon Fernandez since January 2018. 

What's going on with Apple and Google?

While Apple is making its own acquisitions to fuel its AI ambitions (and reportedly moving employees over from the cancelled Apple Car project) it's also reportedly been in discussions with Google.

According to Bloomberg, Apple and Google have been working on a “blockbuster agreement that would shake up the AI industry”, with the same reports suggesting Apple is in “active negotiations" to license Google's Gemini AI tools.

This has been corroborated since by the New York Times, which seems to have all but confirmed the two tech giants working together. 

"Apple is in discussions with Google about using the search giant’s generative artificial intelligence model called Gemini for its next iPhone, as the company races to embrace a technology that has upended the tech industry," the New York Times wrote, noting the "exact scope of a potential deal hasn’t been defined".

It'd certainly be a fun WWDC surprise to see Apple announce a partnership with a company that's long been a rival. Maybe the Epic lawsuit brought them closer together?

Who else?

Apple may partner with Google, but there are plenty of other fish swimming in the AI pond.

Arguably the most well-known is ChatGPT, which attracted more than 100 million users since it arrived in 2022. It's certainly been popular, but not without its controversies, with accusations of bias, racism, and even an existential crisis from the AI.

Ernie is another option, with more than 45 million users since it arrived last August, but Microsoft Copilot, now just over a year old, is likely to be one of the biggest competitors. Microsoft had previously invested $10 billion dollars in OpenAI, ChatGPT's parent company.

When will we know more?

macOS Sonoma key art

(Image credit: Apple)

WWDC 2024 seems a good bet, but we can probably expect some news to start trickling out any day now. That’s because Apple’s annual ‘VendorUI’ build of the latest iOS has been distributed in a limited fashion to factories for quality control.

That means we may start hearing about some leaked features and concepts sooner than June, when we expect WWDC to take place.

A handy AI glossary

Below you'll find a few key terms that you're likely to see a lot in the coming months, as well as an explainer of each.

  • Chatbot - Used in everything from AI technology to customer service, a chatbot is software that mimics human conversation.
  • Generative AI - Technology that can create content, be that images, audio, video, or anything else, by receiving prompts from a user.
  • LLM (Large Language Model) - In layman's terms, a computer analyzing human speech and text to respond as a human. 
  • Machine Learning - Apple's chosen branding of AI for many years, Machine Learning finds patterns to recommend your next app, or searches your images for pictures of a dog.
Lloyd Coombes
Contributor

Lloyd Coombes is a freelance writer with a specialism in Apple tech. From his first, hand-me-down iMac, he’s been working with Apple products for over a decade, and while he loves his iPhone and Mac, the iPad will always have his heart for reasons he still can’t quite fathom.

Since moving from blogging to writing professionally, Lloyd’s work can be found at TechRadar, Macworld, TechAdvisor and plenty more.

He’s also the Editor in Chief at GGRecon.com, and on the rare occasion he’s not writing you’ll find him spending time with his son, or working hard at the gym (while wearing an Apple Watch, naturally). You can find him on Twitter @lloydcoombes.

  • Annie_M
    Time will tell! Rumor season is perpetual in these here parts... so it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
    Reply