Apple's focus on AI technologies for iOS 18 and beyond sees it poach dozens of people from Google for a secretive lab in Switzerland

The back of an iPhone 15 Pro, showing its camera system.
(Image credit: Future)

Apple is expected to kickstart a new focus on AI for its iPhone, Mac, and other device lineups with the release of iOS 18 and beyond later this year. Those updates are all expected to be previewed during the WWDC 2024 event in June, but work is already very much underway — and part of that reportedly involves Apple picking up dozens of new employees from Google in an attempt to bolster its AI-focused workforce.

According to a new report, Apple has already sought to sign up engineers who previously worked at Google, starting with the 2018 poaching of John Giannandrea to take on the role of AI executive at the company.

Since then, it's thought that Apple has signed on at least 36 different engineers and housed them at a new AI lab in the Swiss capital of Zurich.

36 specialists

The Financial Times, citing analysis of hundreds of LinkedIn profiles as well as public job listings and research papers, says that while the majority of Apple's existing AI team works from California and Seattle, Zurich has become a "significant outpost" for the company.

"Professor Luc Van Gool from Swiss university ETH Zurich said Apple's acquisitions of two local AI start-ups — virtual reality group FaceShift and image recognition company Fashwell — led Apple to build a research laboratory, known as its 'Vision Lab', in the city," the FT report explains. Those who work in that facility are "involved in Apple's research into the underlying technology that powers products such as OpenAI's ChatGPT Chatbot."

Notably, Apple is reportedly back in talks with OpenAI about the possibility of using its generative AI technology in iOS 18 and future software updates. Apple is also thought to still be discussing a similar matter with Google, although it isn't yet known whether Apple has plans for either company as a potential partner or if a third company may make itself known before a deal is agreed.

Apple is strongly tipped to be bringing AI features to iOS 18 as well as macOS 15, with Bloomberg's Mark Gurman previously hinting that the initial launch will use Apple's own technology on-device, rather than using cloud-based generative AI offerings. It's possible that Apple may launch additional AI features later in the year, likely alongside the iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Pro launches. If those new features require the new Apple silicon used in those devices, the chances of such a move will surely increase.

It's clear that Google has a leg up on AI technologies and it stands to reason that Apple would seek to tap into the knowledge the company has, hence the move to take on some of its employees. The report names a number of Apple staffers who previously had roles at Google including Samy Bengio, senior director of AI and ML research, who was previously one of Google's top AI scientists.

The tapping of Google hasn't always gone according to plan, however. The FT report reminds us that the company hired Ian Goodfellow, a deep learning pioneer, only for him to later return to Google as a result of Apple's post-COVID return to work policies.

Apple is expected to debut the iOS 18 and initial AI features at WWDC on June 10, but the software is then expected to undergo a months-long beta program before it finally ships to the public this September — shortly before those new iPhones go on sale.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.