New iOS 18 Safari browsing assistant feature tipped as Apple's iPhone AI plans come into focus

iPhone 13 mini in hand
(Image credit: Future)

With Apple set to announce the iPhone's iOS 18 software update at WWDC 2024 on June 10, we continue to hear various tidbits about what the software might have to offer when it's finally previewed to the world. Apple has been characteristically tight-lipped about the whole thing, but a new report suggests that changes are coming to the way people browse the internet on their iPhones.

According to some newly-discovered backend code, Apple appears to be working on a new Safari browsing assistant feature, although at this point it's difficult to know what that will actually do or how it will benefit iPhone owners everywhere. However, that doesn't mean that we can't make some calculated guesses.

Those guesses are informed by the ongoing narrative that we can expect a boom in Apple AI features with the release of iOS 18, something that is also tipped for the Mac with macOS 15. If Apple really will, as is heavily rumored, lean on AI for a number of impressive new features this WWDC, it's possible that the Safari browsing assistant feature will do much the same. And that could be very interesting indeed.

AI browsing

The code was first spotted by Nicolás Álvarez and shared on the X social network. According to the post, references were found to Safari browsing assistant and something called Encrypted Visual Search. Both features are thought to make use of Apple's iCloud Private Relay infrastructure to send data to Apple which suggests that there will be some sort of privacy or security angle to them. If that's the case, users may require an iCloud Plus subscription to use them.

Safari browsing assistant could well be a byproduct of Apple's focus on generative AI which could in turn mean that users will be able to have their iPhone go off and find information for them based on internet searches. Siri can already do that to some extent and with wildly varying degrees of success. But ChatGPT 4 can already do this to a much more impressive extent, as can similar chatbot tools from others.

As for the Encrypted Visual Search reference, it's possible that could be an expansion of the Visual Look Up feature that allows people to identify things within photos and videos, but we will need to wait and see how that one pans out. 

If Apple follows the release cadence we're all familiar with, the new software announcements will happen on June 10 with developers immediately given an early beta to test. However, the public will have to wait until the fall to install them on their personal devices. A launch in mid-September seems most likely, probably shortly before the iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Pro officially go on sale.

WWDC will see more than just iOS 18 and macOS 15 previewed, with the iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and more all receiving big updates. The Apple Vision Pro will also likely be updated to visionOS 2 later this year and that software is also expected to be previewed at WWDC before following a similar months-long beta program.

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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.