Apple's AI push with iOS 18 could be powered by China's Baidu, but likely only in its home country

Siri on iOS
(Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Apple continues to be rumored to be very much focused on AI improvements for its upcoming iOS 18 and macOS 15 updates, both of which are expected to debut during the WWDC event that will likely be held in June. As part of that focus, we've already heard that Apple has been in talks with Open AI and Google about using their respective Large Language Model and generative AI technologies in those updates. Now, we can add another company to the list of potential partners — and it might be one that you didn't see coming.

The name is Baidu, a Chinese company that has already launched its own generative AI model called Ernie Bot. Now, a report claims that Apple has held talks with Baidu to discuss the possibility of using its technology in the future, but don't expect the Chinese software to power iPhones around the world. Instead, it seems likely that the technology would be used in China alone in an attempt to appease Chinese lawmakers.

China currently requires that all generative AI technology be vetted by the country's cyberspace regulator and Baidu's Ernie Bot has already been through that process. Now, it's thought that Baidu could be used as a way to launch AI features in China rather than trying to get a Google, OpenAI, or other generative AI past China's regulators.

An AI focus

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has already held preliminary talks with Baidu about using its generative AI software, noting that the discussions are still "exploratory" before adding that "it couldn’t be determined whether Apple has engaged with other Chinese generative AI companies."

Apple has regularly altered features and software to appease China and it currently stores all of the iCloud data owned by Chinese users in data centers managed by a third-party Chinese company as is required by law. China remains a key market for Apple but it's feeling increasing pressure from the homegrown Huawei at a time when iPhone sales are falling. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been in China as the company owned a new Shanghai store this week and will no doubt hope that it will help arrest the situation. He also sought to show local leaders that Apple is committed to the market. The WSJ noted a Communist Party-backed Global Times quote that claimed he discussed how vital the Chinese supply chain is to his company. This comes amid ongoing supply diversification in that has seen key Apple partners move manufacturing away from China, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic caused Chinese factories to repeatedly close thanks to rolling lockdowns.

As for iOS 18 and macOS 15, they are both rumored to be set for big AI upgrades although information on exactly what they will be is hard to come by. Siri is the most likely beneficiary of any new generative AI smarts, but what form that will take is still open to question.

If Apple follows its usual cadence the software will be announced at WWDC as mentioned, but that isn't when people will be able to try out these new AI features. Apple normally releases an initial developer beta on the day of the announcement but a months-long process will culminate in the release of the software updates to the world this fall — likely in September alongside the arrival of the new iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Pro models.

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Oliver Haslam
Contributor

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.