iPhone 16 and iOS 18 to leverage China's Baidu generational AI technology, but you'll probably never use it

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Apple's iOS 18 and macOS 15 are expected to sport some notable AI upgrades when they debut at WWDC 2024 in June before being released to the public this fall. The iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Pro will of course ship with iOS 18 preinstalled and AI is expected to be a key focus there, too. Apple is already thought to be developing chips specially designed to make the best of AI technology, and now it seems that another key component of Apple's plans has already fallen into place.

Following reports that Apple is in discussions with both OpenAI and Google about using their respective generative AI technologies in its future endeavors, we also heard that Apple was talking to Baidu about using its own technology as well. Now, a new report claims that Apple has indeed decided that Baidu is the company that it intends to work with. If correct, Baidu's Ernie Bot will be used as the basis for Apple's iOS 18, iPhone 16, and other releases later this year.

However, those who are concerned about the prospect of their data finding its way into the hands of the Chinese government need not fret — the Baidu deal will only be of use in China, allowing Apple to adhere to strict local laws. Outside of China, Apple will still strike a deal with Google or OpenAI to handle global generative AI tasks.

A Chinese solution

The news of a deal with Baidu was first reported by the South China Morning Post which cites a local media report. According to the SCMP "Apple will use Baidu’s Ernie Bot for its iPhone 16, Mac OS and iOS 18 in China, after it also held talks with other Chinese companies including Alibaba Group Holding, which owns the Post, and an AI company affiliated with Tsinghua University, according to a report on Monday by China Star Market, a media outlet under Shanghai United Media Group." The report also confirmed that "Apple will use its own AI model outside China but turn to locally-built technology for the mainland market based on compliance considerations, the report said, citing anonymous sources." However, it's likely that Apple will still need Google or OpenAI alongside its own AI technology.

The news comes after Apple CEO Tim Cook visited Shanghai to help unveil a new Shanghai store while meeting with key Chinese officials and suppliers. He also reiterated Apple's commitment to the country as a part of its supply chain despite seeking to diversify it in recent years. Cook also used his visit to China to confirm to local news that the Apple Vision Pro will debut in the country before the end of this year.

All of this comes amid ongoing troubles for Apple inside China. The iPhone has found it tough to compete with Huawei on its own turf in recent months and figures showed that iPhone sales fell almost a quarter year-on-year during the first six weeks of 2024. Chinese phone sales have stalled as a whole, but Huawei appears to be immune to the downturn and has instead found itself taking market share from other companies — including Apple — of late.

As for Apple, it's expected to focus heavily on AI this year in an attempt to improve upon its ailing Siri digital assistant. New Apple AI features can also be expected throughout the user experience although hard details are as-yet unconfirmed.

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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.