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Apple's new AI-powered service is everything we'd hoped Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa would become

By Mike Feibus

Apple's WWDC announcement is all about you and your digital life

Sometimes, when I jot down an idea or snap a picture of another birthday dinner, I get the sinking feeling that I'll never see it again. Any of it. Like it's all buried in some digital version of that warehouse in the last scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

On paper at least, Apple Intelligence is the superpower that will help us find and use all of our digital stuff. And more. Apple's (AAPL) new AI-powered service is everything we'd hoped Siri, Google Assistant (GOOGL) and Amazon's Alexa (AMZN) would become. And it's almost here.

When it arrives this fall, Apple Intelligence, the on-device generative-AI package unveiled at the tech giant's annual Worldwide Developer Conference, or WWDC, will function like a real assistant you can chat with to plan, communicate and create. Best of all, it can help you find and work with all those long-lost pictures and notes. With mere morsels of information that are useless to traditional search tools.

Imagine this conversation:

"Siri, find a photo of Mom together with Uncle Jim."

"Here you go!"

"No, not that one. He's squinting."

"OK, how about this one? They're both smiling."

"Perfect. Thanks!"

In addition to finding the right photo from your sea of snapshots, Apple Intelligence should be able to do things like:

Stop you from accepting a meeting that won't let out with enough time to make your dinner date.Find the contractor who installed the glass block in your shower a decade ago. Resurrect what you proposed at the Zoom meeting where a colleague was wearing a purple shirt.

Also read: Apple unveils 'Apple Intelligence' AI offerings at WWDC keynote

Indeed, Apple Intelligence is all about you and your digital life. It's generative AI that will live in your iPhone, iPad and Mac, rather than in the cloud like ChatGPT. So it will help your master your meeting notes, calendar, emails, photos, spreadsheets - everything. Crucially, Apple promises that it's private.

After a series of disappointingly minor iPhone updates, it should be clear by now that we are in store for something more than just another refresh. That said, Apple Intelligence will be available on the iPhone 15 as well as the upcoming iPhone 16. So if you've been considering an upgrade, either one may fit the bill.

GenAI in the wild

Apple has elegantly packaged the generative AI technology and will be integrating it into its personal electronics in the coming months. But if your tech world begins with a Mac and ends with anything that starts with an "i," then you should be aware that little of Apple Intelligence is new or unique.

For more than a year, for example, many enterprises have been feeding their own proprietary data into generative AI models like OpenAI's ChatGPT, Gemini from Alphabet's Google and Meta Platform's (META) open-source Llama.

Rather than residing on devices like Apple Intelligence, corporations are keeping prying eyes away from their data by restricting the technology to their own networks. They are using it to improve speed, quality and accuracy in departments such as customer service, legal affairs and human resources.

Microsoft's Copilot+ promises for Windows laptops much of what Apple Intelligence is expected to enable on Macs.

On the consumer front, Alphabet, Samsung (KR:005930) and others have been leveraging generative AI since last fall for features that will be coming to the iPhone this fall. For instance, turbocharged photo searches, real-time translation and an art-to-internet feature called Circle to Search.

Also, the first AI PCs built with Copilot+, Microsoft's (MSFT) new on-device generative-AI platform, are scheduled to come available next week. Copilot+ promises for Windows laptops much of what Apple Intelligence is expected to enable on Macs.

Pros and cons of on-device GenAI

Full-blown large-language models won't fit on smartphones or laptops. They're so big they barely fit in a full-blown datacenter.

Word is that ChatGPT 4.0 is a collection of eight models each made up of about 220 billion parameters. In order to boil those down to just 10 billion parameters - more or less the size of today's on-device models - engineers necessarily must give up some accuracy.

That isn't a problem, as it turns out, because the scope is drastically limited, from everything in the world down to just your stuff. But there are times when the on-device model needs to summon the big guns in the cloud to get the job done.

Apple is offering up two ways to do that, depending on the nature of the task. If it's a personal job, Apple said it will have a "Private Cloud Compute" option, where seriously large language models can go to work on your data in secret. Apple didn't provide any details of how exactly that will work.

Apple Intelligence will also give you the chance to tackle jobs with ChatGPT in the cloud. Apple Intelligence comes with access to the subscription-level version of OpenAI's model.

Read: Elon Musk rails against Apple-OpenAI deal, threatens to ban iPhones from his companies

More than anything, Apple's approach to privacy could be the linchpin for its success. Because no matter how good Apple Intelligence turns out to be, most of us want our private data to be inaccessible to anyone - rather than risk it becoming available to everyone.

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at FeibusTech, an independent market-research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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-Mike Feibus

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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06-15-24 1015ET

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