Can We Figure Out What Apple Is Doing With AI?

Although the tech giant has been relatively quiet about its plans for AI-based technologies, our expert looks at publicly available data that offers clues to its plans.

Written by Juras Juršėnas
Published on Jun. 05, 2024
Can We Figure Out What Apple Is Doing With AI?
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To identify the world’s leading tech companies, you could just look at who has announced big moves related to artificial intelligence (AI) over the last few years. There is, however, a notable exception: Apple is still relatively silent about what it’s doing in this area. This silence should not be mistaken for inaction, though. Even with the secrecy surrounding whatever Apple has in the works, publicly available data tells us that something is cooking.

What Can We Do With Public Data?

Apple has yet to make any major announcements regarding its plans for incorporating artificial intelligence into its products. But by examining publicly available data about its job postings and company acquisitions, we may be able to tell its future plans.

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Apple’s Restrained Approach to AI

Since the advancements in generative AI exploded in late 2022, major brands have poured money into AI startups and projects. In return, these brands have already experienced a rise in their value. One can find a real “Who’s Who” in tech and innovation in the list of the best AI-related stocks. But not Apple.

Instead, the world’s most valuable brand has been largely silent on AI, making no major announcements yet. Does this mean Apple is doing nothing at the moment? Based on the company’s history, the contrary is more likely.

Apple is known for its secrecy amidst meticulous product development. For instance, the company’s top management and best engineers kept “Project Purple” under wraps for more than two years until, on January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone. Instead of rushing to produce a new smartphone for the sake of having something to match the competitors as soon as possible, Apple managed to spring ahead of them.

Taking the same approach to AI technology only makes sense. After the rollout of generative AI solutions, companies are hurrying to rapidly adopt them in their own products or procedures. Otherwise, they fear that the future will leave them behind. Whether generative AI can produce a sustainable advantage at this early stage without accompanying innovations remains unclear, however. Apple’s typical working method would be to concentrate on such innovations in order to enter the race already in front of all the half-baked, first-mover solutions.

 

Tracking Apple’s Efforts With Jobs Data

Although the newest iPad Pro comes with the next-generation M4 chip that boasts improved AI performance, Apple will need to do more to truly put itself on the AI map. Thus, many observers are expecting grand news from Apple’s Worldwide Developer conference that begins in the middle of June. There are ways to tell that something big is in the works before an official announcement, however. In fact, journalists at the Financial Times used one of these methods. 

The FT analyzed hundreds of online job postings, professional profiles and research papers to uncover that Apple is actively targeting Google’s AI staff. While Apple is attracting AI talent from other institutions as well, Google is by far the main source, data shows. 

This seems like a competitive move by Apple to increase its AI talent pool while simultaneously diminishing that of Android’s developers. Amidst ongoing talks about using Google Gemini to power some of the upcoming iPhone’s AI features, these hiring decisions might be a clear signal that Apple and Google’s partnership is more than likely. Apple might be building a team that has hands-on experience with DeepMind’s large language models and has something in the works for which experience developing Google’s AI tools could be especially useful. 

The investigation also reveals Apple’s increased online job advertising for AI-related positions around Zürich. The Swiss city is quietly becoming the company’s hot spot for generative AI research. It has been rumored that Apple quietly bought a couple of AI startups in the area — Faceshift and Fashwell — and established an AI laboratory that focuses on researching advanced machine learning models.

 

What Will Apple Do With AI?

Apple is good at keeping secrets, and the future always carries a degree of uncertainty until it becomes the present. A few considerations emerge from public-data-based investigations like the Financial Times’.

Another Smartphone Revolution Is Likely

Smartphones already work as portable assistants. Thus, this is where generative AI has the potential to make the most impact on everyday lives. Enhanced with increased capabilities to perform actions based on simple prompts, these devices may once again shape a generation and the way it interacts with technology.

Although Samsung has secured the trademark for “AI smartphone” and is currently leading the way in this area, Apple is likely looking to repeat the revolutionary effect of the first iPhone with one of the upcoming models. This is possibly a reason behind the new AI teams in Zürich, which will have a lot of generative AI experience concentrated in one place.

The Viability of a Slower Approach to AI

Though many companies feel the need to implement AI as soon as possible, Apple’s actions might show that a thoughtful approach works better. A company might benefit more from allowing others to lead the way in AI adoption, instead working under the radar to solve the glitches that reduce the performance of early devices. Of course, this remains to be seen. The stealthy purchases of AI startups and the hunt for the very best talent in the market give Apple fans reasons to be optimistic. Other companies might once again learn that benefiting from innovation requires clever management.

The Power of Publicly Available Data

The secrets of big corporations are often well hidden, and it seems that there is little the rest of the world can know in advance. FT’s investigation into the publicly available labor market and research data shows that it is possible to track some signals that can help figure out what the future might bring, however.

Even manual investigation of such sources returns interesting results regarding competitive moves, targeted geographic locations, and types of expertise that merit further analysis. Journalists may also use automated data-gathering solutions to extract insights from publicly available information. Interestingly, AI capabilities that power some such solutions can help track what is in the works for the future of AI right now. 

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Why Public Data Matters

There are good reasons to want to track what big corporations are doing with AI. For businesses, information is about competitive advantage, whether you’re the one protecting secrets or finding them out. Apple’s innovations can affect not only its direct competitors but everyone operating in the market conditions they create. Given AI’s disruptive power, regulators and investigative journalists will also want to keep a close eye on any important AI research. 

Finally, a genuine curiosity about the next big thing in the consumer market prompts many to dive into publicly available sources and see what they can dig out. Thus, there is plenty of motivation to continuously develop technology that could extract public data’s full knowledge potential.

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