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Apple’s first GenAI partner for the iPhone could be a big surprise

Published Mar 25th, 2024 10:22PM EDT
iPhone 15 Pro on a shelf.
Image: Jonathan Geller, BGR

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The iPhone will get generative AI powers courtesy of iOS 18 this year, according to virtually every recent rumor. We’ve seen an increasing number of reports in recent weeks detailing Apple’s unconfirmed plans for adding more AI features to the iPhone.

Apple is also releasing more research papers that detail its ongoing work in the field and give credence to reports that say ChatGPT-like experiences could be built into iOS 18.

But there’s been a change of narrative last week. Apple will not go at deploying AI on the iPhone on its own. That is, it won’t handle the cloud-based AI features, at least initially. We saw several reports claiming that Apple is conducting preliminary talks with OpenAI and Google for possible ChatGPT or Gemini integration in the iPhone.

Google seems to be the frontrunner, and I already explained why Gemini might be a good match for the iPhone

Neither party is ready to confirm anything, though Apple probably has to decide by June which third-party AI providers would handle parts of the AI features it wants to deploy with iOS 18. Apple will likely demo some of these features during the WWDC 2024 event that will happen during that month. 

If a new report from China is accurate, Apple may have chosen a partner for the iPhone’s upcoming AI features. It’s not OpenAI or Google, but Baidu. The Chinese company would work with Apple to power AI features for iPhones sold in mainland China.

Apple’s talks with Google for Gemini AI emerged in a few reports last week. Then, we learned on Friday that Apple is also negotiating with Baidu in the region. The company would help Apple power the same cloud-based AI features it needs from OpenAI or Google. But ChatGPT and Gemini are not available in China, so Apple needs a local partner. 

At the time, I said the Baidu rumor practically indicates that Apple is indeed searching for help from a third party that already runs a successful chatbot. The implication is that Apple’s own ChatGPT rivals aren’t ready. Or that it can’t handle the computing power needed for such a task. Or maybe both of those reasons might be right.

Apple might need a partner until it can replace it with its own products. Postponing the introduction of native GenAI features on the iPhone isn’t a good alternative. 

Fast-forward to Monday, and we have a report from China that offers a different take on the matter. According to Cailian Press, via Dow Jones, Apple has chosen Baidu’s Ernie Bot. 

According to the report, Baidu will power generative AI features on the iPhone 16, macOS, and iOS 18.

Baidu shares were up by 5.4% on Monday morning after the report came out. Like Apple’s other purported AI-related deal negotiations, nothing is official here either. But the report apparently presented the Apple-Baidu partnership as a done deal. Apple supposedly discussed with Alibaba and a different AI provider before settling on Baidu. 

Google Gemini can power the Google Assistant app on Android.
Google Gemini can power the Google Assistant app on Android. Image source: Google

Baidu’s Ernie Bot is a ChatGPT rival and one of the more than 40 AI models from China that local regulators have approved. A partnership with Apple would be a big win for Baidu, considering the growing competition in the region. 

If the deal is real, it’s practically an indirect confirmation that Apple will pick Gemini, ChatGPT, or a different large language model to power cloud-based generative AI features on the iPhone in most markets except for China. Or a combination of services from third-party providers to avoid additional antitrust worries. 

I wouldn’t expect any official announcements anytime soon. But, again, Apple has to have those AI demos ready for WWDC 2024 which happens in early June. It has to start using those third-party chatbots in iOS 18 long before that. These AI deals have to come through soon enough.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.