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Gemini AI on iPhone makes more sense the more I think about it

Published Mar 20th, 2024 10:14AM EDT
Google Gemini can power the Google Assistant app on Android.
Image: Google

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A report earlier this week said Apple is talking to Google about using Gemini generative AI models on the iPhone. Google isn’t the only company Apple is looking at for genAI features for the upcoming version of iOS.

Upon hearing about it, my first reaction as a longtime iPhone user was circumspection. I am a fan of Circle to Search and I want it on the iPhone. But I’m not necessarily a fan of the idea of Gemini handling the cloud-based aspect of the AI features Apple is building into iOS 18.

I’ve had time to think about it, and I’m warming up to it. Google might be the best partner Apple can get for its first version of genAI on iPhone. And Gemini could be a great addition to the iPhone as a native AI model. It so happens that a second new report mentions the talks between Apple and Google, which indicates the negotiations might be more serious than I thought.

After Bloomberg, The New York Times is reporting the same story. Apple is in talks with Google about using Gemini on the iPhone. The talks are still preliminary, according to people familiar with the matter. The exact scope of the deal hasn’t been detailed.

But the fact these talks are leaking indicates Apple has a problem that needs fixing. The company apparently can’t pull off genAI on its own, so it requires a partner for generative AI on the iPhone.

This signals one or two issues with Apple’s own AI efforts. Apple GPTs might not be ready to compete with ChatGPT (GPT-4) and Gemini right now. Another issue is cloud infrastructure that needs to support reliable cloud-based generative AI features. Or, it could be a combination of the two.

The iPhone will feature on-device generative AI features, which could be a key advantage over some competitors. iOS 18 processing AI prompts on the iPhone fits perfectly with Apple’s core principles for its products. That’s privacy and security, of course. On-device AI is also what I want as a smartphone user who is looking forward to more advanced personal AI features from my devices. 

However, the iPhone won’t be able to process locally all of the generative AI features that are available to users. That’s where cloud-based computing is needed. Even if Apple has somehow had the time to prepare its server infrastructure for the massive AI processing needs of hundreds of millions of iPhones using iOS 18, there’s the question of its own AI models. 

The so-called Apple GPTs need to be as good as the current standards, ChatGPT and Gemini. On that note, I will remind you that ChatGPT and Gemini are far from perfect.

The Times does say that two people familiar with Apple’s chatbot development say the company is running behind OpenAI and Google.

Chat with Gemini is available in Google Messages on Android.
Chat with Gemini is available in Google Messages on Android. Image source: Google

It’s the early years, and Apple has time to “fix” both issues. It can catch up to the quality of ChatGPT and Gemini and even surpass it. And it can deploy a massive infrastructure of servers for AI processing. Simultaneously, it’ll develop a more powerful A-series chip that can process more AI requests on the iPhone. 

But for now, Apple’s best route might be Google’s Gemini. The Times points out that Apple has more than two billion devices in active use. Most of them will likely get generative AI features come iOS 18.

I think Google would probably have the the computing capacity in place to serve those customers. To help Apple make the genAI feature feel fast in iOS 18. Apple will want everything to “just work,” and that’s why a Gemini deal could be so important.

I’m not so sure that going the ChatGPT route would work as well. That is, I’m not sure that OpenAI would be able to match Google’s infrastructure. OpenAI has Microsoft to rely on, sure. But as a longtime ChatGPT user, I’ve experienced issues from time to time. Even ChatGPT Plus was slower than expected on occasion. And that’s not ideal for AI use on a phone.

There’s a lot of speculation in all of this, yes. But an Apple-Google partnership on AI makes just as much sense as the two giants partnering for online search and navigation on the iPhone. If that’s the best option for the iPhone, I’m ready to get on board.

Apple has replaced Google Maps with Apple Maps since then, but Google Search remains the default search engine in iOS. Google is paying some $18 billion a year for that honor. That’s how important the iPhone is for Google. Gemini would make iOS and the iPhone even more critical for Google, at least as long as Apple would use it for cloud-based genAI features.

Apple will unveil iOS 18 at WWDC at some point in June. It’ll likely announce some of the genAI features coming to iPhones this year. At least those that aren’t going to be exclusive to the iPhone 16 series. A deal with Google, OpenAI, or anyone else would probably have to be finalized by then. 

I’ll also point out the obvious here. Even if a deal isn’t reached, Gemini is available on iPhone already. You just need to install the Google app and get Gemini going. Gemini is also available on Pixel 8 phones and other Android devices. Gemini is integrated into Google Assistant if you choose to enable it. You can also talk to it via the Messages app on some phones, as seen above.

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.