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I’m convinced Apple can’t deliver real iPhone AI without ChatGPT or Gemini

Published May 15th, 2024 7:24PM EDT
iPhone 15 Pro on a shelf.
Image: Jonathan Geller, BGR

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Google said “AI” 121 times during its I/O 2024 keynote on Tuesday. Apple might not beat it, but there’s no question that WWDC will focus heavily on AI. When Apple demos iOS 18 next month, I expect the iPhone demos to be all about what artificial intelligence can do for the user.

I also trust Apple to develop unique takes on genAI products for the iPhone that will leverage some of its strengths. AI on the iPhone must have strong privacy in place to protect user data. For that, some of the iPhone’s AI needs to be processed locally on the handset.

But after seeing OpenAI’s surprise GPT-4o event on Monday and Google’s massive Gemini-centric I/O keynote, I’m convinced the iPhone AI experience can’t happen without incorporating a third-party chatbot from either OpenAI or Google.

I say that as a longtime iPhone user who would love to find out in June that Apple has an AppleGPT of its own that can match GPT-4o and Gemini 1.5 Pro. But I don’t think it’ll happen yet, and Apple can’t afford to delay offering this type of AI experience on the iPhone.

iOS 18 will very likely include generative AI features similar to what we’ve seen from the likes of ChatGPT. I have no doubt that photo editing will get AI features on iPhone or that we’ll be able to generate text and summarize information. Also, I expect transcription and translation services to be available in iOS 18.

Furthermore, Apple can certainly make Circle to Search experiences happen on the iPhone without needing Google. It’s got Visual Look Up already, which can be upgraded to work more like Google’s take.

Similarly, I expect Siri to get better at understanding prompts and offering answers. Apple can also improve search on the iPhone and add smart image search to the Photos app.

GPT-4o is a new multimodal model that will power ChatGPT Free and Plus.
GPT-4o is a new multimodal model that will power ChatGPT Free and Plus. Image source: OpenAI

What I don’t see coming is a chatbot like ChatGPT or Gemini — a tool that can try to answer virtually any question you might hit it with. I certainly don’t expect Apple to match GPT-4o or Project Astra. Not yet, at least. As a reminder, these latest ChatGPT and Gemini advancements let you talk to the chatbot in real-time while also sharing the video feed from your camera so the AI can “see.”

A multimodal AI chatbot that can process text, voice, images, videos and files is a key development for any tech company, Apple included. Apple will likely develop AI like this, one it’ll need to power future versions of Vision Pro and the AR glasses I see replacing the iPhone. But the company’s AI efforts probably aren’t quite there yet.

It would be a huge surprise to see an AppleGPT chatbot debut with iOS 18 on iPhone and iPad. Apple could pull it off, but I’d be surprised if it did. Apple keeps secrets, but some details about its products still leak. I’d expect that to be the case if Apple had a GPT-4o or Gemini 1.5 Pro rival in place.

Rumors say the opposite. Apple has its own generative AI solutions for the iPhone, but they don’t include a ChatGPT-like chatbot. That’s why Apple is reportedly seeking partnerships with OpenAI and Google.

Project Astra unveiled at Google I/O 2024.
Project Astra unveiled at Google I/O 2024. Image source: Google Inc.

Yes, I know. AI isn’t for everyone. Some people will ignore AI features in iOS 18. They might not use the chatbot, no matter who powers it. Others will start taking genAI features for granted without stopping to think artificial intelligence is at play. But plenty of people will care about AI.

After OpenAI demoed its GPT-4o model, which is now available to all ChatGPT users, I said I wanted it in iOS 18. Now that I saw what Google is doing with Gemini, I’m more convinced than ever that Apple can’t ignore an offering like this. I think it needs ChatGPT or Gemini on the iPhone in iOS 18. Or it has to let the user decide which genAI chatbot to integrate into the iPhone’s operating system, but that’s just wishful thinking at this point.

You can get GPT-4o on your iPhone right now. The same goes for Gemini. You don’t need Apple to release an AI-infused iOS update for that. But incorporating either chatbot more deeply into iOS is probably the way to go until AppleGPT is ready for prime time.

Failure to offer a built-in chatbot that’s one shortcut away could be seen as a major mistake. After all, Google is building Android around AI, with the Gemini chatbot being a tentpole feature of the AI mobile experience. And let’s not forget that Apple’s stock would be crushed in June if WWDC comes and goes without a heavy focus on AI.

Android 15 will be all about AI features this year.
Android 15 will be all about AI features this year. Image source: Google Inc.

While I favor ChatGPT because that’s the chatbot I use most, I will say that Google’s show of AI force was impressive. Google can do things OpenAI can’t because it has so many useful apps that can work together with Gemini. Apple doesn’t necessarily need Gemini for that. It has plenty of apps on iPhone that could include AI features, just like Google now has.

Again, it’s the chatbot functionality that Apple will likely need help to deliver. After what we just saw from OpenAI and Google, WWDC 2024 can’t come 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.