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iOS 18’s AI features will be on-device only – should we be worried or excited?

Published Apr 15th, 2024 12:05PM EDT
iPhone 15 Plus Dynamic Island.
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Artificial intelligence is widely expected to be the main topic of WWDC 2024 in June. Apple will add generative AI features to the iPhone and Mac via iOS 18 and macOS 15. These features will likely match the ones available on Android phones and Windows PCs, but I would expect Apple to put a unique spin on them.

It’s not just for the sake of doing something different. It’s because of how Apple goes about adding software features to its products, especially when they’re software features that involve sensitive user data.

I expect the privacy and security aspects of genAI features in iOS 18 and macOS 15 to be key talking points. Apple will probably want to ensure customers that their data remains private even when they share it with Apple’s new AI language models and a more advanced Siri.

But I’d also expect Apple to rely on the cloud for some genAI features, especially regarding iOS 18. Not everything can be processed on-device, which ensures the best privacy possible. Some of those AI features might need cloud processing. Rumors say that Google Gemini might be tasked to handle some of that.

With all that in mind, a rumor that iOS 18 will initially offer only on-device AI features is puzzling. Should we be worried that Apple won’t match what ChatGPT, Copilot, and Gemini can do? Or should we be excited that Apple will manage to process more AI features on-device than its rivals?

This new iOS 18 AI development comes from Mark Gurman. He addressed iOS 18’s AI features in a Bloomberg subscription version of his free Power On newsletter. Here’s Gurman’s answer to a question about Apple’s reliance on the cloud for AI features, via MacRumors:

As the world awaits Apple’s big AI unveiling on June 10, it looks like the initial wave of features will work entirely on device. That means there’s no cloud processing component to the company’s large language model, the software that powers the new capabilities.

AI Live Translate Call feature available on Galaxy S24 phones.
AI Live Translate Call feature is available on Galaxy S24 phones. Image source: Samsung

Gurman also said that Google Gemini, or a different large language model, will eventually power cloud-based AI features in iOS 18. Several reports have said the same thing in recent weeks. Google Gemini seems to be the front-runner, considering it’s been the focus of these reports. But all of them declared the talks between Apple and possible AI partners as early discussions.

I said at the time that Apple will have to ink deals soon if it plans to use Gemini, ChatGPT, or other models to demo cloud-based iOS 18 AI features at WWDC in early June. But considering Gurman’s take above, Apple could always have more time to choose an exteral partner. Or, Apple could always demo on-device AI features at WWDC but say they’re coming via an iOS 18.x update.

Considering that Samsung made a big deal about Galaxy AI earlier this year and that marketing tactic worked for the Galaxy S24, I’d expect Apple to want to match some of the Galaxy AI features, especially as Samsung has now rolled these genAI features to older hardware.

But most of Samsung’s Galaxy AI features require the cloud. Samsung is working with Google and other providers to support those features.

The only genAI features that work on the Galaxy S24, and other phones, are the Live Translate features for calls and messages, the Photo Ambient Wallpaper that lets you use AI to generate wallpapers, and the Edit Suggestion feature that lets you tweak your photos using AI.

Galaxy S24 phones can summarize text.
Galaxy S24 phones can summarize text. Image source: Samsung

Features like Circle to Search, summarizing text in various apps, formatting text with AI, generating images, or using genAI to compose text will require an internet connection and cloud processing.

Google’s Pixel 8 models are also “AI phones” that offer on-device and cloud-based AI features. However, on-device AI features are limited. We’re looking at summarization support for the Recorder app and Smart Replies in chat apps.

Apple might not match all these AI features at once with the iOS 18 release. But I would expect a few equivalents, just so industry observers and analysts don’t say that Apple is falling behind in this key AI race.

I’ll also add that a smarter Siri that uses AI to process more complex prompts, like ChatGPT, would probably need a connection to the cloud. Siri would probably work with Apple’s cloud rather than an alternative.

But if Gurman is accurate, some of Apple’s AI features might launch later than September 2024, when the final iOS 18 build rolls out.

A more exciting alternative is Apple’s finding a way to process more AI features on the iPhone than Samsung and Google can with their devices. This would be a huge win for Apple. But we have an obvious twist. You’d need a newer iPhone model with a beefed-up NPU to handle some of those tasks.

Whatever the case, I’m still excited to see Apple’s first take on genAI for the iPhone. 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.