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Is this what the iPhone of AI will look like?

Published Jun 6th, 2024 10:36AM EDT
AirPods 3 on the charging case / not charging
Image: José Adorno for BGR

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Reports last fall said OpenAI CEO Sam Altman might be working on the “iPhone of AI”, and it was not surprising. After all, ChatGPT needs a hardware device it can call home. It can’t only be a third-party solution on iPhones, Androids, and PCs. Dedicated hardware is how OpenAI can offer true personal AI assistant features to users interested in it.

Something else was surprising about those rumors, though: the inclusion of Jony Ive. Apparently, the two have had meetings for this mythical-sounding “iPhone of AI.” That’s certainly a big win for OpenAI. Having Jony Ive design a device that will compete directly against the iPhone, which is also one of his creations, would be massive.

As I said at the time, I expect Ive to do more for a ChatGPT gadget than give it an iconic design. He’d give the product more credibility, possibly including some of the core Apple principles that influenced products during his career there.

But what is this “iPhone of AI” going to look like? Is it going to be a smartphone? Altman has never confirmed that he wants to make a ChatGPT physical product, though he seemed to hint the reports were somewhat accurate. Of course, I wouldn’t expect him to mention a form factor until they’d be ready to announce it.

However, there has been a recent wave of reports mentioning the imminent partnership about integrating ChatGPT into iOS 18 to power some of the iPhone’s upcoming AI features. Those reports might have mentioned what the “iPhone of AI” will look like: AirPods with video cameras.

First, let’s get the obvious “issue” out of the way. The “iPhone of AI” might be a device you carry in your pants or purse right now: the iPhone. Apple is expected to catch up to rivals when it unveils iOS 18 at WWDC 2024, and it has a few massive advantages.

The AI features will be optional rather than mandatory, but users will want to enable them considering how Apple is expected to approach AI. Many of the features will run on-device rather than in the cloud, and they’ll be designed to help the user. Also, Apple’s take on AI will include a big focus on privacy, which will involve the cloud component in ways other tech giants can’t or won’t match.

Then there’s the Siri assistant, which will let you control more app features than ever. To top it off, we’ll get chatbot functionality via ChatGPT integration in iOS if the rumors are accurate.

Take all that together, and you might get the “iPhone of AI” in an iPhone. You’ll have no need for a bizarre gadget like the Humane Ai Pin or Rabbit r1.

iPhone 15 Pro Display
iPhone 15 Pro Display. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

So, where do the AirPods rumors come from? Two distinct sources mentioned them in the span of a few days, each of them focusing on a different company involved in the partnership.

First, The Information penned a report last year detailing Sam Altman’s latest moves at the top of OpenAI, with a focus on the Apple partnership for ChatGPT. The report also contained this tidbit that John Gruber highlighted:

To top it off, Altman is working on two new projects outside OpenAI: the first is a daring effort to make AI server-chip factories and the other is developing an AI-powered personal device, such as earbuds with forward-facing cameras that could emulate the AI companion in the film “Her,” with the aid of former Apple designer Jony Ive. Both efforts could complement his work at OpenAI — which would own stakes in the ventures — and give him even more clout.

The big detail here is the “AI-powered personal device, such as earbuds with forward-facing cameras that could emulate the AI companion in the film Her.” It’s not a confirmation that’s what OpenAI’s “iPhone of AI” will look like. It’s one possibility.

Moving on, Mark Gurman on Wednesday covered the ChatGPT integration in iOS 18. His Bloomberg report came after The Information. Here’s a tidbit from the article that also mentions earphones with cameras in them to give AI eyes:

Apple also is looking beyond chatbots. It aims to use large language models — a key technology behind generative AI — to help power a pair of robotic devices that it is secretly developing, the people said.

That includes a table-top robotic arm with a large, iPad-like display. The company also has been working on a mobile robot that can follow users around and handle chores on their behalf. And it’s looking to equip its AirPods with cameras and AI features.

Forget the robots for now. Why would AirPods need cameras? Because you will want AI to be able to see what you see in addition to hearing prompts from you and other sounds. That’s why GPT-4o is so amazing: it gives ChatGPT eyes. Gemini is getting similar capabilities. Siri will also have to see what you see to offer features like those.

Apple AirPods Pro Buds
AirPods Pro 2nd Generation earphones. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

There you have it. Two reports from two trusted sources tackled the same partnership between two big tech companies. Each story says one of the companies is looking at creating AI-first AirPods-like wearables that feature cameras. If you’ve been keeping tabs on AI developments for the past year like I have, you might also wonder if AirPods with cameras could be the “iPhone of AI,” or at least a component of it.

That said, AI tech is advancing faster than anything else, but we’re still in the early days. Maybe a year from now, we won’t think about the “iPhone of AI” devices. The iPhone and Android phones we own will be enough. Even then, earphones with cameras will make sense, but that’s a story for a different time.

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.