Apple’s Being Coy About Saying ‘AI’ and With Good Reason

In its WWDC 2024 keynote presentation Monday, by our count Apple said “AI” a total of three times. Compare that to the Google I/O keynote last month, during which the search giant uttered “AI” over 120 times. Clearly, Apple doesn’t want you associating its upcoming machine-learning features for iPhones, iPads and Macs with a term that’s sending the stocks of Nvidia and Microsoft soaring.

Instead, Apple’s cheekily marketing AI as “Apple Intelligence.” Some of the features Apple showed off included AI-powered email proofreading, audio transcription and image editing, all of which are available on Windows, Google and Samsung devices. But Apple also is bringing its own twist to generative AI, introducing features not found on Android, such as on-device image generation of what it calls Genmoji. The question is, why isn’t Apple saying “AI” at the same clip as Google, Samsung or Microsoft?

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One argument is that it has to do with Apple’s dedicated users. 

“I think this sort of slow and measured approach is consistent with the fact that they have enough user lock-in to give them a little extra runway or cover,” said Andy Tsay, professor of information systems at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, who’s been teaching his students about Apple for decades.

To a greater degree than its Big Tech rivals, Apple has a customer base that’s sticky, unwilling to jump to other products or platforms. Some of that stickiness is deliberate on Apple’s part, like restricting messaging in iMessage, creating cliques of iPhone users. Other times it’s the company’s obsession with ease of use, making it a great platform for people who don’t care to spend hours customizing their devices. 

This focus on making Apple products aspirational, while also making them easy to use, has propelled the Cupertino-based company into a $2.6 trillion entity. That valuation is lagging behind Microsoft, however, which is being rewarded handsomely on Wall Street for its AI investments, especially its partnership with ChatGPT maker OpenAI. (Maybe Apple will now see a similar bump, back toward its earlier heights, given that one of its WWDC 2024 revelations is that it, too, is partnering with OpenAI.)

Apple doesn’t need to be flamboyant in its embrace of AI, but instead can make “Apple Intelligence” a background element of the features its users love. That approach also may allow Apple to sidestep some of the concerns people have about generative AI, for instance by toning down the image generation capabilities to avoid being associated with abuses like teen students making deepfake nudes of classmates.

Of course, there is the argument that Apple’s just skirting the fact that it’s playing catchup with rivals that have been promoting their gen AI capabilities for months.

“The pessimistic view is that Apple is slow to respond,” said Tsay. “But the optimistic view is, they’re taking the time to be careful and thoughtful and making sure that that actually solves problems for their customers and just works.”

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

We’ve already seen major AI missteps from Google, including generating images of historical figures in Nazi uniforms and telling you to add glue to pizza. Those stumbles, critics say, show that Google rushed its Gemini AI to the market as OpenAI, Microsoft and others blazed the trail. 

Apple apparently isn’t feeling that same pressure. It already has a customer base that’s willing to pay a premium on products that simply work. According to Tsay: “When you’re the king, I don’t think you have to swing for the fences.”

Watch this: OpenAI’s ChatGPT Is Coming to Apple Apps

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