Will iOS 18 bring Apple AI subscriptions?

I’m a longtime iPhone user who is dying to test all the artificial intelligence features Apple has built into iOS 18. I’m also excited about having ChatGPT integrated into iOS 18 and getting a smarter Siri assistant next year that will let me control iPhone apps.

I’ll also add that I’m paying for ChatGPT Plus, a subscription I’ll probably keep even after iOS 18 arrives. And I’ve been considering getting Gemini Advanced, which is priced at $20 per month, just like ChatGPT Plus.

What I’m getting at is something I said before. Great AI features, especially the kind of personal AI assistant experiences we’re going to soon get, can’t be available for free forever. The more premium and private the experience, the higher the cost involved. I’d rather pay a monthly subscription for ChatGPT and other genAI products than have my data train the AI.

I’d apply the same considerations to Apple’s “Intelligence” features coming to iOS 18. Premium AI features could always come at a cost. However, I don’t think Apple can afford to put a price tag on its iPhone AI. Not right now, at least.

I’m writing this a few days before WWDC 2024 when Apple will unveil all the genAI features it created for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Watch, and Vision Pro. Many of those features have leaked, with a focus on the iPhone, which will easily be the main way to use Apple’s genAI.

Notably absent from the leaks is the price for Apple AI. Insiders did not learn about any plans for Apple to monetize the iPhone AI with a subscription of some sort. If anything, some of the leaks keep saying that not everyone at Apple is convinced users will want to use any of the genAI Apple is developing. This implies they’re not considering charging for these features, at least for now.

But there are other reasons why Apple can’t afford to charge for premium AI features yet.

Apple is catching up

Using Google's Circle to Search AI feature on the Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Using Google’s Circle to Search AI feature on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Image source: Samsung

Everywhere you look, you see predictions that Apple will deliver its own version of AI on the iPhone as it’s looking to catch up to rivals. The list includes pretty much everyone in the industry. OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Samsung are just a few examples. Apple will likely match some of the gen AI features available from these companies via the iOS 18 update.

Moreover, Apple will likely want as many iPhone users as possible to start taking its “Intelligence” features for granted. Apple AI could be a key service to keeping iPhone users loyal to Apple. That means iPhone owners would have to use Apple AI as often as possible. The easiest way to do that is if Apple AI is free.

Apple AI will be optional

iOS 18 rumors also say that the AI features coming to the iPhone will not be mandatory. That’s understandable, considering that not all iPhone owners are there are ready for AI. Or they might not want any genAI features on their devices. After all, many of them are aware of ChatGPT, Gemini, and the like. They’re either using the apps or not at this point.

But reports also say that Apple has devised AI features so that they’ll feel natural to the user. They won’t have to think about the AI part. If these features are built into most iPhone apps, it’s unlikely that Apple can reasonably charge a subscription for them.

The big privacy push

Geminin Nano will process more AI data on-device in Android 15.
Geminin Nano will process more AI data on-device in Android 15.

One of the big expectations from Apple’s AI features is that they’ll adhere to Apple’s privacy and security practices. iOS 18 rumors say Apple has a big strategy for that. Most iOS 18 AI features will run on-device, meaning the iPhone A-series chip will be able to process everything locally without beaming data to the cloud.

Apple can’t possibly charge a subscription for on-device AI. In addition to improving user privacy, on-device AI eliminates the strain on Apple servers. There won’t be other costs associated with that.

I said that Samsung might have to charge a fee for its Galaxy AI features come 2025, but most of these are cloud-based features. Apple will likely to better than Samsung when it comes to on-device processing.

Apple will also offer cloud-based AI features, with the iPhone reportedly ready to determine which features it can process and which it has to send to the cloud. These will also have strong privacy protections in place.

But it’ll be very difficult for Apple to charge only for the cloud-based portion of an iPhone owner’s AI use. That’s especially true if the cloud-based AI features compete directly against free AI products from rivals.

I do see premium cloud-based AI experiences that might require a subscription in the future, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

ChatGPT Free already packs most of the features in Plus

ChatGPT with no login or signup
Using ChatGPT on the web without a login. Image source: OpenAI

One thing Apple can’t offer this year is a chatbot of its own. That’s why it’s partnering with OpenAI to add ChatGPT to iOS 18 in some capacity. It’s unclear what the financial terms of such a contract will be. On the one hand, Apple can significantly increase the number of ChatGPT users. On the other hand, OpenAI will have to deal with the extra burden of processing all those requests from the iPhone.

But Apple can’t possibly charge for ChatGPT access in iOS 18 because ChatGPT is already available as a standalone iPhone app.

Not only that, but OpenAI gave ChatGPT Free users a massive upgrade a few days ago, making GPT-4o, custom GPTs, and other features available to the free-tier account. Limitations are in place, of course. But what I’m getting at is that iPhone users will always have ChatGPT available as a separate app regardless of the Apple-OpenAI partnership.

iOS updates are always free

One of the things Apple is known for is that software updates are available for free for all its devices. Apple releases new operating system versions annually, announcing them at WWDC and testing them via a few months of beta releases. The finalized OSes will then roll out worldwide to all Apple customers. You don’t pay for any of that, and you’ll get years of updates for each of your Apple products.

When iOS 18 rolls out this fall, complete with all the big (but optional) genAI features, it’ll still be available for free to all iPhone users rocking compatible hardware.

Some AI features might not work on older devices. Some iPhones might not be able to process some AI features. But, overall, the AI experience is part of iOS 18, which is available for free. Well, we do pay for software…

The iPhone is expensive

How to fast charge iPhone 15 Pro
The iPhone is an expensive device. Image source: José Adorno for BGR

The only way to get access to iOS for free, with all that comes with it, is to buy an iPhone. That’s how you get on iMessage, for example.

The development cost of iOS is factored into the iPhone. And the iPhone is getting more expensive every year, as Apple has managed to pull off a trick others can’t. Despite economic uncertainties, Apple has steadily increased the average iPhone price over the years. People have been willing to spend more money on an iPhone upgrade thanks to what it has to offer.

What I’m getting at is that we’ve already paid for the genAI features coming to the iPhone. As soon as we buy a new iPhone, we’ll continue to pay for them. Not just for the iOS 18 update, but future ones too.

So Apple can’t charge a subscription for genAI features just yet, at least not overtly. It can increase the price of the iPhone, though it has to do so in a way that doesn’t impact sales.

The Apple AI I would gladly pay for

With all that in mind, I don’t think we’ll see Apple charging a subscription for premium AI features anytime soon. However, there is one type of AI product that everyone is building towards, and Apple might give us a taste of it next year.

Rumors say Siri is getting smarter in iOS 18, and Apple might demo the new features at WWDC. But the Siri upgrade might be available only in 2025 via an iOS 18.x update. This Siri will let you control the iPhone in ways that aren’t possible right now. I’d expect a similar behavior on Mac and Vision Pro.

iOS 18 will deliver the building blocks for the operating system of the future, which might be an AI OS entirely. Siri will become the ultimate assistant, assuming ChatGPT functionality based on Apple’s own GPT in addition to controlling the iPhone. This smart, personal, and private AI will know everything about you and assist you in ways current computers can’t.

That sort of AI experience will work across devices where hardware might not matter as much. Imagine giving Siri the same complex commands on iPhone, Mac, or Apple Watch, and Siri acting immediately. The AI will execute them no matter what device is closer to you or on you.

I know it sounds a lot like the movie Her that’s getting so much attention right now. But that’s the kind of Apple AI experience I’d gladly pay a subscription for.

Of course, all of this is speculation. But thankfully, Apple’s WWDC event is only a few days away. We’ll know exactly what Apple’s AI will cost on the iPhone soon.

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