The biggest Apple WWDC announcements from ‘Apple Intelligence’ to iOS 18

Over nearly 50 years, Apple has navigated the rise of the PC, the smartphone revolution and a world made smaller by social media. But is it ready to enter the age of AI?

Apple on Monday revealed its long-simmering AI strategy in a keynote at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Starting this fall, it’s adding a little bit of AI - which it is calling “Apple Intelligence” - to many of its core apps and devices. It also announced upcoming changes to iOS and its other big software, including for AirPods and the Vision Pro.

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In the past, Apple has used this event to unveil ambitious products like its $3,499 Vision Pro headset. This year, the spotlight was firmly fixed on its software - the kind that power iPhones, iPads and Mac computers - and the new AI tools being woven into it. In addition to its own AI updates, Apple announced a deal with OpenAI to include some of the ChatGPT maker’s features.

“Apple intelligence is the personal intelligence system that puts powerful generative models right at the core of your iPhone, iPad and Mac,” said Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi in a prerecorded video at the event. “It draws on your personal context to give you intelligence that’s most helpful and relevant for you.”

Here’s what Apple announced.

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Apple is making AI moves

Amid sustained AI hype, Apple is taking a measured approach to integrating AI features into its software. The focus, the company said, was to build “generative models” into the core of its products to simplify tasks.

That means the company’s Apple Intelligence will let you handle table-stakes tasks like rewriting and summarizing text, as well as generating images on-demand. But it also taps into personal information you’ve stored on your device, and draws from what it sees on your screen, when it could be helpful.

In one example Federighi described, iOS could use its understanding of traffic at a given time, a user’s calendar, and data from the device’s GPS to see if a person could make it to a specific event on time.

If there was one standout AI feature on display, it was an updated version of the Siri virtual assistant Apple first launched on its iPhones in 2011.

All demos were described or prerecorded, and the features will not be available to the public until at least this fall, so it’s unclear how accurate they are. But in addition to being a natural conversation partner, Siri could interact with files and activate specific features inside apps when asked. It will also serve as a launching point for some of the AI features baked into other corners of Apple’s software. Users could ask Siri, for example, to automatically retouch photos, or add those photos into a new file in the Notes app.

In some cases, Siri can also call in a little help to tackle your requests. It can tap into ChatGPT’s GPT-4o model - though it will ask your permission before passing anything along to the chatbot. After that, Siri will pass ChatGPT’s response back to you verbatim. At least some of these features will be available only on higher-end devices, such as the iPhone 15 Pro series.

Some AI features require data to be ferried to remote servers for processing rather than being handled solely on the devices. To mitigate privacy risks, Apple says it has developed servers running on its own Apple silicon chips.

Apple also says its AI tools will be free, though it’s unclear whether it will eventually charge for access. Samsung, which already launched AI features in its newest Galaxy phones, only guarantees they’ll be free until the end of 2025.

Monday’s announcements couldn’t come soon enough for the company. Since the beginning of the year, Apple - once the most valuable company in the world by market cap - has fallen behind Microsoft and Nvidia, two firms that have seen their fortunes flourish thanks to a brewing AI revolution. During that same period, Apple also began to wind down its decades-long work on an autonomous electric car, with many staffers on that project being shifted to work on the company’s burgeoning AI efforts.

Apple’s new phone software iOS 18, which is expected to roll out in September, doesn’t bring any mind-blowing changes, but there may be some tweaks you like. The iPhone’s display is getting more customizable: IOS 18 users will be able to place apps anywhere on their home screens, shift all apps into “dark mode” with a black background, or select color schemes for groups of apps (like green for travel or pink for shopping).

App makers can also create their own icons for the control screen where your flashlight tool lives, so you can add controls for your car, garage door or home security system. New privacy features help control who can see what on your phone. You can lock apps behind Face ID or hide them entirely in a secret folder. Apple Maps is also adding a trails option, which could pair nicely with its satellite SOS option for people who are lost in the woods.

Texting and messages are getting some big tweaks, too. In iOS 18, you’ll be able to fire off text messages even when you’re far off the grid. Apple confirmed that, once its latest update lands, users will be able to send iMessages - and even standard, green-bubble text messages - via satellite connection. Previously, the satellite communication features built into certain iPhones only let you send text messages to emergency services when out of reach of cell service.

Also new to the fold: New text effects to add emphasis, gravitas or whimsy to your messages, and the ability to “tapback” on incoming messages with any emoji - not just a chosen few. Meanwhile, support for RCS - a more modern messaging standard that Apple begrudgingly embraced at the end of last year - should make texting between iPhones and Android devices feel more up-to-date.

Apple is adding generative AI emojis - called “genmojis” - that pop up based on the content of your message. We’ve yet to see whether the AI can handle odd situations, abstractions and (most importantly) snark.

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IPadOS gets a calculator app, finally

Some of the changes coming to iPads via its software update are transplants from iOS, such as tools to personalize your tablet’s home screen or its Control Center. Others are seemingly minor, as is the case with a new floating tab bar that keeps an app’s menu and options out of the way when you don’t need them.

Honestly though, some of the most interesting features coming to Apple’s tablets seem geared toward people who like to jot things down. A long-awaited Calculator app includes the ability to write out math equations and expressions with an Apple Pencil, for the app to solve automatically. Note-takers, meanwhile, may soon see their chicken scratch transformed into something more intelligible thanks to Smart Script, a tool that analyzes your handwriting and improves it.

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AirPods let you nod

When you’re wearing Apple’s popular wireless ear buds, an upcoming software update will let you respond to Siri with a nod - which is a little more helpful than it sounds. If Siri announces you have an incoming call, for instance, a quick nod or shake of the head will signal to Apple’s virtual assistant whether you’re willing to chat. Apple’s AirPods Pro are also set to receive a voice isolation feature that makes your side of a conversation more clear when you’re moving through noisy environments.

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Little things for Apple Watch, Vision Pro and passwords

Changes to Apple Watch in the upcoming WatchOS 11 will give us even more ways to track our health at a granular level, from inputting our effort level during workouts to tracking the gestational age of a pregnancy. You can even use the new Vitals app to watch how your current temperature, heart rate and sleep quality compare with past weeks.

But perhaps the most welcome change is an escape from the tyranny of the Health app step counter. Now you can opt out of closing your rings when you need to rest or recover without breaking your streak.

Other small changes coming later include Apple’s own password app, the ability to mirror your iPhone on a Mac, and an original movie on the Vision Pro.


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Video: At WWDC 2024, Apple showed how Siri will be new and improved with the help of artificial intelligence on June 10.(c) 2024 , The Washington Post

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