Apple just acquired AI startup ahead of huge iOS 18 launch

 IOS 18 logo on iPhone in person's lap.
IOS 18 logo on iPhone in person's lap.

Last year’s runaway success of ChatGPT took everyone by surprise and left many tech companies scrambling to quickly integrate their own take on artificial intelligence into their best-selling products.

Apple has been a little slow out of the gates on this one, but CEO Tim Cook has promised that the company will “break new ground in generative AI” this year.

While the specifics of the ‘what’ are understandably under wraps, we’re now a bit clearer on the ‘how’. Apple has reportedly purchased over 30 AI startups in 2023 and it’s apparently continuing this trend into 2024 with the acquisition of Canadian company DarwinAI.

According to Bloomberg, which revealed the purchase, while DarwinAI is responsible for tech that visually inspects components in manufacturing, Apple may be more interested in its work making AI systems “smaller and faster”. With Apple reportedly intent on making the iPhone 16’s AI features run locally rather than in the cloud, this could be all important.

The report adds that the purchase was completed earlier this year, and while Apple didn’t confirm or deny the report, the company acknowledged to Bloomberg that it “buys smaller technology companies from time to time”. More tellingly, DarwinAI’s web footprint has disappeared, and founder Alexander Wong’s LinkedIn profile lists him as becoming “director of machine learning research” at Apple in January.

We should see the first fruits of Apple’s pivot towards artificial intelligence in a few months’ time at WWDC 2024. The World Wide Developer’s Conference is typically when Apple launches betas of its latest operating system versions, and there’s reportedly an “edict” within the company for iOS 18 to be chock full of “features running on the company’s large language model.”

Early rumors suggest the ability for Siri to summarize content and answer questions in a ChatGPT style, as well as AI integration with iMessage and even AppleCare. Developers attending WWDC may be especially interested in the report that Apple is close to releasing a generative AI tool for building apps, too.

While Apple tends to make new versions of iOS backward compatible with a commendable number of older handsets, it’s likely that some of the upcoming iPhone AI features will be exclusive to the iPhone 16 when it arrives.

Although Apple’s A-series iPhone chips have had a Neural Engine for machine learning since the iPhone 8’s A11 Bionic processor, the field of artificial intelligence has come a long way since that chip was developed in 2017. Seen through that lens, it may be telling that the iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Pro could be using the same chipset once again — perhaps the best on-device AI features will need a substantial hardware boost, requiring chip parity to once again be the norm.