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WWDC ’24 – don’t hold your breath

Are we expecting too much?

WWDC 2024 event artwork

WWDC is always a date for the diary for us Apple fans – and this year’s bun-fight is no exception.

The week-long summer conference always receives a lot of attention in the weeks and months leading up to it, but this year the looming event seems to have caused even more of a stir. It’s rare for Apple execs to ever give much away about what we might expect from them, but this year even the top dog, Tim Cook has broken rank & spoken openly about how excited he is at what’s in store for us at WWDC.

Of course, the buzz is all over one thing – AI. WWDC this year is supposed to be the moment that Apple joins the party and drops a feast of AI-powered apps and features on us. The iPad Pro I have just bought was marketed as being the first device aimed at being AI-ready. iPad owners have their hopes set on something major happening with iPadOS – something that will truly harness the power of the M4 silicon the latest iPad Pros are now packing.

I have my reservations though – is the bar of expectation set too high? Are we expecting too much from next Monday’s keynote speech?

Will WWDC deliver?

For whatever reason Apple has seemingly been caught napping over AI – which is odd for several reasons.

Apple must have known that AI was about to change everything, so we can only blindly guess why they’ve been so reluctant to grasp it with both hands. After all, Apple was one of the first to have a voice assistant on their devices – I mean for all Siri’s numerous failings it has been with us for years at this point – they did predict the future correctly.

But there is one other fact that makes the lack of any meaningful and juicy AI on Apple devices even more of a surprise – and that is Apple silicon.

Whereas there is no one common chip for Android, Apple is in an enviable position – they control what chips are inside their phones and for many years every Apple device has shipped with increasingly powerful neural engines.

The neural engine is largely responsible for powering the AI capabilities of our devices – the M4 chip in my iPad is the most powerful neural engine yet and was designed specifically with AI in mind – so with all these home advantages why or how have they let Samsung and Google outshine them?

Apple is known not to rush headlong into something just for the sake of being first – foldable devices come to mind. They’d rather let others take the early heat and make the mistakes only for them to come along and clean up as the glory boys down the road.

Maybe that’s what’s been going on with AI – they saw it coming but they wanted to consider their position first. Apple needs to get this right at WWDC – and they know it. Numerous questions need to be addressed when it comes to AI and iPhone and Apple devices in general – and the main one has to be privacy.

Privacy has been and will always be the company’s USP.

Too little too late

With Apple being so far behind in the AI race do you realistically think that everything can be fixed in one fell swoop next week? I think we’re hoping for a little too much.

Clearly what many are expecting or hoping for is a host of headline-grabbing features – the kind that Google roll out at their events, but I just don’t see it. I think that next week what we’ll see will be a cautious and steady unveiling of their longer-term plans.

Also, Apple won’t want to be seen as merely imitating what is already available on Google or Samsung devices – they need to develop their voice, style and approach.

That’s why I get the feeling we could see some very laser-focused announcements next week.

Third-party apps and developers will be left waiting until there are some APIs available to help bring more AI features to their apps – I think Apple instead will focus first on their core, native apps and get AI running integrally within them.

Never will Apple’s ‘waiting to get it right’ approach be more apparent than next week at WWDC. Quality over quantity will be the mantra.

Keeping it private

Initially, I’d expect much of what Apple shows us next week will be AI features that can run on device as that sits neatly with their MO.

There are a few key areas or apps that I’d expect Apple to focus on next week.

The Photos app is an obvious one that I could see being the poster boy of WWDC 2024. Object removal, background replacement and more powerful retouching tools seem an obvious fit. With those powerful neural engines in the devices, these features should be a breeze for iPhones, iPads and Macs alike.

I’m not a huge user of AI but natural, effective transcription would be a game changer. Imagine if we were able to dictate emails – that should be within Apple’s grasp and one that would be a great fit throughout the entire ecosystem.

If they manage to climb that mountain it would also work in the Notes, Messages, Safari, Maps and possibly even the Music app – and all of this should be possible locally on device as Apple find their AI feet.

Just enough

My feeling is that Apple would rather get a few AI targets nailed and working effectively than shower us with a ton of half-baked apps that end up being buggy and attracting criticism.

Rather than flashy headline-grabbing apps I’d be more than satisfied if we get powerful transcription & summarisation models, an improved and more natural Siri integration and some light features added to the Photos app. For starters, that would do me nicely.

I know if Apple takes this route there will be critics and howls of disappointment- but I’d much rather the softly-softly approach than a gun-ho one. Not only would it give Apple the breathing space to make sure they get it right – but as importantly it would give us a chance to acclimatise to the new apps and Apple’s new AI way of thinking.

For me the motto at next week’s WWDC should be clear – enough is sufficient.

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