WWDC brings another huge gamble for Apple

Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.

Risky business

For a corporation that’s known for caution, Apple sure has been fond of gambling this year.

Vision Pro finally went on sale in January, as Cupertino got to grips with a product category that isn’t merely new to the company, but untested across the industry as a whole: nobody knows yet if augmented reality devices will displace the smartphone later this decade or remain a niche hobby. And at WWDC next week Apple will follow up with its first public steps into the world of AI, another heavily hyped tech category whose long-term profitability (not to mention its impact on society as a whole) has yet to be truly understood. This is a very big year for Apple, but we won’t know for a while if that’s a good or bad thing.

This is all thoroughly out of character for Apple, which under Tim Cook’s governance has been all about safe bets and safe hands. Since the Apple Watch (the last significant project of the Jobs era) came out in 2015, the company has iterated smartly and cautiously, avoided major missteps, cut costs, watched its profit margins, and consolidated its dominance of the market. When entering a new category, such as when launching its HomePod smart speaker, it’s been something peripheral and relatively low-risk—and a category shown to be profitable by other companies. Hail Mary plays have been few and far between.

But you can’t play it safe forever, and at some point, Apple was always going to face a choice: gradually subside into irrelevance, or bet the farm on something big. I’m glad it’s going for the second option.

At WWDC we expect Apple to talk about the AI features it’s bringing to the iPhone and Mac via iOS and macOS updates. Project Greymatter, which sounds like a sinister brainwashing scheme from a Jason Bourne movie, will use AI to bring “practical benefits” to Apple users, such as enabling Siri to summarize recent notifications. Goodness knows Siri needs to get smarter, and I’ll be the last to complain if the assistant becomes less easily confused by song titles or basic English, but make no mistake: this is a big step.

AI isn’t a safe subject—it’s controversial and divisive. On a grand scale, it may well remodel society as we know it, eliminating or drastically reducing human roles in numerous administrative and creative industries. But on a smaller one, it represents two factors that go against the Apple ethos: wide-scale data collection, and potentially chaotic outcomes. If it wants to develop large language models at the same pace as its rivals, Apple is going to have to persuade users to contribute their data to the common store. And if it wants to use AI to a significant degree, it’s going to have to accept that it won’t have complete control over the user experience all of the time. AI models sometimes do things their creators don’t expect. I’m not saying an AI-powered Siri is going to hurl racial epithets at iPhone owners, but it might not always behave in completely predictable ways.

It’s possible, indeed, that Apple isn’t prepared to make these compromises, and that it will continue to cling to its previous safe path: declining to collect data (an admirable position, in my view), and refusing to allow its AI features to do anything that isn’t predictable and thoroughly explored by other companies. But if that’s the case, Apple will risk something worse, which is falling further behind the bleeding edge of tech development. Getting left behind while the industry moves on.

Whichever path it takes, this will be a risky year for Apple, and the outcome of its experiments with augmented reality and AI could go a long way to determining its long-term success… or failure. I can’t imagine Tim Cook is enjoying the uncertainty. But it’s a lot more fun than just releasing slightly different versions of existing products.


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We’ve heard rumors and reports about what Apple may do at its Worldwide Developers Conference, and we were wondering… what do you, the readers of Macworld and the listeners of this podcast, think is on its way?

You can catch every episode of the Macworld Podcast on Spotify, Soundcloud, the Podcasts app, or our own site.

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The rumor mill

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Software updates, bugs, and problems

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And with that, we’re done for this week’s Apple Breakfast. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Facebook, Threads, or Twitter for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.

Source : Macworld