Apple Faces Criticism Over AI Exclusivity on New Devices

Apple Launches New AI Initiative Across Devices

by Faruk Imamovic
Apple Faces Criticism Over AI Exclusivity on New Devices
© Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Apple has announced a significant leap forward in the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) across its product range. This new initiative, known as Apple Intelligence, promises to revolutionize the way users interact with their iPhones, Macs, and iPads. Set to launch later this year, Apple Intelligence is poised to enhance device capabilities with smarter, more intuitive features, although it comes with certain exclusivity that may leave some users feeling left out.

The Next Frontier in AI

Apple Intelligence is not just about making Siri smarter or generating creative content like emails, essays, or emoji. It represents a vision of a future where AI seamlessly integrates into everyday tasks, providing a user-friendly and efficient experience. While not entirely groundbreaking, Apple’s approach aims to deliver one of the most accessible and useful implementations of generative AI to date.

However, there’s a catch: only certain Apple devices will support Apple Intelligence. Specifically, it requires an iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max. Regular iPhone 15 users will find their devices unable to leverage these new AI features, rendering their relatively new phones partially obsolete in this regard. Mac users, on the other hand, will need an Apple Silicon computer, a line that started in 2020.

Exclusion and Cynicism

The requirement for the latest hardware has sparked some criticism. Some see it as a ploy to drive frequent upgrades, aligning with the typical upgrade cycles of phones and laptops. While upgrading a phone every year might be common, doing so for a laptop is less typical and often seen as unnecessary.

The technical reality is more nuanced. The computational demands of Apple Intelligence differ significantly from standard tasks performed on an iPhone or Mac. Most generative AI work currently relies on remote cloud servers to handle the heavy lifting, with the final results sent back to the user's device. This method, similar to digital assistants like Siri or Alexa, is efficient but limits real-time, on-device processing.

Apple aims to change this by emphasizing on-device AI processing, a move rooted in its long-standing commitment to privacy.

iPhone 15 PRO
iPhone 15 PRO© Getty Images/Leon Neal

Privacy and On-Device Processing

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, highlighted privacy as a key motivation behind on-device processing. “You should not have to hand over all the details of your life to be warehoused and analyzed in someone’s AI cloud,” Federighi stated during the announcement. Apple has integrated this processing deeply into its devices and apps, ensuring that personal data remains on the device rather than being sent to external servers.

This approach mirrors Microsoft’s strategy with its Copilot+ standard, which also emphasizes on-device AI processing, but primarily for laptops. Both Apple and Microsoft rely heavily on core artificial intelligence developed by OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT.

The NPU: The Heart of AI Processing

Central to this new wave of on-device AI is the neural processing unit (NPU). This specialized chip is designed to handle numerous operations simultaneously while minimizing power consumption. Apple has been incorporating NPUs, branded as the Apple Neural Engine (ANE), since 2017 with the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X.

The NPU’s role is crucial in managing the complex computations required for AI tasks. These tasks involve matrix manipulation, the foundational process behind chatbots and other generative AI. Despite the advances in NPU technology, there are still significant differences in capability between consumer devices and dedicated AI hardware used in cloud servers.

The Reality of Hardware Limitations

Despite the capabilities of modern NPUs, consumer devices like the iPhone 15 Pro Max still face limitations. The NPU in these devices, although powerful, cannot match the extensive resources of cloud-based AI systems. For instance, the latest Nvidia H200 graphics cards, used in AI servers, boast a 4.8 TB per second bandwidth, a level far beyond what any consumer-grade device can achieve.

Moreover, memory constraints play a critical role. Older iPhones, despite having capable NPUs, lack sufficient RAM to handle advanced AI models locally. This is a likely reason why Apple Intelligence requires the latest iPhones with 8 GB of RAM, as running AI models locally demands significant memory resources.

The Future of Apple Intelligence

As Apple prepares to roll out Apple Intelligence with iOS 18, the true extent of its capabilities and limitations will become clearer. While the promise of on-device AI processing offers enhanced privacy and performance, the real-world application of these features may vary depending on the device’s hardware.

Users are left wondering if future iterations, such as the iPhone 16, will offer the full suite of Apple Intelligence features or if Apple will continue to reserve these capabilities for its premium Pro-series devices. The answer will unfold with the public release of iOS 18, expected alongside the iPhone 16 in September.

Apple Intelligence marks a significant step in AI integration for consumer technology, promising smarter, more intuitive devices. However, its true impact will depend on how well Apple balances innovation with accessibility, ensuring that the benefits of AI are available to a broader range of users, not just those with the latest hardware.