Google Gemini or ChatGPT might power cloud AI

Mike Powers
Google Gemini or ChatGPT might power cloud AI

There’s no question the iPhone is getting generative AI features this year. Apple can’t afford to wait too long to jump on the bandwagon. Not when phones like the Pixel 8 and Galaxy S24 exist, putting genAI features front and center.

All signs point to iOS 18 bringing Apple’s own version of generative AI to the iPhone. Moreover, the iPhone 16 Pro models could pack exclusive AI features, but that’s speculation. The key advantage of Apple’s way of adding generative AI powers to the iPhone concerns on-device processing. At least, that’s what various reports indicate.

But the iPhone isn’t powerful enough to run all genAI features on its own. Not to mention that iOS 18 will be compatible with older iPhone generations that are nowhere near as powerful as the upcoming iPhone 16. Apple will want to support as many of those genAI features as possible on older iPhone models. Therefore, Apple will need cloud-based AI to handle some of those features.

That’s where Google Gemini comes in. OrChatGPT, perhaps. It looks like Apple is exploring partnerships with Google, OpenAI, and other companies to power cloud-based generative AI features on the iPhone.

The report comes from Bloomberg’s often-accurate Mark Gurman. Apple is apparently in talks with Google to license Gemini, after having previously considered OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

While there’s no telling if Apple will partner with Google, the move isn’t necessarily surprising. Gemini already powers generative AI features on the Pixel 8 and the Galaxy S24. The latter certainly made an impression earlier this year. One of the Galaxy S24’s highlights comes from Google. That’s the Circle to Search functionality I’d like on the iPhone.

I will note that Apple already has the precursors to a Circle to Search feature of its own. The iPhone’s Photos app can recognize animals, plants, art, landmarks, and text in images. It’s not quite Circle to Search, but it’s a start.

While it’s unclear whether Circle to Search is coming to iOS 18, Gemini on iPhone could power cloud-based text- and image-generation features.

Using Google’s Circle to Search AI feature on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Image source: Samsung

Apple’s interest in it makes sense since Google operates one of the best generative AI products out there. Apple partnered with Google to make Google Search the iPhone’s default search engine. That’s because Google Search is (or used to be) the best online search option in tow. And Google is ready to pay billions to make that deal happen.

On the one hand, it’s exciting to hear that Apple is open to such partnerships. Whether Gemini, ChatGPT, or something else, Apple could use a third-party large language model to power some AI features on the iPhone.

The alternative is waiting for its own Apple GPT to become as powerful as the GPTs of Google and OpenAI. That’s not something I’d want. This rumor sends the message that Apple’s generative AI products are behind. It’ll take a while for Apple to catch up. Again, that wouldn’t be surprising, considering Apple’s priorities in past years. But Apple said more than once that it’s investing massively in AI. It’s a matter of time until its large language models can match the competition.

However, I’m also not necessarily thrilled about a third party’s involvement in Apple’s genAI features for the iPhone. Not until I know for certain how that AI will work and behave.

I’ve stated more than once that I’m a big fan of generative AI and what it can do for the future of computing. But I expect a private, personal AI experience from my devices. As a longtime iPhone and Mac user, that goes double for these gadgets.

I’m sure that Apple will apply the same security and privacy principles that govern its devices to any generative AI features it offers customers on the iPhone (and iPad, for that matter). On-device AI features will be the best to safeguard user privacy. But I’d be interested to see what happens to my data if Apple partners with Google for cloud-based AI. Or with OpenAI.

Google Gemini can power the Google Assistant app on Android.
Google Gemini can power the Google Assistant app on Android. Image source: Google

These AI services collect lots of user data. Some of it is for training purposes, and you can at least opt out of it if it’s ChatGPT. Google Gemini retains your data for some three years. Some of that data might be exposed to human reviewers in an anonymized form.

Apple would have to explain exactly what happens with the generative AI prompts that use cloud processing on the iPhone, regardless of what company provides the large language model.

After all, let’s not forget that generative AI features cost money. We can’t expect them to be free of charge. Any partnership Apple might be considering will involve licensing costs, of course.

All of this is speculation. Gurman has been usually accurate about Apple’s plans, but he didn’t confirm that a deal is in place. With WWDC 2024 likely taking place in early June, we’re going to learn more details about Apple’s AI plans soon.

I’ll also remind you that you can use Gemini on your iPhone right now, though it only works via the Google app.

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