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Apple’s AI Ambitions Take Center Stage at WWDC 2024: What to Expect from iOS 18 and Beyond

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Brenda Stolyar

Anticipating Apple's WWDC 2024

The Worldwide Developers Conference hosted by Apple is traditionally the platform where the tech giant reveals new software features for its devices. Yet, in recent times, the emphasis at WWDC has shifted from software updates to exciting hardware reveals. At the latest conferences, Apple has taken the opportunity to introduce its M-series Apple Silicon processors, the latest Mac computers, and the innovative Apple Vision Pro mixed-reality headset, moving away from a sole focus on applications.

This year, Apple opted to unveil its hardware products earlier than its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The tech giant introduced the new MacBook Air models with M3 chips, available in both 13-inch and 15-inch sizes, in April. Following this, May saw the debut of the brand-new M4 processor, accompanied by the latest versions of the iPad Pro and iPad Air. With no further hardware launches anticipated at this year’s event, it appears that WWDC will primarily concentrate on unveiling new software functionalities, with a particular emphasis on advancing artificial intelligence features across the iPhone, iPad, and Mac lineups.

The commencement of WWDC 2024 will be marked by a keynote speech at 10 am Pacific time on Monday, June 10.

Viewing the Main Event

Catch the live broadcast of the Apple WWDC 2024 main presentation on Monday, June 10, beginning at 1 pm ET and 10 am PT. The event will be available for streaming on Apple's website and their official YouTube channel.

Stay tuned for our live blog of the WWDC event right here on WIRED. Make sure to check in about 30 minutes before the keynote speech begins to catch our real-time commentary and updates from the occasion.

Anticipations Rising

In recent times, tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI have unveiled their latest advancements in artificial intelligence, showcasing enhanced language processing models, innovative experimental applications, and fresh gadgets. Now, it's Apple's moment in the spotlight. Rumor has it that the tech behemoth is poised to introduce a plethora of new AI functionalities across its entire range of operating systems. This move is anticipated not only to revolutionize the way users interact with Apple products but also to cement Apple's status in the rapidly evolving AI landscape. Market experts from Wedbush Securities suggest that Apple's forthcoming dive into AI technology positions this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) as the most pivotal event for the company in more than ten years.

It's always wise to remember that any discussion about potential topics at Apple's WWDC is purely conjectural. Although there's a strong chance that several of the anticipated features could materialize—given that predictions from reliable sources about Apple often come to fruition—it's advisable to manage expectations.

Before the event kicks off, we've prepared a comprehensive overview of the anticipated new additions for this year's WWDC, including details on how to watch the Monday morning keynote. Additionally, stay tuned to WIRED for continuous coverage, featuring a live blog and a summary of all the major reveals.

iOS 18 Overview

During the previous WWDC, Apple opted not to delve into generative AI, a stark contrast to its main rivals, Google and Microsoft, who both shared advancements in the area. Apple's approach to incorporating AI in iOS 17 was more nuanced, focusing on enhancing existing features. This included a more sophisticated autocorrect function powered by a “transformer language model” that not only corrects a wider array of grammatical mistakes but also offers suggestions as you type. Additionally, the Photos app was upgraded to recognize pets such as dogs and cats, beyond just human faces, and they introduced accessibility tools like Point and Speak. This innovative feature aids visually impaired users by reading aloud text from any physical object when the camera is pointed at it. As highlighted by Khari Johnson, a former senior writer at WIRED, Apple's strategy leaned more towards intuitive AI solutions.

Jumping ahead to the current year, Google unveiled a series of new AI-driven functionalities during its Google I/O event, while Microsoft introduced a fresh array of computers at its Build conference, designed to support innovative AI features such as Recall, Cocreator, and Windows Studio Effects.

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Nonetheless, it seems that Apple is choosing a distinct route with AI in its iOS 18 update. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports that Apple plans to "introduce a unique strategy to artificial intelligence, emphasizing functionalities that regular users will find useful in everyday scenarios. The goal is to cater to the practical aspects of a user’s needs, allowing other firms to focus on more flashy features." Although Apple is not anticipated to launch brand-new AI-driven applications for its devices, its strategy towards generative AI appears to be geared towards a more seamless integration.

In the latest edition of his Power On newsletter, Gurman revealed that the upcoming changes are components of an initiative dubbed Project Greymatter. This project involves integrating AI-powered functionalities into essential applications such as Photos, Safari, Messages, and Notes. Among the notable enhancements is an intelligent recap function designed to provide summaries of texts, emails, notes, documents, and websites. Furthermore, the project might introduce capabilities such as converting spoken memos into text (a feature that builds on the voice notes transcription introduced with iOS 17), a refined Spotlight search offering quicker and more precise results, and upgrades to the Safari browser's search capabilities.

Gurman reports that Apple is apparently in the process of developing a software capable of generating personalized emoji instantly, depending on the text message's content. This means users will have a wider variety of choices beyond what Apple currently provides. (At present, the closest alternative is utilizing Stickers within iOS 17.) In relation to text messaging, iOS 18 is expected to introduce AI-generated suggested replies, tailored to the ongoing conversation. (This functionality might extend to the Mail app as well.) AppleInsider has indicated that there might be a forthcoming “Clean Up” feature, powered by generative AI, that could eliminate unwanted elements from your photos, offering a tool akin to Google's Magic Eraser.

Regarding user privacy, Gurman has shared that the less demanding AI functionalities within iOS 18 are designed to operate solely on the device, utilizing Apple's Ajax Language Learning Model. However, tasks requiring greater computational power will be transferred to cloud-based processing. As per Bloomberg News, via Reuters, Apple intends to leverage its proprietary silicon in data centers, specifically deploying its processors (believed to be M2 Ultra chips) within cloud-computing servers. These servers are tasked with managing AI operations that exceed the processing capabilities of the device itself. AppleInsider mentions the possibility of users encountering an onscreen notification before the Ajax LLM engages with data from certain applications, such as Messages or Safari. This notion aligns with a recent Bloomberg report, which, citing sources familiar with the developments, suggests that Apple plans to introduce its new AI capabilities as a service that users can choose to enable.

It's highly likely that Apple is set to reveal significant upgrades to Siri. The organization has been subtly suggesting this; AppleTrack's head editor, Sam Kohl, noted on X that the color scheme and animation of Apple's WWDC promotional graphic on their homepage closely align with the Siri emblem.

In the beginning of May, The New York Times unveiled that the upcoming iteration of Siri is set to incorporate an advanced generative AI technology, enabling it to engage in conversations instead of merely answering questions individually. Additionally, the article suggests that Siri will enhance its performance in managing activities such as scheduling events, initiating countdowns, and compiling shopping lists, marking significant advancements that have been much anticipated.

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In the most recent edition of the Power On newsletter, as well as in a prior report, Gurman has revealed that Apple is in the process of significantly upgrading Siri. This overhaul includes the integration of sophisticated large language models specifically designed for the digital assistant. With this enhancement, Siri will gain the capability to actively observe user activity on their devices and proactively offer assistance. This means Siri could assist with tasks such as managing emails, editing photos, summarizing notifications that involve contacts, calendar events, locations, and more, or organizing content across folders. Despite the anticipation, this feature is not expected to debut in the initial release this autumn. Instead, it is slated for inclusion in a subsequent update to iOS 18, which is planned for release sometime in the following year.

Gurman has disclosed that Apple is unlikely to launch its own AI chatbot to compete with existing ones such as ChatGPT by OpenAI, Microsoft's Copilot, or Google's Gemini, despite previous speculations suggesting that Apple was exploring its version named Ajax GPT. Gurman suggests the absence of such a product might be due to the technology not being fully developed or Apple's concerns about the risks of the chatbot acting unpredictably and causing the company embarrassment. Instead, Apple is said to be considering the integration of technology from an external provider, notably OpenAI. In a May report by Bloomberg, it was revealed that Apple was nearing a deal to integrate ChatGPT into the iPhone, which is in line with reports that Apple is also in discussions with Google to license the Gemini assistant. Bloomberg further noted that the partnership with OpenAI is expected to be officially announced at the WWDC.

Not every new addition to the iPhone will involve artificial intelligence. It's anticipated that iOS might introduce flexible home screens, giving users the freedom to alter app icon colors and position them freely. MacRumors suggests that while app icons will adhere to a hidden grid, iOS 18 could enable the arrangement of icons in specific columns, rows, and even allow for empty spaces.

Apple is anticipated to unveil updates to the design of both the Settings and Photos apps, enhancements to the Mail app, and introduce a fresh music control feature in the Control Center. Additionally, there could be updates to the Messages app including fresh designs for Tapback icons and the ability to add effects to specific words instead of the whole message, as per MacRumors. Furthermore, according to AppleInsider, the Notes app is expected to receive a new feature that allows for audio recordings, similar to Voice Memos, enabling users to record sounds directly in a note alongside text and pictures.

In conclusion, there appears to be upcoming support for the Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging protocol. According to a November report by 9to5Mac, Apple has revealed plans to introduce this feature through an upcoming software update later in the year. Apple conveyed to the news outlet that it “[considers] the RCS Universal Profile to enhance interconnectivity beyond what SMS or MMS can provide.” This upgrade implies that various iMessage functionalities, such as read confirmations, emoji reactions, typing alerts, and the sharing of high-quality videos and images, will be accessible for both iPhone and Android users. An announcement regarding the launch date of this feature is anticipated.

iPadOS 18

Generally, the features Apple introduces in iOS are also incorporated into iPadOS. Therefore, it's anticipated that the majority, if not all, of the new elements highlighted in iOS 18 will be integrated into iPadOS 18.

Additionally, it's significant to point out that the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) is taking place just a month following Apple's unveiling of its latest M4 chip during its iPad showcase. This new processor is now found in the most recent version of the iPad Pro, though no notable new functionalities have been introduced with it. Therefore, it's reasonable to speculate that Apple hastened the introduction of this new processing unit to set the stage for the launch of its artificial intelligence capabilities, which the new chip is sufficiently powerful to support.

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However, Apple has announced through a press release in May that new accessibility functionalities will be introduced to the iPad "later this year." These enhancements will allow users to navigate their iPad using eye movement, utilize voice commands through customized phrases recognized by Siri, and access a tool designed to minimize motion sickness when using the device in a moving vehicle. We are optimistic about getting a glimpse of these capabilities at the upcoming conference.

macOS 15 Update

Every year, predicting the official name for the newest macOS version turns into a bit of speculation. Previously, Parker Ortolani, who works as a product manager at Vox Media, shared a tweet listing potential names that Apple seems to have registered but not yet used. Among those, Sonoma was mentioned and eventually selected for the most recent macOS iteration. Therefore, it's possible that Apple might choose from the remaining options for the next update. (On a personal note, I'm hoping for macOS Mammoth to be the chosen name.)

Speculation is rife about an upcoming makeover for the calculator application on Mac, promising an engaging update. AppleInsider reports that the new design will mirror the aesthetics of its iOS counterpart, featuring curved buttons and resizable dimensions. Additionally, the revamped app will include a history tape to revisit past calculations and introduce support for Math Notes. This feature, according to the source, will bridge the gap between the Calculator and Notes apps, allowing for the incorporation of math elements or mathematical notations into notes. This update raises expectations for the long-awaited Calculator app on the iPad as well.

Towards the end of May, AppleInsider shared news that the upcoming macOS 15 will feature several updates to its user interface. These include a refreshed monochrome icon for Siri in the menu bar, an overhauled System Settings application with apps arranged by their significance, and a revamped, consolidated menu for navigating page controls in Safari.

Regarding Safari, there's anticipation for an innovative Intelligent Search function, which leverages the Ajax LLM technology to identify essential topics and phrases on a webpage, aiming to create a concise summary.

WatchOS 11 Update

Compared to updates in iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, the changes to watchOS seem to be more modest. (This is also true for tvOS 18.) This makes sense considering watchOS 10 introduced a wealth of new features, including enhanced cycling functions, detailed maps for hikers, resources for mental wellness, and improved app switching.

Based on repeated insights from Mark Gurman, it is anticipated that WatchOS 11 could bring an enhanced Siri capable of handling tasks while users are mobile. This aligns with speculations that iOS 18 will feature significant improvements to Siri alongside updates to the Fitness app. However, the update is expected to be relatively minor beyond these aspects. Additionally, information from iPhoneSoft, as reported by MacRumors, suggests that Apple intends to discontinue support for the Apple Watch Series 4, released in 2018.

VisionOS 2.0

The unveiling of Vision Pro took place at WWDC the previous year, while the launch of visionOS coincided with the commencement of deliveries for the mixed-reality headset in February this year. However, it's rumored that a significant software upgrade is currently under development.

In his Power On newsletter, Gurman mentions that Apple is working on increasing the number of its own apps specifically designed for use on its headset, moving away from simply adapting iPad app versions to work in compatibility mode. According to 9to5Mac, there are quite a few Apple applications that still don't have versions tailored for visionOS, such as Calendar, Books, News, Podcasts, Reminders, Voice Memos, Stocks, Home, Shortcuts, and Maps. These might be the next ones to be developed for the wearable device.

According to MacRumors, a novel "respiration tracking" capability may be on the horizon. This potential feature was uncovered by Aaron Perris, a contributor who noticed hints of it within the code of the Vision Pro's Mindfulness app. The feature is designed to enhance meditation sessions by providing an immersive experience through guided or self-directed practices, by monitoring the user's breathing patterns. Yet, it remains uncertain if this functionality will be integrated into an upcoming visionOS update or reserved for a subsequent release of the operating system.

In line with the updates announced for iOS 18 and iPadOS 18, Apple has verified the addition of new accessibility functionalities to the Vision Pro, set to roll out later this year. Highlighted in the announcement are several key enhancements aimed at improving user experience. Among these are the introduction of Live Captions, which enable users to read along with spoken words in real-time during live interactions and within application sounds, offering the convenience of repositioning the captions through the window bar in Apple's immersive Video environment. Other notable improvements include a color inversion option, an adjustable transparency setting for windows and on-screen elements, and a mechanism to reduce the intensity of flashing lights, all designed to make the Vision Pro more user-friendly for individuals with accessibility needs.

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