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Apple will favor on-device AI over cloud processing, more evidence suggests

Why it matters: All signs indicate that future Apple devices will begin heavily leveraging generative AI starting in the second half of this year, but exactly how remains uncertain. Microsoft, Intel, and Qualcomm, already pushing the AI trend, recently unveiled upcoming hardware that can run intensive AI tasks on-device to reduce reliance on the cloud. Evidence mounts that the Cupertino giant has similar plans.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports that Apple will reveal its first AI applications later this year, noting that they will run locally without an internet connection. Gurman’s comments align with prior speculation deduced from the company’s hiring records.

The most famous generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, Bard, Copilot, DALL-E, and Midjourney, currently rely on cloud processing. However, tech giants have begun producing devices with increasingly powerful neural processing units (NPUs) dedicated to handling similar workloads.

On-device AI that never transmits data would suit Apple’s privacy-focused marketing message, so it would be unsurprising if the company took that route. Other reports suggest that Cupertino could rely on Google or OpenAI for specific AI applications, but whether those would run on the cloud is unclear.

Another sign of Apple’s plans is its recent acquisition of Paris AI firm Datakalab. The seven-year-old company specializes in image analysis and algorithm compression. The investment could be related to one of Cupertino’s proposed AI projects – a multimodal language model that can interpret and count objects in images.

Although Apple has been slow to jump on the AI hype train, a dramatic pivot toward the technology is expected with the unveiling of next-generation iPhones and Macs later this year. The iPhone 16 and iOS 18 will likely debut at WWDC in June, followed by multiple Macs in late 2024 and 2025 featuring the new M4 processor. The roadmap might cause the Mac mini lineup to skip the M3 chip in favor of the M4.

The iPhone 16’s A18 processor could introduce Apple’s first major NPU upgrade in years, shifting from 16 to 32 cores. Its performance might significantly exceed the iPhone 15 Pro’s 35 TOPs (trillion operations per second) and the Mac Studio’s 31 TOPs. Information on the M4’s NPU upgrades is scant, but leaks indicate the processor lineup will focus on local AI processing. Apple’s products may match the “next-generation AI PC” standard that Microsoft and Intel recently defined, which lists an NPU capable of 40 TOPs.

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