Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The iPhone’s new AI features may come with a gigantic catch

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An iPhone 15 Pro Max laying face-down outside, showing the Natural Titanium color.Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Imagine paying a minimum of $999 for a new iPhone 14 Pro in 2022, only to discover that it can’t run the full iOS 18 experience in less than two years. It might sound dystopian, especially for a product known for its long shelf life that’s largely the result of an industry-leading software update policy at Apple.

Yet, it seems that nightmarish surprise will be here in just over a week. Bloomberg recently reported on some crucial AI-driven features coming to iOS 18, with Siri being one of the main recipients of all that innovation. But iPhone users might have to pay a pretty price for it all.

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“Apple is betting that the new AI features for the iPhone will encourage users to upgrade their devices. Many of the on-device AI capabilities will require an iPhone 15 Pro or later to work,” Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman wrote on X (formerly Twitter). That means you may not get all of the new AI features on phones like the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, etc.

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While that may already sound like a terrible deal, there is more to the picture here, especially from a value standpoint. Apple has reportedly set the M1 processor as the baseline for iPads, which run nothing more than a stretched iOS interface on a large screen. The M1 processor first hit the shelves in 2021.

Apple is betting that the new AI features for the iPhone will encourage users to upgrade their devices. Many of the on-device AI capabilities will require an iPhone 15 Pro or later to work. Macs and iPads, meanwhile, will need at least an M1 chip. https://t.co/iSDTs6Xahi

— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) May 31, 2024

And the same silicon target is applicable for Macs. But that’s a desktop-grade processor, so let’s set the computing aspect aside and focus on the iPhone-iPad disparity here. The latest iPad Air with the newer M2 processor inside starts at $599. For the iPhone 15 Pro,  you will have to part ways with a minimum hit of $999 in the U.S. In other markets, you are looking at a much fatter bill.

iOS 18’s AI features won’t come cheap

For just $999 or more, iOS 18 will shower you with unlimited AI blessings. Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

One would think that on-device AI processing may have to do with setting the hardware minimum at the A17 Pro processor built atop the 3-nanometer node by TSMC. Or more specifically, the onboard 16-core neural processing unit (NPU), which is faster than the iPhone 14 Pro’s own 16-core AI accelerator hardware. I’ll wait until Apple explains this disparity, maybe with a footnote on the press release. Or none at all.

Apple says the A17 Pro’s NPU is twice as fast, so there’s that. Now, this is an early prediction, even though Bloomberg’s reporting has mostly been spot-on, but the plans could change down the road. Take Samsung and Google, for example.

Samsung initially said the Galaxy AI features would be limited to the latest Galaxy S24-series phones but subsequently expanded them to older phones, as well. Google said on-device Gemini Nano would only be able to work on the Pixel 8 Pro,  but soon changed course and folded the smaller Pixel 8 into the picture as well.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

People spend a fortune on flagships because they come with a promise of being future-proof, at least for a few years. And they certainly don’t expect the next major software update to draw functional lines in just over a year. If the Bloomberg report is accurate, that seems to be the fate of the iPhone 14 series and its predecessors — Pro or otherwise.

But what exactly are we expecting in terms of AI perks in iOS 18? Well, let’s start with Siri. For the first time, Apple will let Siri interact with the apps installed on your phone. With a voice prompt, the digital assistant will open documents, handle email-related tasks, and summarize articles, among other chores.

“The new system will go further, using AI to analyze what people are doing on their devices and automatically enable Siri-controlled features,” reports Bloomberg. Down the road, the assistant will also be able to execute two tasks with a single voice command.

On a broader note, iOS 18 will get tricks like voice memo summarization, recaps of notifications, AI-assisted photo editing, automated message replies, and more. Apple is reportedly focusing more on on-device processing (where requests are handled locally instead of sending them over to cloud servers) because that approach is safer and quicker.

It all sounds impressive. But if those tricks are restricted powerful iPhones released just last year and beyond, that’ll be a big caveat to deal with.

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