Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Apple’s AI is already beating Microsoft at its own game



Promotional logo for WWDC 2023.

This story is part of our complete Apple WWDC coverage

“AI for the rest of us.” That’s how Apple Intelligence was described at WWDC 2024, in a clear shot toward Microsoft’s recently announced Copilot+ PCs. Not to be left behind in the rapidly evolving world of AI, Apple announced a suite of features that turn your Mac — as well as your iPhone and iPad — into a true AI computer.


  • New software, not new hardware
  • The ecosystem
  • Real AI features, systemwide
  • What no one wants to talk about
  • AI for the rest of us

Apple isn’t just wandering the trail that Microsoft blazed, though.

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Microsoft may hold the keys to the AI kingdom with its massive data centers and deep partnership with OpenAI, but Apple is already coming out ahead in the AI race. Even before I’ve touched a single feature in Apple Intelligence, I’m confident in saying that it will offer more to users than Copilot+ could ever hope to.

New software, not new hardware


The biggest thing Apple Intelligence has going for it is that you don’t need to buy a new laptop. Although the AI features coming to Copilot+ PCs are exciting, they also require you to spend at least $1,000 on a supported laptop. And even when we get a stream of AMD and Intel laptops meeting the requirements for Copilot+, they won’t have the AI features available to them. Apple’s approach is completely different. You don’t need to buy a damn thing.

Apple made a point that its M-series chips, as well as the A17 Bionic, already have AI hardware built-in. You don’t need to buy a specific MacBook or trade in your iPhone. Apple has built up its hardware stack over the last several years so you can access Apple Intelligence with the devices you already own. Even if Copilot+ came with better features — spoiler: it doesn’t — the fact that Apple gives you access to these features with devices you already own is huge.

Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

With Apple Intelligence, you’re not investing in a new, unproven category of device. You don’t have anything to lose by engaging with Apple’s AI features, or at the very least, you’re not out any money. If you already have a MacBook, Mac desktop, iPad, or iPhone, you just get Apple Intelligence as a system update for free. This approach means you might actually use the AI features that Apple has been working on.

Apple is bringing AI to users, not asking them to go find it.

There’s no doubt that some early adopters will buy a Copilot+ PC and take advantage of Microsoft’s new AI features. It’ll take months, and maybe even years, before the features catch on more broadly, however. Despite the fact that Apple is seemingly late to the AI party, there will be far more users taking advantage of Apple’s AI features out of the gate, which is huge for a technology that still hasn’t proven how it will impact our daily lives.

The ecosystem


Outside of the fact that Apple Intelligence is a free update, it’s also a free update to three categories of devices. It’s coming to Macs, iPhones, and iPads, and they’ll work together. Copilot+ just works on laptops. Microsoft just can’t compete, regardless of how impressive Copilot+ may be.

Apple’s ecosystem of devices is already something that the rest of the tech industry has struggled to keep up with. We’ve seen various forms of screen mirroring and notification sharing from Intel and Microsoft on Windows, but none of it comes close to what Apple currently offers — or what it will offer with macOS 15’s iPhone Mirroring feature. Once we bring AI into the mix, Apple has an advantage that Microsoft can’t answer regardless of how hard it tries.

You can take photos on your iPhone, pull them up with AI search on your Mac, and generate new versions of them on your iPad. These devices working in tandem show how powerful AI can truly be. Apple is bringing AI to users, not asking them to go find it.

Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Microsoft, on the other hand, is doing the exact opposite. You not only need to buy a new laptop, but you also need to buy a laptop that specifically meets its requirements for Copilot+. And, once you have that device, you can only use the AI features on it. Your phone, tablet, and desktop aren’t even part of the conversation.

Real AI features, systemwide


Even from the jump, Apple Intelligence has a big lead over Copilot+, but that’s before we bring the actual AI features into the mix. With Copilot+, the main feature Microsoft has is Recall. This is basically an AI-powered search within Windows that allows you to reference everything you do on your PC, from viewing webpages to sending messages to looking at photos. It joins a few other AI features already available across Windows PCs, such as Copilot on your desktop and in Microsoft Edge, Live Captions, and image generation in Microsoft Paint.

Apple is matching a lot of these features. Apple Intelligence can proofread and rewrite text, similar to Copilot, and it can generate images like Microsoft Designer. You can tap Siri to answer questions about your system and troubleshoot, similar to Copilot on your desktop. Apple has a few additional goodies — I’ll get to them later — but that’s not what important here. What’s important is that Apple Intelligence is available across your system.


For instance, Apple’s writing features work across all of Apple’s apps and third-party apps automatically. You don’t need to copy your text over or write it directly through one of Apple’s first-party apps — Apple Intelligence can pick up on the text wherever you are.

Similarly, Siri has deeper integration with your apps compared to Recall. Apple introduced the App Intents feature, which isn’t just limited to Apple’s own apps. The API is available for any developer to add support in their app. This basically allows Siri to move information between devices and apps seamlessly.

As an example, Apple showed Siri filling out a form with your ID info. Instead of searching up the photo, Siri can automatically find the photo, scan it, and enter that information for you. Just like Recall, there’s on-screen awareness with Siri, so you can reference whatever you have pulled up when entering prompts as well.


Systemwide access to Apple Intelligence is big enough, but Apple also has more features. Genmoji allows you to generate an emoji to use as a sticker or within a message. Image Wand can turn a rough sketch into an AI-generated image. You can even ask Apple Intelligence to generate a movie from your photos and videos, using a prompt to narrow down which media to use.

Apple has more features, no doubt, but the big change is that you don’t need to seek them out. Microsoft’s approach with Copilot+ is different. You’re not engaging with AI throughout your device. You’re not prompting an app to take advantage of AI features.

What no one wants to talk about


The biggest win for Apple on the AI front, though, is privacy. Apple didn’t shy away from the privacy conversation at WWDC, stating that Apple Intelligence works on your device, so it’s not being processed in the cloud. As Apple said during its presentation in a clear shot at Microsoft: “You should not have to hand over all your details to be processed in someone’s warehouse AI cloud.”

Apple says that the AI features can scale up to the cloud, but they’ll use the Private Cloud Compute architecture. Basically, Apple says that data for these cloud requests is never stored, and that independent security researchers can verify that data isn’t stored. In fact, Apple claims that Intelligence will refuse to communicate with a server if it doesn’t meet this criteria.

Microsoft has talked about privacy with Copilot+, too, especially after the wave of backlash it received when Recall was announced. With Copilot+, all of the processing happens on your PC. There are still some features that go out to the cloud, such as image generation, but all of your private, sensitive data is kept locally. It sounds like Apple and Microsoft are on even footing with AI privacy, but they really aren’t.

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Apple has the trust of its users. Microsoft doesn’t. It’s a point that Windows Central’s Zac Bowden raised about a week ago, writing: “Had Apple announced a feature like Recall, there would have been much less backlash, as Apple has done a great job building loyalty and trust with its users … Microsoft, on the other hand, has done a lot to degrade the Windows user experience over the last few years.”

From tricking users into using Microsoft Edge over Chrome, stuffing ads in the Start menu, and forcing OneDrive at all points, Microsoft has established an expectation with its audience that its word isn’t to be trusted. Apple has instead established privacy and security principles and stuck with them. All things being equal, I’m willing to put more faith in Apple with my data security than Microsoft — and I don’t even use Apple products in my personal life.

In reality, both Apple and Microsoft have a lot of privacy and security risks with their AI features, and they’re addressing them in a similar way. Apple Intelligence isn’t better than Copilot+ on that front. But when you look at how both companies have historically treated privacy and security, it’s clear that Apple comes out ahead.

AI for the rest of us


There’s a good reason Apple called Intelligence “AI for the rest of us” at WWDC. Apple is approaching AI as a feature, and nothing more than that. It’s showing the ways AI can enhance the user experience and make it easier, instead of asking customers to buy a new device, explore uncharted territory in features that have questionable security practices, and constantly check that the privacy conditions are still what they expected them to be.

Microsoft may sit on top of the AI world, and for some aspects of its business — such as the data center — Apple doesn’t have any answers. But when it comes to consumer devices, Apple is beating Microsoft at its own game.

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