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Four iOS 18 AI features the iPhone needs to catch up with Android

The ball is in Apple's court to unveil new AI features for the iPhone next week. Here's what I hope to see at WWDC 2024.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Generative AI on iPhone

Siri currently can't generate an answer to a question; it searches the web for answers instead.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The generative AI landscape is filling up with bots, from text and image generators to AI-powered musicians. With Google, OpenAI, and Microsoft already having launched new products in recent months, Apple now finds itself trailing behind the generative AI train.

"We will continue to invest in these and other technologies that will shape the future. That includes artificial intelligence, where we continue to spend a tremendous amount of time and effort and we're excited to share the details of our ongoing work in that space later this year," Apple CEO Tim Cook said while discussing the first fiscal quarter of 2024. 

Also: What to expect from WWDC 2024: Siri, AI upgrades, iOS 18, MacOS 15, more

Recent reports hint that iOS 18, expected to be announced on Monday during WWDC and launch later this year, will be one of the biggest iOS updates in the company's history, featuring RCS support and a smarter Siri. Sure, it'd be fun to see AI-powered music creation, a personalized fitness or meditation coach, and even AI-generated emojis, but here are the top four AI features I'm most excited (and hoping) to see with iOS 18.

1. Generative AI for a context-aware Siri

Unfortunately, Siri is arguably Apple's biggest shortcoming when stacking its AI services against competitors. While Siri has become a go-to feature on its own, it lags behind its virtual assistant competitors in intelligence and capability. Mounting consumer frustration over Siri's limitations and generative AI's popularity gives Apple a final push to give the voice assistant generative AI.

Also: 6 ways Apple can leapfrog OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google at WWDC 2024

If Apple can give Siri generative AI, iPhone users could ask the voice assistant for more than "Open this app" or "Search Google for this." Generative AI would let users ask Siri to draft messages and emails, explain a concept, and give personalized reminders tailored to their calendars, notes, or contacts. 

The biggest challenge for Apple will be running large language models (LLMs) on-device, as one would expect it to do after its long-standing focus on consumer privacy. On-device processing means questions and responses won't have to be sent to remote cloud servers, minimizing data exposure.

2. Contextual search through image gallery

Google Photos now uses AI to automatically tag photos and recognize what is captured in the image. This lets users search through photos with natural language entries, like searching for the word "Concert" and having the Photos app display all the photos and videos taken in a concert. With as many photos as I take daily, this is a feature I'd love to see added to iOS. 

Apple already uses AI for facial recognition to create Memories and organize photos of people, places, and events. Adding more AI capabilities to the Photos app could allow iPhone users to search for photos using keywords or phrases, like "beach" or "picnic at Central Park last summer," instead of scrolling through thousands of photos.

Also: 10 things I'd like to see in VisionOS 2.0

Other AI upgrades to photo galleries that could benefit smartphone users include finding and suggesting duplicate photos to free up storage, integrating AI voice assistants to search for photos with voice commands, recommending AI enhancements, and applying edits to photos.

3. Personalized text generation

ChatGPT became popular for its ability to generate text and have conversations that feel natural. Integrating text generation into the iPhone would make it easier for users to draft emails, generate stories, or edit resumes in Apple's native apps, like Notes and Messages.  

Also: 5 rumored iOS 18 features I'm most excited about - and AI is just the start

This is another instance where Apple trails behind competitors, as AI text generation is available in the Google Pixel 8 and the Samsung Galaxy S24 lineup of smartphones, as well as Microsoft 365, Gmail, Google Docs, Sheets, and more. 

4. AI-powered photo and video editing

We've seen how powerful generative AI can be in photo editing with Adobe Photoshop's Generative Fill and the Google Pixel's Magic Eraser. Unfortunately, this is another example of Apple's shortcomings in AI applications. 

I'd love to see Apple integrate these AI features with the iPhone's camera to enhance its limited photo editing options and potentially expand into video editing. In addition to suggesting AI enhancements for photos, it would be great to see iOS improve auto-enhancement options, retouching capabilities, automatic framing and composition, photo restoration, sky replacement, and colorization.

Also: The 3 Apple products you shouldn't buy this month (including this iPad)

I don't anticipate Apple adding AI video generators to its devices. These tools are less common than AI image generators because video is a more complex medium, despite the availability of TikTok and Capcut filters.

It would be surprising to see Apple incorporate AI video features such as real-time background replacement and cinematic effects based on AI scene interpretation into iPhone video editing, especially since this feature was recently introduced to Final Cut Pro for iPad 2.

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