The tech community, Wall Street, the media, and a smorgasbord of analysts had been holding their collective breath until June 10. Apple, famously reticent about AI, was about to break its silence at its 2024 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Forrester was there at Apple’s AI coming-out party, and here’s what we gathered from the grand reveal.

As Always, Customer-First

  • True to form, Apple signaled very clearly that it won’t be held hostage to the hullaballoo of AI. Tim Cook set the stage early by saying Apple would talk about “intelligence,” then an hour passed before we heard that word again. What we heard in abundance at that time was how the operating systems across the Apple ecosystem would evolve and interact to continue to “delight” customers with products that “enrich lives.” As I have noted on several occasions, these are Apple’s brand colors that it flies with aplomb — customer-first, technology-next.
  • The first hour of the event covered the many changes that Apple users will see over the year. While many of these have the characteristic Apple “cool factor” (like AirPods recognizing head nods and Notes solving handwritten physics equations), none really represented a giant leap forward. The emphasis was more on fine-tuning the Apple experience to be more customizable, more controllable, and, hence, incrementally more useful.

Welcome, “Apple Intelligence”

  • Just after the hour mark, Tim Cook returned to “intelligence.” True to the brand’s DNA, Cook went to great lengths to avoid a generic expression of artificial intelligence. Instead, he touted the kind of intelligence that understood the customer, made the experience more relevant, and, in short, made the products even more delightful — this was Apple Intelligence.
  • The applications of Apple Intelligence focus on the three areas where generative AI has proven to be a boon for digital experiences: text, images, and interrogation. Apple has infused these generative intelligence capabilities into functionality such as smart text, image generation and manipulation, and seamless integration with ChatGPT for natural language searches. These make activities like taking notes, sending “Gen-emojis,” and menu planning much more effective and fun.

Siri, At Long Last

  • Siri got a massive injection of Apple Intelligence. Apple’s smart agent has long languished in the shadows and played a bit role in most Apple experiences. Now, armed with a richer understanding of language and conversational context, Siri may yet live up to its promise. With onscreen awareness and the ability to perform in-app actions, a new and improved Siri could be the best single thing that comes out of Apple Intelligence in the near future.

Powerful Intelligence Requires Powerful Privacy

  • Privacy is a natural corollary of a customer-first commitment to data-rich experiences. Apple has taken great pains to separate itself from the rest of the tech pack with its passionate advocacy of privacy. Tim Cook is therefore very particular in pointing out that powerful intelligence must come packaged with powerful privacy. With a combination of primarily on-device processing paired with as-needed “privacy cloud compute,” Apple extends its promise of customer privacy to the Wild, Wild West of generative AI.

Stuck In The Same Place?

  • Where does this leave Apple? A slew of functionality improves the Apple experience across the ecosystem. But there isn’t anything here that propels the brand ahead of its as-expected trajectory of incrementalism. And much as Apple Intelligence will indeed delight its users in small but meaningful ways, it brings Apple level with, but not head and shoulders above, where its peers are at. Perhaps there may be enough in the new and improved Siri-powered, intelligently Apple devices to stanch some of the device revenue that’s been hemorrhaging lately, but there isn’t enough to create a new band of followers. The markets, unsurprisingly, have reacted with tepid pessimism, and Apple stock is down 2% following the announcement.

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