opinion Apple is late to AI. Now watch it clean up.

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The most reasonable response to Apple's recent announcement that it plans to attack the market for artificial intelligence might be: Why did it take so long?

Apple has been notably brief and defensive about its AI chips for a decade now. So, when it unveiled its new Apple Intelligence software on June 10, along with its plans to connect users with OpenAI's groundbreaking ChatGPT bot, there was little doubt. There was a reason.

After all, despite jumping to an early lead with its AI phone assistant, Siri, in 2011, Apple was left badly behind by the competition. As the Financial Times eloquently noted, it would take a lot of humility for the great Apple to release products that are obviously being marketed by the likes of Google, Meta and Microsoft. The last of these would surely have turned Steve Jobs in his proverbial grave, given his well-known disdain for the PC software maker he had so long pitted against.

Worse, Apple's new AI entries aren't ready yet. They are expected by the fall, the company said.

For all that, though, Apple's critics still slammed the company's news. In the two weeks since the start of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, where it showed off its new features, the company has added more than $300 billion to its $3 trillion market capitalization.

What do markets see here that so many may not? A hardware and software giant with a long history of being great at playing catch-up.

Apple has done a fantastic job over the years of telling its story of continuous innovation to consumers. But the firm's true genius is its ability to capitalize on the ideas of others as well as early product offerings. It was in the early days of Apple, when a young Jobs visited the labs of Xerox PARC in Palo Alto and came up with the idea for a “mouse” that controlled an on-screen graphical user interface. This eventually led to the Macintosh and the global consumer and cultural revolution. Xerox, which had the idea first, never commercialized it.

Apple's ability to borrow and then improve on what others had started continued apace. What were once boringly known as MP3 players predated the iPod. Napster preceded iTunes, which figured out how to charge for licensed music. Not Apple but Nokia made the smartphone popular. But the iPhone changed this mass market forever with its magical touchscreen technology (which Apple didn't even invent). (iPhones make up the bulk of Apple's 2.2 billion devices in the wild today.)

In fact, it's hard to name a single product category that Apple came up with earlier. But it's to the chagrin that Apple has redefined itself. Amazon's Kindle and Microsoft's Tablet PC preceded the iPad, which then dominated the tablet market. Spotify debuted before Apple Music, which is now part of Apple's online services empire. Before the Apple Watch, Samsung launched a smartwatch that has become a fashion statement, status symbol and fitness tool in the market.

None of this means that Apple's foray into AI will be a slam dunk. There are many well-funded competitors in the field who are way ahead: Microsoft smartly invested $13 billion in OpenAI, and then an AI pioneer named Mustafa Sulaiman (who sold an earlier startup, DeepMind, to Google); “acquired” User AI efforts. Amazon and Google have invested billions in another AI startup, Anthropic, which is considered a strong competitor to OpenAI. Metta has the best AI talent in the industry and is rapidly integrating AI into its products.

Until recently, no one was sure what Apple had up its AI sleeves, in part because the company is so secretive — it avoids publishing academic papers for fear of giving away its intentions. – and because he has little to show for it. . And what it put on display at its developers conference was a bunch of stuff the competition is already doing: nifty photo editing, clever plumbing of emails and contacts, traffic mapping tips and the like.

Even its adoption of OpenAI is limited. Apple only plans to hand over users to OpenAI, but in a way that protects their data from the startup. It's a shocking admission that Apple doesn't have technology to match ChatGPT.

The excitement surrounding Apple's new strategy, then, comes down to three factors, none of which include the demonstration of what the tech industry calls a killer app.

First is Apple's record of playing simulation games. If Apple can use what it sees in the market with its creative engineers, good things will happen. The second measure is: Did I mention those 2.2 billion devices? Apple carries its technology to its own iPhones and other products and sometimes blocks competitors from the same gadgets. (This is why the federal government has filed antitrust charges against the company.)

Finally, there's the deliberate piece: Apple is no longer playing the crow. He has recognized that AI is more than a bright, shiny thing and is instead the next type of product that cannot be ignored. So far, and with few exceptions, when Apple has focused all of its attention on a new technology, the market has changed forever, and usually for the better.

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