The technology boom amidst the pandemic has already hit 2022, creating another record with Apple. This week, the company was valued at $3 trillion, the first US company to reach this growth. This follows Apple’s tremendous market growth that has risen by 38% since the start of 2021 and tripled in value in under four years. The Guardian estimated the valuation is equivalent to the combined value of Boeing, Coca-Cola, Disney, Exxon-Mobil, McDonald’s, Netflix and Walmart. While the growth has not been sustained, the company has surely been a disruptor in the technology market with their breakthrough innovations for decades. This article looks at the AI/ML innovation that makes Apple stand out and possibly stimulated its $3 trillion valuations.
Since 1984 and the release of The Macintosh with the Graphical User Interface, followed by the Apple II, Apple was already creating the first products to earn market value. Following this, Apple has always adopted a quieter and smarter approach towards AI.
Apple stands out compared to other tech companies, given its family of proprietary softwares, i.e., the iOS operating system in-built with Safari, Maps, Photos, iMessage, FaceTime and more, can be connected through its several mobile phones, laptops, television and desktop products. But Apple’s services go beyond these to create the ‘Apple Brain’ that leverages AI, ML, deep learning and neural networks to provide you with the smart tech you didn’t even know you needed. As Verge termed it, Apple is about the ‘small conveniences’.
Siri: a household virtual assistant
Apple launched Siri in 2011 when the concept of a virtual assistant on a smartphone was barely known, making it the first widely used AI and NLP powered assistant. Microsoft and Google introduced Cortana some three years after Siri was introduced. Siri allows iPhone, Mac, and iPad users to connect with their devices without even lifting a finger and completing their basic online chores. While Siri has been criticised for its lack of advancement, as compared to AIs7, it can do many impressive tasks, including translating, telling you the weather, setting your alarm, finding answers to questions of Google, narrating a bedtime story, helping you with directions while car parking, playing music, making restaurant reservations and more. In fact, the assistant can translate between 40 pairs of languages in real-time.
Siri’s NLP functions link back to Apple’s cloud, but according to the company, user privacy is preserved. Apple has been researching to improve Siri’s localised results by training it with local datasets of places and businesses’ names. This would allow a resident to, as Bernard Marr illustrated, say, “I’m going to Kilkenny”, and Siri will understand Kilkenny being a town in Ireland over the resident murdering a man named Kenny. In addition, with its acquisition of Xnor.ai’s 15x faster edge AI, Apple allows Siri to work offline.
Face ID powered iPhone unlocking
Apple was one of the first smartphones to allow users to unlock their iPhones by just looking at them. In an update that took iPhone users by a storm, Apple leveraged AI-based image detection and computer vision technology to enable image detection phone unlocking.
“Hey Siri”: voice recognition
To top off Siri’s virtual assistant qualities, it can converse back and forth with the user owing to Apple’s voice recognition technology. The assistant wakes up when the iPhone user says, “Hey Siri”, replying with “What can I help you with?” However, Siri will not respond if family members or friends say the phrase. This means, if one person in a group of five iPhone users says ‘Hey Siri’, only their smartphone will wake up, not every iPhone within hearing range.
Apple’s speaker, HomePod, is another intelligent device powered by Siri but can do more tasks. “With multiple HomePod mini speakers placed around the house, you can have a connected sound system for your whole home. Ask Siri to play one song everywhere or, just as easily, a different song in each room,” explains Apple. In addition, the HomePod can be connected to Siri through the iPhone, allowing the user to demand Siri to play any song, podcast or narrate news through the speakers.
Additionally, the speaker can also act as a HomeHub, connecting to Apple’s HomeKit that can be accessed through the iPhone. It allows users to remotely access the house – see a live view of the door, shut garage gates or even lock and unlock the house door.
HomeKit and facial recognition
Along with other functions, the HomeKit comes enabled with smart cameras. This uses pictures and people users have tagged on their phones to identify who is at the door and even announce them by name.
Apple watch and big data; native sleep tracking
Apple has leveraged big data to analyse people’s usage of apps and features and customise offerings to their customers. For instance, with the Apple Watch, the company has opened a new horizon of data collection, capturing their customers through the day. While the idea is certainly scary regarding privacy invasion, Apple has teamed up with IBM to apply digital information for health management. As a result, people can track their health and improve their lifestyles.
The watch also tracks your sleeping pattern that rounds back to help people meet their sleeping goals and create a better lifestyle. The sleep function can also be linked with iPhone’s sleep option that allows users to add shortcuts like playing music or meditation playlists to relax before bed.
Innovation in chips
Apple has driven novel advancements in AI chips, and the company runs new technological innovations on the products. For example, the A13 Bionic chipset understands the world around them using AI algorithms. Its ML capabilities are supported by an octa-core neural engine that works at 6x its initial speed and performs as many as one trillion operations per second. This chip is behind some of the user’s favourite features of the iPhone; the camera, Face ID login and augmented reality effects in iMessage.
As one of the latest updates on the Apple Watch, the device is supported with voice recognition and motion detectors to detect movements and sounds of handwashing. Upon doing so, the watch will begin a countdown timer to wash hands properly.
Apple’s translation app allows an offline technology clubbed with on-device machine learning. This detects languages that are being spoken, translates between them and can indulge in live conversations.
Digital car key
Last year, Apple paired up with BMW 5 series to enable digital unlocking of the car through iPhone or Apple watch, calling it a ‘digital key’. The key can wirelessly unlock and start the car through Apple’s U1 ultra wideband chip. After pairing the device, the user can hold the device near an NFC reader to turn it on. Additional security features include connecting it with a face ID or a passcode. This key can also be shared with others through the messaging app.
Apple has recently acquired two AI startups, Xnor.ai, a company specialising in low-power, edge-based AI tools, especially for image recognition, and Voysis, a voice interaction AI platform.