Adding AI and Revving the Engines

The Daily Observation Deck Feature

Big tech goes bigger on AI, Google and Mozilla rev their engines for iPhone, and for sale: One Apple Museum Starter Kit.

Google and Microsoft Folding AI Chat into Search Engine Response

At the end of 2022, Daily Tech News Show’s Tom Merritt joined me on The Daily Observations Podcast with something like a prediction. The way he saw it, we would look back on 2022 as the year when generative artificial intelligence (AI) changed “everything.” Yes, I’m putting everything in quotes. “Everything” is too big a term. But we’ve got AI making art, AI writing letters, AI writing code, and — in a big way this week, AI answering questions.

Quick, somebody ask it who it thinks it is. 

According to a piece from MacRumors, both Google and Microsoft are folding AI responses into their respective search results. On Monday, the piece says, Google introduced Bard. “Powered by Google’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA),” the piece says, “Bard is an experimental conversational AI service for Google Search that is set to become available to the public in the coming weeks.” 

Evening came and morning followed — the second day. On Tuesday, the same MacRumors piece says Microsoft announced plans to add conversational AI tools to both the Bing search engine and the Edge browser. That piece had Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella saying, “AI will fundamentally change every software category, starting with the largest category of all — search.” 

The State of Apple and AI

Where, one may wonder, is Apple in all of this? Well, we know the company is AI-aware. On last week’s earnings call, Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers asked Apple CEO Tim Cook for his thoughts on “the role of AI in [Apple’s] strategy,” particularly around the services segment and — ehhhh… monetization (so gauche). After pointing to such AI-enabled functions as Fall Detection, Crash Detection, and ECG readings, Apple’s CEO said:

…we see an enormous potential in this space to affect virtually everything we do. It’s obviously a horizontal technology, not a vertical. And so it will affect every product and every service that we have.

If you’re looking for something more concrete, you need to be an Apple employee. 9to5Mac says the Cupertino-company is thought to be holding its annual, in-house AI summit this month. Just about every article about it had less to do with the summit than the fact that the summit will apparently be an in-person affair, though employees who can’t make it to the Steve Jobs Theater will be able to stream it. Events like these have been virtual/socially distanced since the start of the pandemic in 2020. The focus of most of the summit articles I saw was given to wondering whether product intros and WWDC would go back to fully in-person, rather than the live audience/video hybrid such events have been since last summer’s WWDC. 

As for the substance of the AI summit, consult your crystal ball. 9to5Mac says:

…it’s hard to say what to expect from it. After all, it is a private event for employees. However, Apple has been adding a lot of AI and machine learning based features to its devices recently. 

9to5Mac sounds a hopeful note of hearing more at WWDC 2023. Personally, I’m hoping to hear from leakers. 

And if you’re wondering, I’m not too proud to beg.

Browsing Beyond WebKit: Google and Mozilla Rev Their Own Engines for iPhone

What do Google and Mozilla have in common? Well — lots of things, I suppose, though I’m thinking in this case about the designs they have on iPhone. AppleInsider has written up an internal initiative by Google’s Chromium team, while The Register has written up one from Mozilla. Both are said to be working on web browsers for iOS that would not use WebKit.

Going under the hood a bit, while one can get web browsers in the App Store that are not Safari, they sort-of-kind-of are Safari below the surface. The way The Register explains it:

The major browser makers – Apple, Google, and Mozilla – each have their own browser rendering engines. Apple’s Safari is based on WebKit; Google’s Chrome and its open source Chromium foundation is based on Blink (forked from WebKit a decade ago); and Mozilla’s Firefox is based on Gecko.

But — to be in the App Store, and thus allowed on iPhone, the site says “iOS browser apps must use WebKit.” That means, on iPhone anyway, no matter the optimizations made to their own engines, competing browsers can only go as fast and far as WebKit will allow.

So why are Mozilla and Google wasting their time? Well, one could argue that any endeavor that increases knowledge is not a waste of time. Really though, they might not be wasting time, but racing it. The AppleInsider piece on Google’s experiment highlights proposed changes in law that could encourage/force Apple to change its WebKit requirement. “For example,” the piece says:

…Europe’s Digital Markets Act aims to force Apple into making changes to how it allows developers access to iOS as a whole, including the possibility of enabling third-party app storefronts. Since other stores will be able to set their own rules about app content, that means a browser offered through a third-party store wouldn’t be limited to the WebKit-only rule.

As the EU goes, so goes the world? Maybe. Last week, The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a report here in the states that would seem to push Apple down a similar path. Then again that report assumes action by Congress, so holding your breath is not advised.

For their parts, neither Google nor Mozilla look ready to anger the 800-pound gorilla that is Apple. Questioned by The Register (in a separate report) about its experiment, Google indicated that it was just that. The piece had a spokesperson saying:

This is an experimental prototype that we are developing as part of an open source project with the goal to understand certain aspects of performance on iOS… It will not be available to users and we’ll continue to abide by Apple’s policies.

Similarly, Mozilla was quoted as saying:

We abide by Apple’s iOS app store policies, and are simply doing some exploratory work to understand the technical challenges for Gecko-based browsers on iOS if those policies were to change. We hope the day will come when people can freely decide to use the browser of their choice, including the opportunity to select the engine that underpins it.

Apple Tweaks Designs for Desktop and Mobile Sites

Next time you visit Apple’s site, don’t freak out. 9to5Mac says there’ve been some changes made, “focused on making it easier to navigate through different product categories.” The secret ingredient: dropdown menus. “Previously,” the piece says:

…the navigation bar on Apple’s website was static and did not feature any kind of dropdown menus. This meant that you needed to click on an item in the menu bar to view more details, at which point you’d be redirected to the dedicated webpage for that product category.

So, if you wanted to know about iPhone 14, you had to click iPhone, then on that page click iPhone 14. Now, you can just click iPhone 14 in the dropdown and go straight there. 

The piece points to a similar change for Apple’s mobile site. The nav menu is now in the upper right on the mobile site. Tap that and you’re presented with a few product categories, tap one of those and you get more granular choices, all the way down (fingers crossed) to the exact product/solution for which you are looking.

Amid Massive Tech Layoffs, Apple Adds More Workspace

For those worried that Apple might turn to layoffs in the downturn, a real estate story that may allay that fear. AppleInsider says the Cupertino-company has just signed a lease on “a sizable office facility in Sunnyvale, California…” The news comes just weeks after Apple finalized the purchase of a Cupertino office it had been leasing for over a decade. As for the new location, no word on how many workers it’ll support nor what they’ll be doing. No word either on when they’ll move in, though the AppleInsider piece says the company “is already making upgrades to the office building’s interior and exterior.”

Apple TV+ Outs Trailer for Espionage Series ‘Liaison’

Apple TV+ is cranking the promo machine for an upcoming thriller. The Cupertino-streamer issued a press release this week with info on and a trailer for the series “Liaison.” The first Apple TV+ series in English and French, the release says:

“Liaison” is a high-stakes, contemporary thriller exploring how the mistakes of our past have the potential to destroy our future, combining action with an unpredictable, multilayered plot where espionage and political intrigue play out against a story of passionate and enduring love.

Short and — potentially — savory, this one. The first of six-episodes hits Friday, Feb. 24. They’ll run one-a-week every Friday through the end of March. You can catch the trailer now on YouTube Auctioning Huge Lot of Old Apple Gear on eBay

And finally today, if you’ve ever dreamed of opening your own Apple museum, there’s a starter kit available on eBay. AppleInsider says the “retro computing website” is selling a truckload of “old Macs, displays, drives, printers and Mac paraphernalia.” You will need to bring the truck, though. According to the piece:

The giant collection includes over 500 Mac-related items, including Apple Lisa computers, Macs, add-in cards, displays, printers, and old Mac laptops. It also includes not just whole units, but also spare parts for Apple’s first laser printer, the LaserWriter.

Now that was a machine. 

See something you like? You have to buy it all. “The sale is for the entire lot only,” according to AppleInsider, “and it will not be broken up.” Also, you’ll need to head west to get it. The collection is located in Santa Barbara, CA. “The final buyer must pick up all equipment in person,” according to AppleInsider.

Road trip. 

Staring bid on the auction is $10,999. So far — not one bidder. It ends in three-days. Best of luck.

Let’s Go to the Phones? 

Checking in on that other auction I told you about earlier this week, bids look slow and low for the Mint-in-Box original iPhone I told you about. The woman selling it is hoping for somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 to fund her tattoo studio. As of this writing, bidding stands at just under $17,000. That auction ends on Feb. 19. You can follow along at LCG Auctions.

Today on The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations Podcast

TMO writer Nick deCourville and I talk Apple’s place in the gaming space, how it might get to a better place, and whether it’s even worth it to try. That’s all today on the Daily Observations Podcast from The Mac Observer.

One thought on “Adding AI and Revving the Engines

  • Ken:

    As I suggested on Jeff’s Apple Internal AI piece yesterday, we should expect Google, not surprisingly, to focus their AI use case on their chief revenue stream, search, in order to push back on ChatGPT, which has begun eating Google’s lunch and is now eying their dinner. That’s an existential threat to the company itself, hence their aggressive fast-tracking of their chatbot, ‘Bard’. Given ChatGPT’s popularity, without the Bard, it’s not clear whether Google as a prime search engine is ‘To be, or not to be’. That is the question.

    As your piece indicates, MS will be applying their chatty AI product to Bing and to their browser, Edge. But notably, Satya Nadella, as I suggested yesterday, is foreshadowing AI integration to all software across the board. We should anticipate an enterprise focussed AI-enhanced range of products and services with optimum integration across all platforms on which their suite operates, with improved security features in the cloud, actively scouring the web for client information compromise and other threats, with proactive intervention. We can already see some of this in their revised Office suite, Microsoft 365.

    As for Apple, my wager is that they will continue to prioritise platform integration above other AI uses. This is not simply a practical application that renders superior product performance for their product and service offerings, it will continue to take their proprietary SOC/AI integration to the next level, leaving most of the industry behind. Methinks the sole proprietor chip manufacturing industry might even have lost all heart for that chase, as only a whole-widget company can achieve that level of integration.

    For Apple, there is substantial secondary gain for focussing on AI-enhanced platform integration. If Apple can successfully the performance and security benefits of an AI-harmonised, integrated platform in which devices and software function rather like simple organs and the nervous system of a larger organism, then this will change the culture of our human/technology interface. The platform is now the product, and not the isolated device, which is part of a whole. Then Apple might be able to push back against efforts either split company’s services from their software and/or hardware, or prevail in courts of law against efforts to lessen their control over other elements of that platform, such as payment systems and independent third party apps (side-loading), amongst other breaches of the walled-garden. A chatbot search engine, without an integrated platform, would be a lesser feat and priority. There be method to such madness.

    And who knows; if picayune political minds can grok hardware as integrated elements of a more complex emergent platform, then they might ply their legislative ploughs to worthier fields, like user rights over their own data, and enforceable terms of data use. Hope springs eternal.

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