I want Apple’s AI features at WWDC to be boringly awesome. Here’s why you should, too

Adam Breeden/ZDNET

It’s not far-fetched to call this Monday’s WWDC Apple’s most important event of the year — it might even be its most important event this decade. 

Off the back of developer conferences by Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI, the folks at Cupertino find themselves even further behind in the AI race. Even my dad, who still rocks an iPhone 8 because he “can’t live without Touch ID,” understands that for Apple to leapfrog the competition, it must convince the public that it, too, can do AI. AI, the Apple way.

Also: What to expect from WWDC 2024: Apple Intelligence, Siri, iOS 18, VisionOS, more

The usefulness of the company’s new “Apple Intelligence” features remains up in the air, but there’s one thing I don’t want to see: extravagance. Cut out the lavish image and video generators, circle to searches, and the chatbots that impersonate celebrities. And please, don’t seclude any of the AI tools in its separate hardware. Instead, give me features that blend so seamlessly with my daily apps and services that I almost forget they exist.

Early reports by Bloomberg suggest that this is, indeed, the path Apple will take when pitching the future of AI to the masses next week. Instead of forcing AI features onto users, the company will require opting in first — the opposite of what Meta and Google have done with their opt-out models. And instead of pushing all the data processing to the cloud, Apple will only do so when necessary.

Notification recaps, AI-enhanced autocorrecting, browser summarization, and voice transcriptions will be among the subtle ways the company can embed AI into its most popular apps. These features should work much like how our phones automatically switch from LTE to Wi-Fi when we step within range of our home routers. Recap my notifications after a day of leaving too many unread, offer to summarize an article when the page requires several scrolls, and label the speakers when detecting different voices during transcription.

Also: Apple to give Control Center its most useful customization feature ever with iOS 18

Such features might not get as many cheers as AI-generated emojis in Messages (my money is on that to get quite the crowd reaction), but they will likely be the ones you and I will still be using by the end of the year — hopefully because they’re so frictionless that we don’t notice the gradual shift in our usage patterns.

The rise and fall of AI hardware is a testament to consumers’ aversion to behavioral changes. Instead, perhaps the right way — and the best way — to introduce AI into people’s lives has always been to meet them where they already are, from the apps they use every day to the gestures they’re familiar with, like prompting Siri. Apple’s new AI features don’t need to be flashy or futuristic; they just need to be boringly awesome.

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