We’ve repeated this many times here before, but there are a few truisms that can be said for any future iPhone: it will have the fastest processor, the best camera and at least one unique feature you can’t get on any other iPhone.
That’s as true now as it will be in 2020. But it’s time to add one more item to the list: intelligence.
As important as processing power and superior optics are now, machine learning, artificial intelligence and personalization will also be paramount to future iPhones and iOS.
So much so that Apple is reportedly designing a new iPhone chip specifically for AI. This would not only help drive future advancements, it would do so while staying in line with Apple’s preference to keep Ai-powered personalization features on-device in the interest of protecting user privacy,
The smartest Siri ever
One obvious outlet for all this extra AI-processing power is Siri, which has long been the heart of Apple’s AI efforts. By iOS 14, Siri will not only be smarter and powerful than ever, the assistant will play a pivotal role across Apple’s entire operating system.
The advent of "Type to Siri" in iOS 11 — for now an accessibility setting — suggests Apple is laying the groundwork for even more text-based Siri interactions. This could be implemented through a dedicated channel in Messages (a la Google Assistant) or (less likely) via a dedicated Siri app. Either way, this opens up interesting possibilities for Siri’s assistant capabilities.
Image: brittany herbert/mashable
Instead of just asking Siri to remind you about something, you could send the assistant photos or text notes of things you want to keep track of. SIri could even use this channel to proactively send you information you need to know, based on what it already knows about you and information from Apple’s native apps like Maps, Mail and Calendar.
Just as Google can send reminders on when to leave for work based on current traffic conditions, Siri will be able to surface reminders about your day based on data from Apple’s apps. Besides calendar reminders, this could extend to Mail (reminding you to respond to messages from VIP contacts), Photos (don’t forget to share last weekend’s party photos with your friends!), and daily alarms (Siri could automatically turn alarms on or off based on your calendar).
In this way, it’s easy to see how Siri shifts from the capable, if only sometimes helpful, "assistant" we have today to a super intelligent force that subtly manages nearly every aspect of how you use your phone.
Everything is personalized
Siri isn’t the only way future versions of iOS will be smarter. Artificial intelligence will permeate the entire system in so many ways that even simple tasks will reach new levels of personalization.
There are small signs of this even now. Spotlight Search recommends four or eight "Siri App Suggestions" based on your recent habits (again, the fact that this feature, even now, bears Siri’s name is telling). But this feature is just a warmup for what Apple really has planned.
By iOS 14, instead of merely recommending apps in Spotlight Search, iOS will be able to take a much more active role in determining what apps and actions are put in front of you at any given moment.
This could change large portions of your entire home screen. Instead of a grid of apps you’ve manually selected for that area, iOS will automatically put certain apps in front of you, based on what you’re most likely to want to use in that moment.
Similarly certain settings on your phone might be able to automatically change (if you opt in) based on your location and what you’re doing. One early sign of that now is Apple’s new Do Not Disturb While Driving feature that’s shipping with iOS 11. But what if iOS could also automatically switch over to Do Not Disturb when you step into your office, switch to silent mode when you enter a movie theatre, or mute notifications at certain times of the day all without you ever lifting a finger?
This level of personalization will extend far beyond the home screen, too. Many of Apple’s own apps — Phone, Mail, Messages, Maps — will be context-aware. Open the phone app and you’ll see a handful of suggested contacts based on your previous habits. Start a new message in Mail or Messages and see a list of suggested recipients.
This will raise privacy concerns for some, of course, so just as Apple allows to disable suggested apps in Siri suggestions on a per app basis, you’ll likely be able to disable many of these features as well.
Apple’s own apps aside, its intelligent suggestions will extend to the share sheet as well. Whatever it is that you’re sharing — a photo, a link, or a video — the share sheet will recommend apps based on your prior behavior.
What about developers?
Exactly what all these changes will mean for developers is less clear. Apple will likely continue to open Siri to more and more developers and unlock more of its assistant’s capabilities for third parties.
By iOS 14, third-party developers should no longer be hamstrung by Apple’s requirement that only certain developers with certain types of apps will be able to access Siri via SiriKit. Instead, that framework will provide more flexibility in terms of how Siri and third party developers integrate with each other.
What is unlikely, though, is that Apple will make the vast amounts of personalization data available to developers. Don’t expect Siri’s magical new predicting powers to play nice with non-Apple apps except, perhaps, in cases where Apple doesn’t have a competing service of its own.
Siri may be able to read your calendar, detect your next appointment and launch a car hailing service, but don’t expect as much if all your appointments are on Google Calendar or another competing service.
Elsewhere in iOS, Apple will make improvements to third-party apps in Messages. Instead of the clunky, mostly unremarkable, messaging apps we have today, developers will be able to create app integrations that actually do something besides send stickers or photos.
AI is happening no matter what
Predicting three years of software advancements is, in many ways, much more difficult predicting hardware. It’s easier to draw a straight line between generations of chipsets than it is to forecast future AI advancements or software features that may not even be imagined yet.
Even so, it’s abundantly clear to anyone paying even a little bit of attention to the industry that machine learning and artificial intelligence advancements are the forces that will drive software of the future, much like the increase of computing power has driven the last several years of innovation.
And while it’s easy to look at some of these changes as unnecessary at best or privacy risks at worst, there’s no denying that these changes, and other ones we haven’t even begin to think about yet, are approaching faster than we think.
2020 is just three years away but iOS 14 will be lightyears ahead of anything we’ve seen yet.