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Apple touts A.I. in iOS -- with barely a mention of the term -- and opens 'crown jewels' to devs

Gregg Keizer | June 14, 2016
Execs walk developers through new features, enhancements in all four of its operating systems.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and a small battalion of his lieutenants took to a stage today in a fast-paced keynote that pushed back against talk that the company lags behind rivals  in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and opened some of the company's crown jewels to third-party developers.

Monday's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote focused on software and, to a lesser extent than last year, on services, touting small and not-so-small improvements to all four of its operating systems: macOS, iOS, tvOS and watchOS.

Cook spent relatively little time holding court, and the keynote was much more structured, and clearer, than last year's event, said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

"Last year was rough and a bit of a mess," said Dawson of 2015's WWDC keynote, which went long. "It felt unstructured, as if they crammed too much in. They learned from that this year. Today's was very structured, but yet covered more ground and never felt out of control. And each presenter handed off to the next, rather than have [Cook] back out to introduce each."

Throughout, Dawson said, Apple made two major statements to developers, and peripherally, to customers as well.

"They pushed back on the narrative that Apple is handicapped in A.I.," said Dawson. "But not directly. They dropped in the right terms here and there, but really, what they did is show, not tell."

Dawson was referring to the talk circulating among pundits that Apple is behind rivals -- including Facebook, Google and Microsoft -- in the battle to bring more intelligence to technology. "What Apple did was show how their products were getting better" with more intelligence, Dawson added, citing improvements to Siri as the prime example.

siri on mac
Siri -- Apple's digital assistant -- arrives on the Mac with macOS Sierra.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, concurred.

"Apple responded nicely to the threat put in front of them by Google and Microsoft," said Moorhead, "and showed that they've been working on A.I. improvements for a long time."

Like Dawson, Moorhead called out Apple's "show me" strategy of the keynote. "Apple didn't exactly show how a conversational bot would work, but what they did show was how three people could order food from the same menu without having a bot."

Dawson, Moorhead and Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, all also identified a second thread in the presentation: Apple opening up important APIs (application programming interfaces) to outside developers.

"They opened up the crown jewels," said Moorhead, ticking off Siri, Maps and Messages, three first-party apps that until today were only available to Apple's engineers. "Now they're creating a messaging platform that's open to commerce and voice."


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