I/O Envy

There are a lot of rumblings in the Apple community arising out of the recent Google I/O conference. Google continues to push forward with artificial intelligence and machine learning as they added additional features to Android making it easier than ever for the operating system to think and act for us.

As a fan of voice technology and digital assistants, I couldn’t help but be impressed. For some people in the Apple community, this is a warning shot across Apple’s bow. If our portable technologies are heading in this direction, Google is flaunting its superiority while Apple seems to linger each year with minor improvements to artificial intelligence, Siri, and the whole principle of getting our phones to think more for us.

One argument why Apple lags at this is because they don’t have the types of cloud data that Google does. Because Apple feels so strongly about protecting consumer data, they don’t have access to much of it. That impairs their ability to use “big data” to improve their services.

I’m not convinced that’s a good enough reason however. Even though Apple may not have “big data”, they do have plenty of access to user data on device. Moreover, the microchips in the modern iPhones and iPads are plenty smart to take a look at what’s going on with your data and act upon it. We got a little bit of that with iOS 9 and I generally am impressed how apps show up now about the time I usually use them.

I don’t feel as if the sky is falling over this issue. To me, it seems a lot more like Apple’s standard playbook, where they let new technologies percolate for a bit and see what really sticks before finding a way to implement it. In the past, they capitalized on coming in once the technology becomes more useful to the masses and packaging it in a way that non-nerds, can take advantage of it. A similar recent dominant technology was cloud sync. Just a few years ago Google was legitimately the only company capable of pulling it off. I’ve been running an experiment on iCloud Drive the last month with 5 GB of data and it’s actually pretty good. Not only that, smaller companies are now syncing data reliably too. I can’t help think there is something similar to Moore’s law for cloud based technologies.

To me, the real question here is that by not using “big data” or even taking better advantage of the data on our mobile devices, is Apple putting itself so far behind that it can’t make that leap frog when the technology becomes more feasible?

The answer to that particular question is not easy. Apple doesn’t tell us anything. For all we know, they have a skunk works project with 1,000 engineers working on this problem right now. Just as easily, however, they could have two guys in a broom closet. We’ll not know until the big “unveiling” some day in the distant future. We speculated for years about the iPad and Apple ultimately delivered. Will they do it again with better AI and digital assistants?

I would like nothing more than for Apple to jump into the fray on this with both feet. I’d love for my iPhone or iPad to handle the tedium and give me more time to create things. I remember watching the movie *Her* and thinking, “I want that.” (Well … at least parts of that.) Maybe we will get that far in my lifetime. Regardless, if Apple does not announce its own AI initiative, I hardly think they are sunk. We are still several years from mass adoption of artificial intelligence in our mobile devices. Just look at voice dictation, which is prety good these days, but hardly used. If people aren’t ready to use their phone to type for them, do you really think they’re ready to have their phone booking appointments and flights for them?