Our iOS 17 review called it "one of the best iOS updates we've seen in years", but the latest speculation suggests that Apple is planning a bigger update for iOS 18 next year – and one that could bring generative AI features to the latest iPhones.
But this is seemingly also proving to be a major challenge, as last week Apple's Craig Federighi (SVP of Software Engineering) apparently made the rare call of "freezing development work" on Apple's next major software updates for the iPhone, iPad, Mac and others so that early glitches could be ironed out.
While this could put on the brakes on a major overhaul for iOS 18, various sources with strong track records, including Ming-Chi Kuo, Jeff Pu and The Information, have suggested that Apple is spending big on AI servers and planning on-device AI features for the iPhone that could land as soon as WWDC 2024.
It's still too early for iOS 18 leaks, but based on recent rumors here are the most likely ways that LLM (large language models) and conversational AI could change the iPhone, potentially starting from iOS 18 and the iPhone 16.
1. Next-gen Siri replaces Shortcuts
The strongest rumors about Apple's potential integration of LLMs into iOS 18 are that its Siri voice assistant will get a big overhaul. That would be very welcome, given how stale Siri has become – and it could finally see voice assistants move beyond the basic 'oven timer' sidekicks that most of us use them for.
For example, a recent report from The Information suggests that one of Apple's goals is to let iPhone users "use simple voice commands to automate tasks involving multiple steps". This could apparently mean telling to Siri to create a gif from the last five photos you've taken and text them to a friend.
Right now, Apple's Shortcuts app is the home of automation and time-saving tools, but Siri could become a more intuitive, user-friendly way to get your iPhone to perform multi-step actions. This is a complex process, as Apple's recent 'Voice Trigger system for Siri' paper explains, but we could start to see the first fruits in iOS 18.
2. Much more useful Search powers
Right now, the iPhone's Search function (swiping down on the home screen) is still pretty frustrating and limited. iOS 17 delivered some improvements to message search (for example, letting you combine multiple search filters), but integrating on-device AI in iOS 18 could make it much easier to find things on your phone.
For a start, it could help the iPhone's Search feature cover more apps like Notes, Voice Memos and Freeform. But there's also great potential for asking natural language questions about your on-device data. For example, rather than switching between several apps, you could ask 'what will the weather be like during my bike ride on Sunday?'.
Like Fitbit's incoming AI coach, Apple could also serve up more useful insights on its StandBy mode screen, and start phasing out the now-dated process of swiping between various apps to piece together the info you need.
3. iCloud becomes a must-have
Apple is likely to develop both on-device AI for the iPhone and also some separate cloud-based features, according to a recent Power On newsletter from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. And that could mean some powerful new features for iCloud, which Apple is so desperate for us to subscribe to.
Knowing Apple, there's a chance that some of its more advanced AI features will require an iCloud subscription – or that it'll at least use iCloud features to make that subscription more compelling.
Alongside boosted security features and the automated organization of your cloud-based files, a universal Search function that worked seamlessly across both your iPhone and iCloud files would be a powerful combination, particularly if it worked better than using a third-party cloud storage provider.
4. The Camera app becomes your creative muse
The handy Visual Look Up tool in iOS 17, which helps you identify plants, animals and laundry tags in images, shows how much Apple is pushing machine learning on the iPhone. But that's clearly just the start and iOS 18 could start to push this concept much further.
Right now, a lot of Apple's computer vision features are focused on functional things like subject-tracking in video and text recognition, which allows words in images to appear in your search results. But Apple could also add generative AI to the mix to help you use the real-world as a starting point for your creative ideas.
We can already make stickers from our photos, but what if you could use these to generate related logos, designs and more in the Freeform app just using natural language descriptions? Our phone cameras could soon become even more creative tools, beyond just memory catchers. Particularly now that iPhones can shoot in 3D.
5. Apple Music takes it to Spotify
Another big focus of Apple's generative AI push, according to a separate Bloomberg story, is Apple Music. According to the report, Eddy Cue (Apple's SVP of Services) is heading a group that's "exploring new features for Apple Music" that include "auto-generated playlists".
This would merely see Apple catching up with Spotify, which would be disappointing but not unlikely given how strangely conservative Apple Music is with new features. But Apple could use on-device AI to make its music streaming app a more compelling option, including a better version of Spotify's AI DJ, a more powerful version of Apple Music Sing and improvements to its Discovery Station.
Perhaps further down the line, when more artists license their voices for AI-generated music, we'll get some exciting integration with GarageBand, but that's probably a little further off than iOS 18.
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Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.