Why Apple sees iPhone X as a ‘platform for artificial intelligence’

Apple sees its mobile devices as a major platform for artificial intelligence in the future, the company’s chief operating officer Jeff Williams said on Monday.

Later this week, Apple is set to begin taking pre-orders for its new smartphone, the iPhone X – which starts at US$$999 and uses artificial intelligence (AI) features embedded in the company’s latest A11 chips.

We’re at an inflection point, with on-device computing, coupled with the potential of AI, to really change the world

Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer

The phone promises new facial recognition features such as Face ID, which uses a mathematical model of a person’s face to allow the user to sign on to their phones or pay for goods with a steady glance at their phones.

“We think that the frameworks that we’ve got, the ‘neural engines’ we’ve put in the phone, in the watch … we do view that as a huge piece of the future,” Williams said.

“We believe these frameworks will allow developers to create apps that will do more and more in this space, so we think the phone is a major platform.”

Williams was speaking at the 30th anniversary celebrations of top chip manufacturer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in Taipei, which was attended by global technology executives.

He said technological innovations, especially involving the cloud and on-device processing, would improve life without sacrificing privacy or security.

“I think we’re at an inflection point, with on-device computing, coupled with the potential of AI, to really change the world.”

He said AI could be used to change the way health care was delivered – an industry he saw as “ripe” for change.

Williams said Apple’s integration of artificial intelligence would be limited not only to mobile phones.

“Some pieces will be done in data centres, some will be on the device, but we are already doing AI in the broader sense of the word, not the ‘machines thinking for themselves’ version of AI,” he said referring to the work of Nvidia, a leader in AI.

Global technology firms such as Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and mainland China’s Huawei are spending heavily to develop and offer AI-powered services and products in search of new growth drivers.

Softbank Group, which has invested significantly in artificial intelligence, plans a second Vision Fund that could be about US$200 billion in size, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

At Monday’s event, Morris Chang, chairman of TSMC, described his company’s relationship with Apple as “intense”.

Williams said the relationship started in 2010, the year Apple launched the iPhone 4, with both parties taking on a substantial risk.

He credited Chang for TSMC’s “huge” capital investment to ramp up faster than the pace the industry was used to at the time.

Apple decided to have 100 per cent of its new iPhone and new iPad chips for application processors sourced at TSMC, and TSMC invested US$9 billion to bring up its Tainan fabrication in a record 11 months, he said.