Inside out: Why do Apple and Google approach AI so differently?
I’ve watched a lot of WWDC and Google I/O keynotes over the years. In fact, I don’t think I’ve missed one in the last decade.
As a storyteller, I am fascinated by how differently the two industry giants message the tech trends du jour, despite their annual developer events being just a few weeks apart. And this year, when it came to arguably the single most buzzworthy tech trend in years — artificial intelligence — the difference between the two companies was dramatic.
Google’s leadership, led by CEO Sundar Pichai, reportedly said the phrase “AI” 143 times during the two-hour I/O keynote.
Apple’s leadership, including CEO Tim Cook, didn’t mention AI or artificial intelligence during their two-hour WWDC keynote. Not even once. These days, it’s hard enough to have a casual conversation about technology without uttering AI. And for the largest tech company on the planet to not even mention it? In more than two hours? At a developers conference? It was no accident. It’s a strategy.
So, does this strategic difference between Google and Apple matter? And what does it mean for consumers and product developers?
Two AI audiences – insiders and outsiders
In short, the difference between Apple’s and Google’s framing of AI comes down to the audience.
Google historically speaks more directly to builders at its annual I/O conference. The company’s business motives are more solidly rooted in engaging developers — and, ultimately, enabling these builders to leverage Google technologies in ways that support Google’s bottom line. Simply put, Google primarily markets its technology to technology insiders.
Apple, on the other hand, deliberately avoided the term to speak to a wide audience of users and Apple product enthusiasts. This may seem odd, given that the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) has “developers” baked into the name. But the event has increasingly become an annual showcase of upcoming new products and services, focussed on enhancing consumer experiences. In other words, Apple is selling experiences to users — including technology outsiders who only care about what a product can do, and couldn’t care less about what’s inside that product.
The right AI strategy — through two video clips
Fun fact: Apple’s WWDC keynote video on YouTube has more than 14 million views as of June 29; Google’s I/O keynote had just 1.6 million views on YouTube (the platform owned by Google!). The difference is just another indicator that Apple is appealing to a broader audience of consumers of technology – not just developers of technology.
And when it comes to AI, here are two examples of how differently the two companies framed it in their keynotes.
In this clip, Pichai introduces updates to Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Photos.
With each, Pichai prefaces the new feature by explaining how breakthroughs in AI enabled it. The technology comes first.
Meanwhile, in this clip, Apple’s senior director of engineering Craig Federighi offers an overview of updated iOS typing features Autocorrect and Dictation.
Federighi starts by explaining how the updates “improve the experience every time you type” — speaking directly about the user benefit. And while he talks about the technology, mentioning “machine learning,” “models,” and “intelligence,” he never uses the term “AI.” He then closes the segment with, “These updates make typing on iPhone better than ever.” The user experience comes first.
What it means for developers: AI inside
The difference between how Apple and Google are marketing AI is clear. But what does that mean for today’s digital product builders — for the designers and developers who are creating experiences to coexist in Apple’s and Google’s ecosystems?
Apple’s and Google’s approach to AI-related product development is actually pretty similar.
Based on their announcements, both companies are betting big on AI as a key component of the future of digital experiences. And both companies offered a wealth of specific developer-focused sessions in their events about how third-party builders can leverage their AI technologies. Though, it’s worth noting, that even in these developer sessions, Apple’s subject-matter experts avoided using the generic term “AI” in favor of “machine learning” or more specific technologies.
Apple’s approach certainly resonates with our team of builders at ArcTouch. We start any app or website project by defining the experience we want to create, then identifying the best technologies to deliver that experience. As far as consumers are concerned, what’s in that “tech stack” isn’t important — including AI.
Apple joined Google, Microsoft, and others in increasing the amount of AI built into many of their own products and services already used by millions of people. As we wrote recently, “Like ‘Intel Inside’ for hardware, AI will be embedded inside software” — the apps, websites, and digital experiences we already are familiar with today.
Microsoft recently added OpenAI technology to Azure web services and is integrating ChatGPT and AI into several flagship products, including Word, Excel, Bing, Edge, and Outlook.
Google added an AI text generator in Gmail, a “Help me write” button in Google Docs, an “Immersive View” in Google Maps, a “Magic Editor” in Google Photos, and AI built into Google Search that summarizes answers to questions rather than listing a bunch of links.
Nearly all of Apple’s updates and new products announced at WWDC included some AI element. It was most obvious in iOS 17, with machine learning enabling improved experiences in Mail, Messages, Photos, Journal, Music, and more.
What AI inside means for consumers
For the world of digital experience consumers, Apple made it clear: AI is no different than many other technologies. It can help create amazing experiences. But for most people, how AI works simply doesn’t matter. Just as billions of computer users don’t care about the silicon chips that power their PCs. And just as millions of automobile drivers don’t understand what a catalytic converter does.
Of course, we consumers have repeatedly been shown, via sci-fi books and movies, that fictional AI can extinguish the human race. And more recently, with the rapid advances in generative AI, some high-profile industry insiders — including the founder of OpenAI — have publicly warned of potentially catastrophic consequences as we approach “artificial general intelligence.”
And so, far-reaching AI nervousness may be a secondary reason Apple executives deliberately have avoided saying “AI.”
However, the more important reason is that AI will eventually be inside almost every digital product and service. And for outsiders, it doesn’t really matter what Apple — or Google — executives call it.
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