Apple's iOS 12 Introduces the AI-Enabled Smartphone

Apple introduces the AI phone

Through a series of Siri enhancements and features, Apple is turning the iPhone into a personalized device, powered by its Siri AI.

This “new AI iPhone” is any iPhone running a new mobile OS. The new AI-enabled OS will understand where you are, what you’re doing and what you need to know right then and there.

Will users embrace the usefulness of Siri’s upcoming smarts, or will they find its rapid insights creepy and annoying?

For example, Siri may suggest that you:

  • Call your grandma for her birthday.
  • Tell someone you’re running late to the meeting via a text.
  • Start your workout playlist because you’re at the gym.
  • Turn your phone to Do Not Disturb at the movies.
  • And so on.

These will be useful in some cases, and perhaps annoying in others.

Siri Suggestions will also appear on the Lock Screen when it thinks it can help you perform an action. For example, placing your morning coffee order — something you regularly do around a particular time of day — or launching your preferred workout app, because you’ve arrived at the gym.

These suggestions also appear in the Apple Watch’s Siri watch face.

If you don’t take an action by tapping on these items, they’ll move down on the watch face’s list of suggestions.

AI-Powered Workflows

Apple is adding a new app called Siri Shortcuts.

The app is based on technology Apple acquired from Workflow, a clever — if somewhat advanced — task automation app that allows iOS users to combine actions into routines that can be launched with just a tap. Now, thanks to the Siri Shortcuts app, those routines can be launched by voice.

Onstage at the developer event, the app was demonstrated by Kim Beverett from the Siri Shortcuts team, who showed off a “heading home” shortcut she created.

When she tells Siri she’s “heading home,” her iPhone simultaneously launched directions for her commute in Apple Maps, set her home thermostat to 70 degrees, turned on her fan, messaged an ETA to her roommate and launched her favorite NPR station.

Developers to push users to Siri

But even if users hide away this new app in their Apple “junk” folder, or toggle off all the Siri Suggestions in Settings, they won’t be able to entirely escape Siri’s presence once iOS 12 launches. Apple also launched new developer tools that will allow app creators to integrate with Siri.

Developers can update their apps’ code so that every time a user takes a particular action — for example, placing their coffee order, streaming a favorite podcast, starting their evening jog with a workout app etc. — the app will let Siri know. Over time, Siri will learn users’ routines and the user places a coffee order through a coffee shop app’s order ahead system.

These will inform those Siri Suggestions that appear all over your iPhone, but developers will also be able to directly prod the user to add this routine to Siri right in their own apps.

In your favorite apps, you’ll start seeing an “Add to Siri” link or button in various places — like when you perform a particular action — such as looking for your keys in Tile’s app, viewing travel plans in Kayak, ordering groceries with Instacart etc.

The “Add to Siri” screen will then pop up, offering a suggestion of voice prompt that can be used as your personalized phase for talking to Siri about this task.

In the coffee ordering example, you might be prompted to try the phrase “coffee time.” In the Kayak example, it could be “travel plans.”

You record this phrase with the record button at the bottom of the screen. When finished, you have a custom Siri shortcut.

You don’t have to use the suggested phrase the developer has written. You can make up your own phrase instead.

When using apps with Siri voice commands, Siri can also talk back after the initial request.

Siri confirms that your request has been acted upon — for example, Siri may respond, “OK. Ordering. Your coffee will be ready in 5 minutes,” after you said “Coffee time”.

Siri also introduces some personality. The Tile’s app jokes back that it hopes your missing keys aren’t “under a couch cushion.”

There are a number of things you could do beyond these limited examples — the App Store has more than 2 million apps whose developers can now link directly into Siri.

And you don’t have to ask Siri only on your phone — you can also talk to Siri on your Apple Watch and HomePod.

Siri Suggestions are the new Notifications

As Siri’s smart suggestions ramp up, traditional notifications will wind down.

In iOS 12, Siri will take note of your behavior around notifications, and then push you to turn off those with which you don’t engage, or move them into a new silent mode Apple calls “Delivered Quietly.” This middle ground for notifications will allow apps to send their updates to the Notification Center, but not the Lock Screen.

At the same time, iOS 12’s new set of digital well-being features will hide notifications from users at particular times, when you’ve enabled ‘Do Not Disturb at Bedtime’, for example. This mode will not allow notifications to display when you check your phone at night or first thing upon waking.

Combined, these changes will encourage more developers to adopt the Siri integrations, because they’ll be losing a touchpoint with their users as their ability to grab attention through notifications fades.

Machine learning in photos

AI will further infiltrate other parts of the iPhone in iOS 12.

A new “For You” tab in the Photos app will prompt users to share photos taken with other people, thanks to facial recognition and machine learning. And those people, upon receiving your photos, will be prompted to share their own back with you.

The tab will also pull out your best photos and feature them by prompting you to try different lighting and photo effects. A smart search feature will make suggestions and allow you to view photos from specific places or events.

Smart or creepy?

Overall, iOS 12’s AI-powered features will make Apple’s devices more personalized. The downside is that it can also become disconcerting. Some people won’t want their habits noticed by their iPhone, and will find Siri prompts annoying — or, at worst, creepy, because they don’t understand how Siri has learned them.

Apple is relying on the fact that it has earned users’ trust through its privacy track record.

Apple Has One Chance to Get the User Experience Right and Promote Adoption

If Siri Suggestions become overbearing or get things wrong too often, it could lead users to just switch them off entirely through iOS Settings. Apple’s big chance to dominate in the AI-powered device market hinges on getting privacy and the experience right from day one. A very challenging thing to achieve indeed.

Time will tell…