Smart everything: Apple’s next product transition

Apple's transition continues

Apple, AI, Steven Milunovich, Machine Intelligence, data analytics, Hadoop,
Flickr/Edit/Hong Chang Bum

“Apple wants us to be in an Apple world, signified by the unification of their technology and the integration of software services,” UBS analyst, Steven Milunovich, said today. I argue that connected machine learning is key to Apple’s future product and services plans. It wants to build smart everything.

Think about it

Apple is working with emerging technologies as it seeks to explore future disruptive opportunities, and data analytics is part of this strategy.

You already use solutions powered by such analytics – if you watch video on your smartphone it is likely your carrier uses analytics to provide consistent quality of service. Apple is using data analytics across multiple products and services, including (but not limited to) Maps, iAds, Siri, iTunes and Internet services, including location-based solutions and News.

Data analytics mines the huge collections of data being created within our increasingly connected world in order to identify patterns and trends about devices, the people using them and more. The open source Hadoop solution is one of the most popular data analytics frameworks around.

Apple also uses analytics to figure out how to improve its products and how to improve the applications you use. There are other examples. Apple uses a technology called long short-term memory (LSTM) to make its Quicktype keyboard able to offer more intelligent options during conversations.

Company executives always say their interest in AI is because they are searching for ways in which such complex technologies can improve their customer’s lives.

Big data? Big effort

All the same, the company effort behind these technologies is increasing in intensity. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has also confirmed plans to open a new AI R&D research hub in Yokohama, Japan. A search for the term “Hadoop” on Apple’s recruitment website reveals positions for over 100 people with Hadoop experience, with vacancies for software engineers, analysts, researchers, application developers and data scientists, among other roles.

Apple is also expanding its Applied Machine Learning team (mostly based in Santa Clara), which seeks over a dozen new members to help it “push the envelope” of what these technologies can do.

Underlining the seriousness of its attempts Apple continues to invest in companies with good ideas relevant to this space, such as Turi Inc., Emotient, VocalIQ, TupleJump and more. In October the company hired its first ever director of AI, Ruslan Salakhutdinov. It’s alliance with IBM opens even more opportunities in the space.

This is a sustained pattern. In May last year Apple began recruiting for staff to help build its proactive machine intelligence solutions.

What’s the point?

Apple understands the value of this data to the other markets in which it hopes to innovate as the next great technology transition emerges into view.

Machine learning is seen as an essential component in a huge range of applications, from AI to AR, to robots and self-driving cars, and more. Network intelligence and proactive maintenance; app behavior; music and media recommendation systems, almost everything that can be digitized will be, and making sense of the information gathered by these systems absolutely fits with the company’s stated mission of “changing the world for the better”.

Apple clearly wants that world to be very smart. From connected devices to devices that complement each other, from wearables to ambient solutions as evidenced by its delayed AirPods, it seems clear that part of the long term ambition here is to create product platforms that weave machine intelligence intelligently (and privately) within daily life. I imagine one of the first implications of this will be in health, where I predict analytics will improve disease control and public health.

Transition time

In combination with Apple’s focus on services and its continued work to diversify its income base, all these moves also show a company attempting to transition away from being a purely product-based firm.

While Apple denies it there are those who argue competitors have more experience in the sector, but most of them lack Apple’s experience in hardware and software product design, which I’m sure will count for something as the next tech inflection point comes into view.

My opinion? I think the future will become much clearer once Apple Watch Series Three (or perhaps Four) with a built-in SIM hits the streets. AirPods + connected Apple Watch + Siri 3.0 = proactive computing everywhere, and with sensors and data analytics in Health app these solutions will even warn you before you become unwell.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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