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When is iOS 18 coming out? Apple’s AI-powered iPhone update is its ‘biggest’ yet

Apple boss Tim Cook has officially announced that his company will launch an AI product this year (Apple)
Apple boss Tim Cook has officially announced that his company will launch an AI product this year (Apple)

In little more than a year, it feels like we’ve been bombarded with artificial intelligence chatbots. There’s ChatGPT and its verbose clones, the uncanny valley Picassos led by Midjourney, and a creepy coterie of AI girlfriends. If you want a chinwag with a machine, pick your poison. Well, unless your poison is Apple.

Surprisingly, when you check your iPhone or open your MacBook, an AI genius isn’t on hand to help get things done. And don’t mention Siri, because most of us forget it’s even there. So, what’s the hold-up? If Samsung and Google can make AI-powered phones, why can’t Apple?

The good news is Apple is doing just that and the result may be closer than you think. Although it’s notoriously secretive about its internal projects, a flurry of reports and leaks have detailed Apple’s plans.

All the signs point to an AI-powered iPhone, which is widely tipped to arrive in the autumn along with iOS 18. But what will it offer? And will AI come to older iPhones? Here’s what you need to know.

Is Apple working on iPhone AI?

Apple boss Tim Cook has officially announced that his company will launch an AI product this year. The announcement, made in February, came on the heels of a Bloomberg report that claimed iOS 18 could be the “biggest” update in the software’s history.

Apple is banking on a massive AI upgrade to convince you to switch to its next iPhone (ES Composite)
Apple is banking on a massive AI upgrade to convince you to switch to its next iPhone (ES Composite)

Behind the scenes, Apple’s goal is to make AI chatbots run on mobile devices instead of in remote data centres over the cloud. To get there, Apple would need to shrink the size of the AI’s engine, known as a large language model, to fit on its custom-built smartphone chips. Its rivals have already pulled off the feat, with both Google and Samsung introducing smaller AI systems on their latest phones.

The breakthrough would align with Apple’s pro-privacy posture. It already completes things such as facial recognition and voice recognition on the device itself, rather than sending data to the cloud. Moreover, if Apple can deliver a more secure AI, it could stand out from the current data-gobbling AI leader, ChatGPT.

To this end, Apple has been making all the right moves. The company has acquired 21 AI startups since the beginning of 2017; is on a hiring spree for AI talent; and has published countless research papers on the tech, per the Financial Times. Furthermore, its phone and laptop processors have been growing more powerful with each new generation.

All told, Apple is laying the foundation for its leap into generative AI. Here’s what the update will offer.

After launching audio voice note transcriptions, Apple could mimic your voice next (Apple)
After launching audio voice note transcriptions, Apple could mimic your voice next (Apple)

iOS 18 features

iOS 18 is where the rubber meets the road for the iPhone’s AI-induced transformation. Inside Apple, the new operating system is viewed as the biggest update in iOS history, according to Mark Gurman — a reliable Bloomberg reporter with a stellar track record on Apple insights.

He previously revealed that Apple was planning several AI-oriented features for iOS 18, including:

Siri upgrade

A major overhaul of Siri is on the cards, likely powered by generative AI. This could lead to:

  • Complex request understanding: Siri might handle more nuanced and multi-part requests conversationally.

  • Content summarisation: Ability to summarise long articles or documents.

  • Creative text generation: Siri could write emails and messages — or even generate different creative text formats.

Wider AI Integration

Aside from Siri, AI will appear in a lot more places on the iPhone, including Apple’s apps and those made by external developers:

  • AI integration in the Messages app that can “field questions and auto-complete sentences”.

  • New AI features for Apple Music to create “auto-generated playlists”.

  • Integrating generative AI into iWork apps, such as Keynote and Pages.

  • Adding generative AI features into Apple’s app creation toolkit (Xcode) to let developers “write new applications more quickly”.

Possible AI tools

Apple is also working on a range of AI-powered features that could also debut on iOS 18:

  • AI image generation: Apple is testing software that can animate images using text descriptions.

  • Ask AI chatbot: Some of Apple’s customer support staff are reportedly using an AI chatbot that can help troubleshoot technical problems. The tool is yet more evidence that Apple has the capabilities to launch its own ChatGPT.

  • Search engine: Could iOS 18 finally see the launch of Apple’s long-rumoured search engine? If it works with Siri, even better.

  • Voice cloning: Apple filed a patent for an AI that can mimic your voice when reading aloud text messages sent to others.

Will generative AI come to older iPhones?

Now for the bad news: it’s unlikely that Apple will bring the same AI features to all iPhones.

Why? Because the powerful tech could be too cumbersome for older devices with ageing batteries, chips, and less memory and storage. The latest models also tend to have the best neural engines, which is the hardware component that allows them to complete AI tasks faster.

The iPhone 15 Pro is shown after its introduction on the Apple campus in Cupertino, California (AP)
The iPhone 15 Pro is shown after its introduction on the Apple campus in Cupertino, California (AP)

As such, Apple may introduce some scaled-down generative AI features tailored to older iPhones, while saving the full experience for the brand-new iPhone 16 range.

Which devices will support iOS 18?

It’s also worth bearing in mind that older iPhone models will naturally be unable to support iOS 18 altogether. Here’s the full list of devices we think will get the update, and those that may not.

Likely to Support iOS 18:

  • iPhone 16 series (all models): These will launch with iOS 18.

  • iPhone 15 series (all models): Apple likely will continue its strong support for recent generations.

  • iPhone 14 series (all models): These devices should easily handle iOS 18's potential advancements

  • iPhone SE (3rd generation): Expect continued support due to its relatively recent release.

  • iPhone 13 Series (all models): These are powerful enough but might lose support if iOS 18 brings very hardware-intensive features, especially related to generative AI.

  • iPhone 12 Series (all models): Support will heavily depend on how demanding iOS 18's features prove to be.

Likely to NOT support iOS 18:

  • iPhone SE (2nd generation): It features the A13 chip, and its age, combined with potential generative AI demands, makes support unlikely.

  • iPhone 11 Series (All models): These have the same A13 chip as the iPhone SE 2.

  • iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max: These have the A12 chip and are nearing the standard five-year support window Apple tends to offer.

iOS 18 release date

So when can you get your hands on iOS 18 and its AI goodies? While there's no official release date for the update, we can make a strong prediction based on Apple's historical patterns.

Apple is likely to unveil iOS 18 at its WWDC event (Apple)
Apple is likely to unveil iOS 18 at its WWDC event (Apple)

Like clockwork, Apple is expected to preview iOS 18 with developers first at its annual WWDC event in June. This is when we’ll see its key features and get a clear idea of the update's direction.

Shortly after WWDC, Apple usually releases a public beta version of iOS 18, allowing adventurous users to give it a test drive and help identify bugs. The beta period typically lasts throughout the summer.

Everyone else will probably be able to download the update following its official launch, alongside the new iPhone 16 models, in September.