Is Apple set to install Baidu’s ERNIE AI in the upcoming iPhone 16?

On 25 March, just as Apple CEO Tim Cook wrapped up his first trip to China of the year, news broke that Apple and Baidu are in conversation for the Chinese tech giant to provide AI functions for the next iteration of the iPhone, as well as iOS and MacOS. The discussion is reported to have taken place on the evening of 22 March, a day after the opening of the Jing’an Apple Store.

The news came after what was jokingly called the “reconciliation of the century” between Apple and Google and that the international version of iPhone 16 will incorporate Google’s (large language model) LLM Gemini. In fact, Samsung also adopted a similar strategy of equipping the international version of its Galaxy S24 AI phone with Gemini but having Baidu and JD provide AI services in China. As neither Gemini nor OpenAI’s ChatGPT are available in Mainland China, it is a valid workaround for smartphone makers.

On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, the topic “Baidu will provide AI for the Chinese version of iPhone 16” (#百度将为国行iPhone16提供AI功能#) shot to number 5 on the Hot Search list with 51.66 million views. Meanwhile, Baidu‘s stock saw a surge in both Hong Kong and Nasdaq, with HKEX increasing as much as 6% and closing at 2.55% higher, according to the South China Morning Post.

Apple faces several difficulties at the moment. After 10 years, the American tech goliath has decided to end its car-building programme and focus on AI. As the only one of the 5 major smartphone makers to not have its own AI and facing stiff competition from Samsung and Huawei, Apple had no choice but to bring in third-party AI providers like Baidu and Google. Its latest MR headset, the Vision Pro is also met with mixed views and technical difficulties.

Apple’s LLM, codename “Ajax” or Apple GPT as it’s called internally, is still in the works and might play a role in new products alongside Baidu’s ERNIE. Some analyses say that most AI-equipped smartphones today are still gimmicky, that is the reason both Samsung and Apple choose to work with third-party providers. Therefore, Apple still has a chance to catch up. If Baidu’s ERNIE, which is often questioned over its capabilities, can provide sufficient service with Apple, it would be a win-win as ERNIE proves itself and Apple buys time and practical mobile experiences before launching its own LLM.


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