Apple Acquires French Firm That Specializes in On-Device AI Processing

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Apple’s campaign to deliver on-device AI tools on the iPhone advances, as the Cupertino firm has purchased Paris-based artificial intelligence startup Datakalab. The firm specializes in algorithm compression and embedded AI systems. 

Apple finalized the acquisition on December 17 last year, as noted in a European Commission filing spotted by French publication Challenges (via iPhoneSoft). The amount Apple paid for the firm remains undisclosed. The move is almost assuredly part of Apple’s strategy to bring on-device AI technology to its devices — features that we’re expecting to see debut in iOS 18.

Datakalab was founded in 2016 by Xavier and Lucas Fischer and has focused on low-power, high-efficiency deep-learning algorithms that can function without the need for cloud-based systems. This jibes well with Apple’s commitment to user privacy and data security without sacrificing performance. Processing data locally should offer faster processing times while minimizing the risk of data breaches. Datakalab is known to have expertise in compressing neural networks to work effectively on portable devices like smartphones and tablets, which was likely a key factor in Apple’s purchase of the firm.

Since its founding, Datakalab has engaged in multiple high-profile collaborations, including projects with the French government and Disney. The company has developed technology that analyzes human emotions using facial recognition and visual data that’s been used to provide real-time analysis of audience reactions at film screenings.

Over the weekend, Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman said Apple is continuing to work on developing its own large language model (LLM) that runs on-device instead of in the cloud, to prioritize speed and privacy. While these AI tools may be less capable than Apple’s cloud-based AI rivals, such as those offered by Google, acquiring firms like Datakalab may help to “fill in the gaps.”

Gurman said that Apple’s LLM will likely run entirely on-device rather than using the cloud like most existing AI services. Apple’s focus on privacy and data security will likely lead Apple to do as much on-device processing as possible for its artificial intelligence features. Gurman said that while Apple’s AI tools will run on-device, they may lag behind in certain areas compared to its direct cloud-based rivals. However, the company could remedy those shortcomings by licensing technology from Google and other AI service providers (and purchasing firms like Datakalab).

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that the iPhone maker will “break new ground” in Artificial Intelligence this year. Apple is widely reported to be working on new AI capabilities for iOS 18, its upcoming iPhone operating system that will debut in September alongside the new iPhone lineup. 

Gurman noted that Apple’s marketing strategy for its AI technology will likely focus on how the company’s artificial intelligence technology can help people cope with their daily lives. We’ll likely get a better idea about how Apple’s AI features will work and what features the technology will offer for iOS 18 during the keynote address that will kick off the Cupertino company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June.

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