As AI takes over your smartphone, the end of the app age could be in sight

by MMC
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At the Barcelona tech event, several companies and chipmakers came to demonstrate AI-generative tools could move around in our pockets.

Today, as the industry seeks to capitalize on the AI ​​boom and galvanize a stagnant mobile market, phone makers want AI tools to work locally on the phone itself.

In theory, it’s a win for everyone. If the large language models that power the AI ​​run on the phone instead of a remote server, everything will work a little faster and you won’t have to send as much personal data to some remote server. For the companies that make the phones, it gives them a shiny new object to dangle in front of customers.

Running LLMs is also extremely expensive. Companies are willing to shoulder some of the costs now to get their hot products into the hands of more users, but that won’t be the case for long, especially as more and more users increase these expenses.

“If you look at some of these Morgan Stanley studies, it costs whatever the dollar amount to run a query,” said Francisco Cheng, senior director of product marketing at Qualcomm. “At some point, this is going to reach a critical point.”

Qualcomm doesn’t make phones, but it makes the chips that power many of them. The company attended MWC to tout how it helps phone makers like Samsung and Honor run more AI tools on their phones.

Cheng said Qualcomm mainly works with smaller open source models, including Meta’s LLaMA 7B, designed to run on less power-hungry devices.

Samsung was also there, previewing some of the AI ​​tools it has. started rolling out on its phones, including a nifty live translation feature. Some, like Xiaomi, showed off video editing tools that could erase unwanted photobombers from your family vacation photos in just a few seconds.

The AI ​​boom is coming at just the right time. Smartphone sales saw a two-year crisis between 2022 and 2023though there is signs of a recent recovery. Still, it remains a tough market, especially as users wait longer to upgrade their phones and new AI features – whether running entirely on the phone or in tandem with the cloud – have the potential to give a boost to the sector.

Google Assistant and Siri promised us a future in which our smartphones behaved more like personal concierges, but that hasn’t come to fruition yet.

At MWC, it feels like device manufacturers are playing with this idea again. Companies like Motorola have introduced concepts for personalized AI assistants that can do everything from scheduling tasks to waking up before your alarm because they know the traffic on your commute will be particularly difficult.

Some of these concepts, like Motorola’s MotoAI, operate entirely locally. Francisco Jeronimo, an IDC analyst, told Business Insider that fully personalized AI smart assistants are the logical endpoint of all this, which is why it will be so important to keep personal data on the device.

“What Samsung, Xiaomi and others are announcing is a step forward, but it’s not yet the smartphone we’ll see in the future, where it’s a true digital personal assistant where the phone s ‘suits your use,’ said Jeronimo.

Some are already imagining what this future will look like. Deutsche Telekom and were at MWC and showed off a smartphone that ditches apps entirely for an AI interface. Rather than swiping or tapping apps, the user taps or gives voice commands for a particular task (one demo showed the AI ​​responding to a request to “Create a cool picture of a soccer ball” and producing a set of AI-generated images).

“For the last 10 years, it was all about how many apps were available that could help us,” Jeronimo said. “Now? The fewer apps, the better the phone.”

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