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Apple may have already struck a deal with Baidu for iPhone AI in China

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Just days after the first reports claimed Apple was looking for a local AI provider in China, local media is claiming that the deal has already been made.

According to a March 22 report, Apple was feeling out potential partners in China to supply generative AI technologies, to avoid potential regulatory issues. Now, it appears that Apple has stopped its search and has settled on Baidu.

A report from the local China Star Market seen by SCMP writes that Apple has selected Baidu for its generative AI work. Anonymous sources also confirm that the decision was made based on compliance considerations.

A second report from the Chinese outlet Cailian Press picked up by the Wall Street Journal offered the same story of Apple picking Baidu. That technology will supposedly be used to power generative AI elements in iOS 18 and macOS 15.

China's regulators require prior approval before generative AI models are used by the public. Since Baidu's Ernie Bot has already been approved, this would help Apple offer more AI services without needing to make its AI software comply with local rules.

Ernie (Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration) Bot is a system similar to ChatGPT and Google Gemini, in that users can ask questions or make statements, with replies created based on a knowledge graph.

Apple was previously sued by Baidu in April 2023 to halt a flood of fake Ernie Bot apps from hitting the App Store.

China-only AI role

Though Apple would be handing over the reins of its AI features to Baidu, if the reports are accurate, it would not affect iPhone and Mac users in other countries. Outside of mainland China, Apple is expected to rely on its own AI work, though it may also choose to license Google Gemini as well.

While multiple reports make claims of an AI tie-up between Apple and Baidu, neither company has officially commented on the matter. Even so, Baidu has benefited from the reports, with a six-percent share price surge on Monday resulting in a day's closure up 2.55 percent.

The tie-up occurs at a time when Apple is expected to be bringing more AI features to consumers. Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the January earnings call that more details about its AI work will be revealed later in 2024.

The most probable venue for these discussions is WWDC 2024.