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Apple Inc., which is racing to add more artificial intelligence capabilities, is nearing completion of a significant new software tool for app developers that will further strengthen its competition with Microsoft Corp. This is the next major version of Xcode, Apple’s flagship programming software. It has now expanded functional testing internally and is ramping up development ahead of plans to roll it out to third-party software manufacturers as early as this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new system will operate similarly to Microsoft’s GitHub Copilot and will use artificial intelligence to predict and complete blocks of code, said the people, who requested anonymity because the plans are private. This simplifies the programming process for software development, potentially saving time and money.

Apple is also exploring ways to use AI to generate code for application testing, an often tedious process. Apple is now urging some of its engineers to try out these new AI features internally to make sure they work before releasing them to external developers, as part of the company’s “dog food” effort when using its own products.

The move is part of a broader push for generative AI and large-scale language models, the technologies that underpin popular chatbots like ChatGPT. Apple is struggling to catch up with its tech peers in the fast-growing market, but has promised to discuss its plans for AI later this year. This announcement could come around June, when the company holds its annual developer conference.

Apple’s stock price, which fell by 1.5%, briefly responded positively to this news. It traded little changed at $183.86 at the close on Thursday. Microsoft fell less than 1% to $406.56.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the plans.

It was urgent. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, has tasked his team to develop as many new AI features as possible for this year’s operating system update.

He also tasked his subordinates with adding capabilities to use this technology and made Chief Deputy Minister Sebastien Marineau-Mes a key figure in this effort. Apple executives demonstrated AI capabilities to the board late last year, and Marino-Mess delivered most of the presentation, the people said. Xcode operations are overseen by Andreas Wendker, another Federighi lieutenant and longtime vice president of software engineering.

Apple’s next iPhone and iPad software updates, iOS and iPadOS 18, will include a slew of new AI features, according to People. The company plans to promote the software, codenamed Crystal, as one of the most significant updates in the iPhone’s 16-year history.

It also plans to introduce some AI features in the next version of macOS, codenamed Glow. Still, Apple aims to take an incremental approach to AI development, with some improvements not coming for years.

The company has explored other new AI features, including the ability to automate the creation of Apple Music playlists and create slideshows in PowerPoint competitor Keynote. Another feature being considered is an improved version of Spotlight, Apple’s system-wide search feature.

The new version can switch between specific features within the app and answer complex questions based on data trained on large-scale language models. LLMs, the technology that powers AI tools, are developed by pouring huge amounts of data into the software.

The initial design of the Spotlight overhaul includes the ability to use LLM to answer more complex questions and leverage the app more deeply to execute specific functions. The current version of Spotlight is mostly limited to launching apps, basic web searches, and retrieving information like weather and sports scores.

Apple’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said during a recent quarterly conference call that engineers “continue to invest a tremendous amount of time and effort” into the plan.

Competition is getting fiercer. Last January, Samsung Electronics launched its new Galaxy S24 smartphone line with Google AI features. This provides a preview of sorts for what Apple is expected to do with the iPhone 16 later this year.

The company has also continued to hone its own LLM to improve services such as Siri and AppleCare support. The company is working to improve Siri’s ability to accurately answer complex questions, and its customer service team is working to speed up chat and phone support. Apple is also investing heavily in integrating AI into health features.

© 2024 Bloomberg LP

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