Apple’s AI Team Working on LiDAR, Smaller Neural Networks, Image Processing and More

At an exclusive invitation-only lunch at an AI conference in Barcelona, Spain that took place on December 6, Apple head of machine learning Russ Salakhutdinov and other Apple employees talked about their work on artificial intelligence.

Quartz has obtained some of the slides that Salakhutdinov used during the presentation, giving us a glimpse at the advancements Apple is making in AI and machine learning.

Based on one of the slides, topics at the lunch were wide-ranging, including health and vital signs, volumetric detection of LiDAR, prediction with structured outputs, image processing and colorization, intelligent assistant and language modeling, and activity recognition.

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One of the slides, related to Apple’s LiDAR work, featured a picture of two cars, but Apple engineers did not mention cars or any automotive research, such as self-driving vehicles. Another slide focused on Apple’s image recognition algorithms, which are able to process 3,000 images per second, twice as fast as Google’s capabilities. Apple’s work on smaller neural networks that can run directly on devices was also covered.

Another slide focused on Apple’s ability to build neural networks that are 4.5 times smaller than the originals with no loss in accuracy, and twice the speed. The technique, not unknown in AI research, uses a larger, more robust neural network to teach another network the decisions it would make in a variety of situations. The “student” network then has a streamlined version of the “teacher” network’s knowledge. In essence, it predicts the larger network’s predictions about a given photo or audio sample.

The discussion also covered some of Apple’s research focus areas:

– Deep generative models

– Model compression

– Holistic scene understanding

– Model reliability

– Deep reinforcement learning

– Unsupervised learning, transfer learning, one-shot learning

– Reasoning, attention & memory

– Efficient training on distributed computing

Going forward, Apple plans to allow its AI and machine learning researchers to start publishing papers, marking its willingness to contribute to the research community. Apple has always been notoriously secretive, but allowing researchers to publish could attract top talent that would not otherwise want to join the company.

A full rundown of the slides from Apple’s presentation can be seen over at Quartz.
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Apple’s Support Site Now Lets Customers Schedule Repairs at Apple Authorized Providers

Apple recently made a quiet update to its Apple Support site, introducing a new feature that allows customers to find and schedule repairs for iPhones, Macs, and iPads from Apple Authorized Service Providers.

When troubleshooting a product, choosing “Bring in for Repair” after going through Apple’s support prompts now brings up all repair centers near a customer, including Apple’s own retail stores and retail locations where customers can get repairs from Apple Authorized Service Providers.

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In addition to including all nearby Apple Authorized Service Providers, the new repair site also lists availability, so customers can find the fastest repairs and get same-day service in many locations. There’s even an option to book a repair right from the site.

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Most of the time, getting a repair appointment at an Apple Store’s Genius Bar requires a wait of several days to a week, while Apple Authorized Service Providers have much more open availability.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, local Apple Stores do not have repair appointments until next week, but third-party repair shops like Best Buy, Clickaway, Mobile Kangaroo, and Computercare have appointments today or tomorrow.

Apple Authorized Service Providers have been officially authorized by Apple to perform repairs on Apple devices. Both AppleCare repairs and out-of-warranty repair services are available, but many customers may not be aware of local options outside of an Apple Store.

Apple’s new focus on third-party service providers may provide some much-needed relief for Apple retail stores that are unable to keep up with repair requests and it will ensure customers are able to get faster service.
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Apple’s Single Sign-On Service Now Live

Apple today officially launched Single Sign-on, the service designed to allow cable subscribers to sign in once with their cable credentials to gain access to all cable-restricted content in iOS and tvOS apps.

Single Sign-on is limited to the United States, and according to a support document, is available for the following providers: CenturyLink Prism, DirecTV, Dish, GVTC, GTA, Hawaiian Telecom, Hotwire, MetroCast, and Sling.

While Single Sign-on was introduced and tested in the tvOS 10.1 and iOS 10.2 betas, the feature was remotely released today to all iOS 10 and tvOS 10 devices. Using Single Sign-on does not require one of the betas, and is instead immediately available to all iPhone and Apple TV users running iOS 10 or tvOS 10.

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With Single Sign-on, customers with a supported provider will use the Settings options in iOS or tvOS to sign in with their cable credentials. From then on, when accessing a supported app that requires a cable subscription, the app will ask to use the saved sign-on credentials.

To get to Single Sign-on on iOS devices, open the Settings app and scroll down to “TV Providers.” The process is the same on the Apple TV – open the Settings app and choose the TV Providers option to sign in.

Most cable channels and content providers offer individual apps on the Apple TV and iOS devices, but still require cable authentication before users can access content. Prior to Single Sign-on, customers were required to enter their credentials in each individual app, a frustrating and time-consuming process.

Single Sign-on will play a key part in the upcoming “TV” app that’s set to debut in iOS 10.2 and tvOS 10.1. The TV app serves as sort of an Apple-designed television guide that lets customers find new content and keep track of what they were watching across multiple devices.

At the current time, Single Sign-on is available to a limited number of customers, but its availability will expand as Apple signs the necessary deals with cable providers. Single Sign-on also requires apps to implement support for the feature, and many apps have not yet introduced Single Sign-on support.
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Chinese Consumer Group Complains of Spontaneous iPhone 6 Fires, but Apple Blames ‘Physical Damage’

As Apple’s iPhone 6s is facing scrutiny in China over a battery issue that causes unexpected shutdowns, a Chinese consumer group has complained of a separate problem with the iPhone 6 – spontaneous battery fires.

According to the The Wall Street Journal, the Shanghai Consumer Council says it received eight reports from Chinese users claiming their smartphones spontaneously caught on fire, but Apple inspected the devices and says “external physical damage” is to blame.

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Apple said it analyzed the affected phones and found that the fires followed “external physical damage.” The company encouraged customers with issues to visit an Apple store or contact company support.

“We appreciate that customers are more concerned than ever about the performance and safety of batteries in their mobile devices,” Apple said in a statement.

Given that the iPhone 6 has been available since 2014 and there have been no notable reports of device fires, Apple’s physical damage explanation rings true. With the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which had a true faulty part leading to fires, reports from around the world started flooding in just weeks after the device was released.

Complaints from Chinese consumer groups over iPhone 6s battery problems led Apple to introduce a repair program for iPhone 6s devices that unexpectedly shut down, and Apple has gone out of its way in China to explain the issue and assure customers that it is not safety related.

Apple’s repair program will see it providing new batteries to customers with iPhone 6s devices primarily manufactured between September and October of 2015. Just today, Apple expanded the repair program to encompass a small number of customers “outside of the affected range” who are also experiencing shutdowns.

On its Chinese site, Apple explained that the iPhone 6s shutdown issue was caused by exposure to “controlled ambient air” during the manufacturing process, which caused the battery to degrade faster than a normal battery.

Next week, Apple plans to introduce a diagnostic tool that will allow it to gather information and better manage battery performance levels to prevent shutdowns. With iOS 10.2 nearly ready to launch, it’s likely the diagnostic capability will be included in that update.

As Apple’s third largest market after the United States and Europe, China has become increasingly important to Apple over the last several years. Apple has made an effort to introduce a number of retail stores in the country, and it has made a $1 billion investment in Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing.

Despite its efforts, Apple has struggled in China. In Apple’s third quarter earnings report, revenue in China was down 33 percent year over year, dropping from $13 billion in 3Q 2015 to $8.9 billion in 3Q 2016.

Chinese officials have said Apple is “too deeply established in the country’s core industries,” and along with recent trouble over its iPhones, Apple has also struggled with its iTunes Movie and iBooks Store in China, which were shut down by Chinese administrators in April.

Related Roundup: iPhone 6s
Tag: China
Buyer’s Guide: iPhone (Buy Now)

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Apple Preparing Diagnostic Tool in New iOS Update as iPhone 6s Battery Issue Expands

A few days after issuing a message on its Chinese website regarding the battery shutdown issue plaguing some iPhone 6s users, Apple today added a new message onto the site. The update reiterates on the cause of the issue — some batteries were exposed to “controlled ambient air” during manufacturing — while also expanding the scope of the affected range of customers facing the problem.

In the original message, Apple noted that “a small number” of iPhone 6s smartphones made in September and October of 2015 were facing unexpected shutdowns due to their prolonged exposure to controlled ambient air. Now, Apple said that it’s discovered a few customers “outside of the affected range” who have also been facing unexpected shutdowns of their iPhone 6s devices.

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A small number of customers outside of the affected range have also reported an unexpected shutdown. Some of these shutdowns can occur under normal conditions in order for the iPhone to protect its electronics. In an effort to gather more information, we are including additional diagnostic capability in an iOS software update which will be available next week. This will allow us to gather information over the coming weeks which may potentially help us improve the algorithms used to manage battery performance and shutdown. If such improvements can be made, they will be delivered in future software updates.

As it continues to face new issues with the “small number” of affected customers, Apple is preparing an iOS update that it said will introduce an “additional diagnostic capability” so the company can gather information and improve its ability to manage the battery performance levels and untimely shutdowns. The update, presumably iOS 10.2, will be made available sometime next week, and Apple mentioned that if any improvements and solutions are discovered thanks to the diagnostic tool, “they will be delivered in future software updates.”

For those who think their iPhone 6s is affected, Apple launched a repair program last month offering free battery replacements for any iPhone 6s manufactured between September and October 2015 which are experiencing shutdowns. There’s also a new tool so customers can enter their iPhone’s serial number to see if it’s eligible for the replacement program.

Related Roundup: iPhone 6s
Buyer’s Guide: iPhone (Buy Now)

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Apple Shares New ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Ad Highlighting the iPhone 7’s Camera

Apple today shared a new iPhone 7 ad on its YouTube channel, which is designed to highlight the video recording features of Apple’s latest device.

In the ad, entitled “Romeo and Juliet,” two children are shown acting out Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in a realistic setting, with the camera panning out to show that it’s actually a father recording a school play with the iPhone 7. A caption underneath the video reads “Your movies look like movies on iPhone 7.”



The iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus both feature optical 12-megapixel high-speed sensors, new image signal processors, optical image stabilization, and wide color gamut, all features that have led to improved performance over previous-generation devices.

Today’s iPhone 7 ad is the latest in a series of ads that have showcased iPhone 7 and 7 Plus features like waterproofing, improved battery life, the camera, and the iOS 10 operating system.
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