This Year’s Developer Conference Season Will Be Defined by AI

As we reach the end of April, attention turns to the traditional suite of developer conferences that take place at this time of year. Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Google’s I/O and Microsoft’s Build have all booked their slots in the diary throughout May and June, with these events — and plenty of others — seeking to provide a platform for thought leadership and innovation.

If there’s one certainty about developer season this year, it’s that artificial intelligence (AI) will be front and centre. AI has been the inescapable hot topic in the tech industry for some time, yet its juggernaut-like momentum shows no sign of abating. Recent events such as Nvidia GTC and Intel Vision (see our report from this event here) have demonstrated that the industry’s appetite for powerful computing capabilities to power AI workloads is undiminished. AI benchmarks continue to rise at breakneck speed as silicon players compete to offer the best and brightest platforms.

But the question remains: what’s it all for? The continued arms race in AI workload handling produces impressive numbers in terms of model parameters and training speeds, but this has to translate to utility with a supporting and sustainable business model. This is particularly true for consumers. The story about AI for enterprise customers is clearer, but I think the vast majority of consumers could justifiably ask what exactly the AI revolution has delivered to them so far.

This is where developer season could play a major role this year. At CCS Insight, we’ve believed for some time that the next major step in the AI journey is delivering a user experience and a set of applications that use the technology in a compelling way. For Apple and Google, there’s a sense — perhaps even an expectation — that their events will signpost a next step in personal and mobile computing that uses AI in more meaningful ways and more broadly across new and existing products.

Apple will be hard-pressed to deliver a WWDC that generates as much hype as 2023’s event, which debuted the much-anticipated Vision Pro headset. But the stage is set for the company to articulate a stronger narrative about AI. Arguably, Apple is on the back foot here. It had historically been reticent to talk about AI — preferring terms such as machine learning — and avoided getting into fights over specifications and benchmarking. However, it seems that even Apple has felt obliged to change tack, with some of its recent press releases shining the spotlight on the AI capabilities of its devices and CEO Tim Cook stating that we’ll hear far more about the topic from the company this year.

What exactly Apple will be showcasing at WWDC remains unknown — the company is better than most at keeping its announcements secret until its big events — but speculation points to a radical overhaul of device operating systems. A case could be made for substantial improvements to Siri, which could see the much-maligned assistant become more useful. Furthermore, rumours abound about a deal with Google to enhance Apple’s cloud-based AI capacity or bring Gemini-powered generative AI tools to the iPhone.

On this note, Google’s I/O event is set to be slightly more predictable. Gemini, its flagship AI model, and Gemma, its more compact, developer-centric and open-source model, are likely to form the centrepiece of any announcements. AI has been at the heart of Google products for some years, but the explosion of large language models in 2023 caught the company flat-footed, and it has been reticent to integrate the capability into core products. The most obvious example here is search, which Google is reluctant to experiment too deeply with given implications for user experience, quality of results and its advertising-based business model.

We’ll be watching Google I/O closely to look out for any signs of Google moving Gemini from a standalone service to a platform that weaves its way throughout Google’s products. The Android 15 operating system and Google’s line of Pixel devices also provide a broad canvas for AI tools and experiences.

In contrast, Microsoft has moved assertively to implement its Copilot AI tools across the Office 365 and Windows product sets. Microsoft had already outlined its plans to talk about AI, and specifically Copilot, at this year’s Build event, and recently provided a list of developer sessions that confirm this focus. The agenda shows an unsurprisingly strong focus on workplace technologies given Microsoft’s role and position in the industry, but of broad intrigue is the listed focus on “the next generation of Windows on Arm”. This topic has particular relevance: this year will see Qualcomm’s entry into the PC silicon segment with its Snapdragon X Elite platform, which is seeking to disrupt consumer and enterprise markets.

There has been heavy hype about a potential generation of AI devices, with smartphones and PCs billed as two categories that may see mass upgrade cycles in light of this. The next few months will prove instrumental in this regard. Developer conference season gives these leading companies the chance to articulate the importance of AI in a more meaningful way, convincing consumers and businesses that this is a technology worth spending on. Whether this will be achieved remains to be seen, but the AI hype cycle can’t sustain itself indefinitely unless investment starts to deliver benefits to users and a return on the enormous capital and operating expenditures associated with generative AI. It’s a big few months ahead.

CCS Insight will be attending all these key events and publishing research for its clients about the most significant developments; these can be followed through CCS Insight Connectcontact us if you’d like access.