Tim Cook at WWDC2017
Tim Cook still believes in user privacyJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple is known for their firm stance the preservation of their customers' privacy, but could it become a hindrance to their AI development goals? According to MIT Technology Review's San Francisco bureau chief Tom Simonite, the company's philosophy surrounding privacy might become a stumbling block to their AI goals.

"Cook's steadfast aversion to the cloud presents a challenge as Apple tries to build up new features powered by machine learning and AI." Simonite wrote in a Wired article. "Being able to promise your data stays private helps the company keep up its PR war on data gobblers and won't hurt some uses of AI. But as machine learning becomes more important to all consumer tech companies, Apple devices may think different, but less deeply."

At the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple's Software chief Craig Federighi introduced Apple's stepping into the AI game, he said, "We want to make powerful machine learning easy for you to incorporate in your apps."

"This is not trailblazing, Apple's just following," says Diego Oppenheimer, CEO and cofounder of Algorithmia, a marketplace for machine learning algorithms.

However, Apple's Siri, one of the first personal assistants in the market, and one that still one of the most popular ones, has fallen behind rivals over the last year or so.

A Verto Analytics study found that, in the US, Siri has 41.4 million active users per month. Siri has also seen a 15% decline in users since last year- 7.3 million users less. Engagement with Siri has also seen a fall from 21% to 11%. Amazon's Alexa, on the other hand has seen a 325% surge in monthly users- going from 0.8 million to 2.6 million monthly users between the time of the study (between May 2016 and May 2017).

Apple also seems to be particularly uninterested in collecting personal user data. During the infamous trial between Apple and the DOJ on encryption, Tim Cook said, "We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and your privacy."

This stand that could be holding back the rate at which their AI can grow, since the company is not making use of data that it already has.

Chris Nicholson, CEO of Skymind, a company that deals with machine learning said, "The most direct way to build a smart new thing to work on your customers' data, is to use lots and lots of that same data to train it.

"The more data you have, the more valuable your thing gets. Google, Amazon and others are benefiting from that and Apple is not," he added.

Apple's 'differential privacy' policy collects information only if the user opts for it. Even then the data is encoded and made obscure under layers of algorithms.

In a speech Tim Cook delivered at a dinner in Washington DC, hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center back in 2015, he spoke about how "our privacy is being attacked on multiple fronts".

"I'm speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They're gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetise it. We think that's wrong. And it's not the kind of company that Apple wants to be."

Unlike rivals Google and Microsoft, Apple's first business is that of being a hardware seller that creates devices rather than a software company that also happens to develop hardware.

According to a Visual Capitalist study, Apple makes 63% of its revenue from selling iPhones, combine their other hardware offerings like the iPad and the iMac, that number goes up to 84%. Google, or its parent company, Alphabet, on the other hand, generates 88% of its revenue from advertising. Microsoft, the third largest tech company in the world, is also primarily software based and depends on hardware sales for less than 20% of its revenue.

That puts Apple in a unique position where they do not really have to depend on complicated algorithms and sell user data to advertisers to make their money.

Chris Nicholson, CEO of Skymind, a company that deals with machine learning said, "The most direct way to build a smart new thing to work on your customers' data, is to use lots and lots of that same data to train it.

"The more data you have, the more valuable your thing gets. Google, Amazon and others are benefiting from that and Apple is not," he added.

While Siri is able to pick out things from inside the phone and offer more from within the phone than Assistant, but when it comes to machine learning and contextual understanding of what is being said by the user, Google's offering is seen as more advanced.

"Google is sitting on a treasure trove of data, Business insider notes. "It has a massive ecosystem of popular software services on which the Assistant can call.

"Siri, on the other hand, is patchwork: It needs Yahoo here, WolframAlpha there, Apple's own middling apps everywhere else... Going forward, Google has the most cushion to lean on."