Apple CEO says iPhone’s future is in AI

TOKYO — Apple will celebrate the iPhone’s 10th anniversary next year, but in chief executive Tim Cook’s view, the technology is anything but mature. The Nikkei Asian Review caught up with Cook aboard a bullet train last week and asked him about artificial intelligence, his plans for Asia, and the experience of succeeding Steve Jobs.

Cook, who was visiting Japan for the first time as CEO, said Apple will open a research and development base in Yokohama, near Tokyo, later this year. The facility — the first of its kind outside the U.S. — will develop new component technologies. Cook described it as a center for “deep engineering” and said it will be “very different” from the R&D base Apple plans to build in China.

“I cannot tell you the specifics,” he said. “The specific work is very different.”

Cook did say Apple intends to capitalize on AI in various ways, in cooperation with Japanese companies. AI is “horizontal in nature, running across all products” and is used “in ways that most people don’t even think about.”

“We want the AI to increase your battery life” and recommend music to Apple Music subscribers, he continued. As another example, he said AI could “help you remember where you parked your car.”

Meanwhile, Cook said Apple intends to pour further resources into mobile payments in Japan and other Asian markets. This month, the new iPhone 7 will become the company’s first handset to work with Japan’s FeliCa contactless payment system.

Some analysts say a sales slowdown in China has prompted Apple to shift back toward Japan, where the iPhone commands a large market share. Cook said Apple sees “kindred spirits” in Japan, since it has “a lot of partners, supplier partners, and the developer community here is so vibrant.”

Asked why Apple Pay — the company’s mobile payment service — will use the FeliCa standard, Cook said: “Japan is important to us. FeliCa was born in Japan. So by extension, FeliCa is important.”

Beyond that, Cook suggested his company wants to use Apple Pay, the iPhone and the Apple Watch to promote a cashless society. “We would like to be a catalyst for taking cash out of the system,” he said. “We don’t think the consumer particularly likes cash.”

One of Apple’s Japanese partners is Nintendo, which is set to bring a Super Mario game to the iPhone. “We have been working on FeliCa for a while and really hoped that Nintendo will come to iOS first,” Cook said, “so it just came together.” He stopped by Nintendo’s offices during his visit.

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