WWDC: Apple Intelligence makes email great again

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It will take a while to process all of Apple’s many big WWDC announcements on Monday, but one set of improvements I can’t wait to use are the ones packed inside the Apple Intelligence-augmented Mail app. 

Based on what we’ve been told, these enhancements will really help any enterprise professional, knowledge worker, or frankly anybody who uses Mail. 

I ask you, who doesn’t struggle with over-full email boxes and important responses we don’t make because “life” gets in the way? It is also interesting that those improvements mean Apple devices will now offer the tools we used to have to pay through the nose for with Grammarly.

Ease the email pain points

As had been rumored, Apple took the wraps off its plans for artificial intelligence (“Apple Intelligence) at its big developers conference. We’ll be writing about them for weeks and months to come. I’m focused now on Apple’s improvements to Mail, which should (I hope) help push the tech out of the way and let us get on with what we need to do. They do so because they begin to answer the biggest problem with email: why is an industry standard solution that’s packed with our data — and that we use every day — now a more actively useful space.

That’s because, in tandem with the company’s on-device contextual intelligence, the information coming into your email box is made more easily actionable with the changes and additions Apple plans.

Together, these should go far toward turning Mail into a central focus space from which users can complete most communication and task-related projects. And by the time the changes ship this fall, I expect Apple will deliver a powerfully integrated mail experience that helps you get work out the way — so you can focus on making better genmojis.

Just take a look at the powerful features Apple Intelligence promises us.

Powerful and useful writing tools

Apple’s new Writing Tools (available in Mail, other Apple apps and to third-party developers via an API) offer a range of functions. They can rewrite and/or proofread what you have already written; summarize your message; bullet point the key points in your message; create tables and lists; and even change the tone of your mail.

The latter feature lets you take what you’ve written and, at the tap of a button, generate (for example) a professional tone that still says what you want to say, while not being overly informal. Better yet, these tools are available system-wide, and none of what you write leaves your system, unless you make and approve a request that wants to use tools provided by OpenAI’s Chat GPT. (Yes, that pre-WWDC rumored tie-up turned out to be correct, as well.)

Smart message prioritization 

Apple Intelligence will learn which of your incoming messages are most likely to be important and file them into the Priority Messages view in your Inbox. This will make it much easier to find them.

Apple explains: “On-device categorization organizes and sorts incoming email into Primary for personal and time-sensitive emails, Transactions for confirmations and receipts, Updates for news and social notifications, and Promotions for marketing emails and coupons. Mail also features a new digest view that pulls together all of the relevant emails from a business, allowing users to quickly scan for what’s important in the moment.”

It also handles important notifications the same way.

Summaries in messages and mail

Sometimes we have little time, and yet whoever we’re interacting with has a great deal of complex information to share; the result is a lengthy email. Sure, the whole message should probably be read, but if you’re short of time, you can use Summaries in Messages to get the gist of the entire diatribe. Yes, if you completely rely on summaries you’ll probably miss something, but if you are in a hurry and just need the basics, Apple Intelligence has your back.

Built-in transcription tools

Apple Intelligence lets you generate summaries and transcripts of audio recordings captured with the Notes app or during a phone call. This is going to be popular with a lot of people — particularly researchers, students, and journalists. (If you’re concerned about privacy, all parties in a phone call will be told this activity is taking place.)

The new audio transcription and summarization features in Notes enable a device to take notes for the user, Apple says. This lets them, “stay present in a situation where they need to capture details about what’s happening,” which means you can stay focused in that meeting and still have a useful and usable aide memoire.

Natural Language search

Have you ever spent time searching Mail for a message from a specific person that contains something you vaguely recall, but which you just can’t find using standard search in the app? Apple Intelligence brings natural language search, which should make it easier to find messages, documents, and other items when you can’t quite recall what they were called or where they are.

Contextual Siri

Siri now (finally?) gains semantic search. That means it will be able to understand information and relationships it couldn’t decipher before. Apple seems to promise this extends to understanding and creating language and images, acting across apps, and simplifying and accelerating everyday tasks. You can switch between text and voice to communicate with Siri in whatever way is most appropriate. 

What about Grammarly?

Many users rely on Grammarly to improve their writing. That seems like a less essential investment now that Apple’s writing tools exist, and not only do they exist, but they do so at no charge. One more thing? Apple’s writing tools do not collect the writing work you’ve done. To be fair, Grammarly says it protects your data; but as every hacker knows, the best data you can have if you want to stay secure is data that does not exist. Apple delivers.

Whatever next?

Apple execs, over the course of there presentations, introduced a horde of improvements, many of which will I think improve the user experience across the iOS, macOS and iPadOS platforms. Many of the richer experiences it highlighted mean its entire platform ecosystem (with the weird and probably temporary exception of visionOS), is now an AI platform. It also means that whatever Apple can’t yet do on the device can be outsourced easily to partners like OpenAI. 

The deal here seems to be that Apple maintains its hold on the intention and the experience, while also delivering access to genAI tools, preserving user privacy, and massively enhancing the email experience to the benefit of all knowledge workers. The integrated AI on your device can deliver highly personalized responses based on your specific data, without anyone other than you and the device knowing anything about you.

“It’s personal, powerful, and private — and integrated into the apps you use every day,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook.

That privacy promise is powerful. Though, there is a catch. 

As we had heard, you’ll need a Mac or iPad running an M1 or newer chip, or an iPhone 15 series device or newer to use Apple’s AI features, though anyone with a device running iOS 18 will probably enjoy the little blip they might see appear on screen when pressing a side button. Apple’s WWDC announcements show its continued attention to detail, as does the way it has chosen to bring genAI to the rest of us, while working to protect our privacy.

No other company does this as well — and no one else just hit the ground with hundreds of millions of users in one move.

Please follow me on Mastodon, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

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