Is a Gen AI-Powered Connected Device in the Cards?


A holistic user experience considers every aspect of a product.

Think about Apple’s iPhone and computer products. By establishing them as hardware platforms running the company’s own proprietary iOS software, the Cupertino-based tech giant was able to cement a consistent and controlled experience for its users. 

Today, Apple is the most valuable company in the world, in part thanks to its fully integrated product strategy. 

Now, another company is mulling a similar strategy. 

OpenAI’s Sam Altman is reportedly interested in creating a native hardware device to house OpenAI’s generative artificial intelligence (AI) software. 

And it isn’t the only page from Apple’s playbook that OpenAI is borrowing. Altman is allegedly in discussions with Jony Ive, the highly regarded ex-chief design officer at Apple responsible for the company’s iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad products as well as its corporate headquarters and retail stores, to help develop “what new hardware for the AI age could look like.” 

Also part of the discussions is SoftBank CEO and investor Masayoshi Son, although, per the report, it is unclear if he will remain involved.

Son has invested over $140 billion into AI and AI-adjacent startups as part of his long-term goal to make SoftBank the investment company “for the AI revolution.”

The SoftBank CEO has focused largely on robotics and other infrastructure plays rather than software-centric generative AI and large language models (LLMs) that currently dominate the AI conversation. 

Read alsoWhat’s Next for AI? Experts Say Going More Multimodal

New Hardware for the AI Age 

“Since Sam can see the future, we want him to tell us what’s coming,” a Y Combinator participant told the New Yorker for a 2016 profile of Altman. 

What the OpenAI CEO apparently sees the future holding is mass AI accessibility, everywhere and anywhere. While it remains unclear what the physical AI device OpenAI is considering might look like or even do (outside of provide access to OpenAI’s products like ChatGPT or Dall-E), it is far from Altman’s first foray into the world of hardware.

The OpenAI CEO has invested in 1X Technologies, a Norwegian startup developing humanoid robots, as well as Humane, a stealthy startup built by former Apple employees that wants to build AI-powered wearable devices designed to replace smartphones. Humane is working with OpenAI to integrate the latter’s AI software into its wearables.

It is also far from Altman’s first time working with a former Apple designer. One of Ive’s protégés, Thomas Meyerhoffer, designed Altman’s Worldcoin retina scanner and currently serves as the controversial startup’s head of design.

Over the past year, OpenAI reshaped the landscape of Silicon Valley and prodded some of the biggest companies in the world, including Meta and Alphabet, to follow its lead by developing their own generative AI products and foundational LLM models.

As a side effect, the AI landscape is becoming increasingly crowded and competitive, making it harder for firms to put their own AI products into the hands of consumers.

Building an AI hardware device may give OpenAI an edge. The firm currently relies on Apple and Android phones to run its apps, and browsers housed in a variety of computer manufacturers’ casings to run its software. A fully owned AI environment would be a strong competitive differentiation for OpenAI as more companies go to market with their own LLMs and other services.

See more: Voice Tech’s Renaissance: The Conversation Gets Real with Generative AI Boost

Standing Out in a Crowded Space 

After all, other tech companies like Amazon, Apple and Alphabet all have hardware lines and connected devices that they can integrate their AI solutions into to reach millions of consumers. 

Already, intelligent devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Smart Home are being upgraded with AI capabilities. 

For their part, OpenAI recently released an updated version of ChatGPT on Monday (Sept. 25) that the company says can “see,” “hear,” and “speak” via new voice and image capabilities that let users have a voice conversation or show the AI what they’re talking about.

Still, the AI business is increasingly pricey and competitive, with some estimating that Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot, which is powered by an OpenAI LLM, needing at least $4 billion worth of infrastructure just to do its job.

That’s why news that OpenAI is reportedly exploring a share sale that could value it at $90 billion could offer clues that the company is looking to create a war chest it can deploy toward future goals, including the rumored hardware product.