back to article AI smartphones must balance promise against hype and privacy concerns

A coming wave of AI-capable smartphones may let vendors distinguish their devices via unique features and user experience, but it also poses challenges for privacy and potential user disillusion if there is too much hype. It isn't just PCs that are being gussied up with AI capabilities, so are smartphones. In fact, smartphone …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    In contrast, those who prioritize value for money

    and primarily purchase devices when they need to replace an old one showed less interest in AI and found few possible use cases that were relevant to them.

    Well, that would be me then. It's a phone, damnit, a phone!

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: In contrast, those who prioritize value for money

      Nope, it's a portable ad dispenser.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: In contrast, those who prioritize value for money

      "It's a phone, damnit, a phone!"

      It's a small rectangular portal to another world that, for some peculiar reason, people are wont to place flat on their palm in order to shout at it.

      But that doesn't bug me half as much as watching people take photos holding it the wrong way up.

      There was a woman at work a couple of days ago taking multiple photos of an information screen at work. I said "excuse me", turned her phone to match the aspect ratio of the display and took one photo of the entire thing. The look on her face, like she's seen so much Tiktok (etc) that the idea of just turn the damn thing never even occurred to her. We are well on the way to making Idiocracy a reality...

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: In contrast, those who prioritize value for money

        It does tickle me that so many phone makers sell their product on the quality of the pictures it can produce, while handing the customer what is probably the most unergonomically designed camera every designed.

      2. Zazu56

        Re: In contrast, those who prioritize value for money

        Had a similar experience with someone taking group shots, continually asking people to bunch up. When I indicated she could rotate the phone she said she would never have thought of it.

      3. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: In contrast, those who prioritize value for money

        ...making Idiocracy a reality...

        First time I came across a trailer of Idiocracy, I thought it was a documentary. I'm certainly no visionary but I do see a proper use case for an AI phone which will spare me unnecessary interactions with what I consider idiots*: if that darn thing could triage incoming calls, texts, e-mails and reliably decide on its own whether a bugger off answer is due and reply with an appropriately polite message.

        *If it worked well and was widely spread, with all the people that consider me, justifiably or not, an idiot, that might leave us live in a world almost as calmly and peacefully as it was before the advent of smartphones and expectations of instant replies to messages.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: In contrast, those who prioritize value for money

          "triage incoming calls"

          As an introvert on the spectrum, I've set my phone so that calls from anybody not in my address book goes straight to voicemail. My phone is now peacefully silent.

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Please could we stop the hype now and file generative AI alongside the metaverse, 3D TVs, NFTs, bored apes, and cryptocurrencies?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of disillusionment. It's music to the ears of any self-respecting cynic. But hold your horses. While it's tempting to lump generative AI in with the metaverse, 3D TVs, NFTs, bored apes, and cryptocurrencies, let's not be too hasty.

      Sure, all these technologies have been hyped to the moon and back, and yes, they've all had their fair share of failures. But here's the thing: generative AI is a different beast altogether.

      Generative AI, unlike a bored ape NFT, isn't just a flashy digital bauble that's here today, gone tomorrow. It's a powerful tool that's transforming industries, from healthcare to entertainment to finance. It's helping doctors diagnose diseases, musicians compose symphonies, and businesses optimize operations. It's not just a fad; it's a fundamental shift in how we solve problems and create value.

      And unlike the metaverse, generative AI isn't some far-off fantasy that's perpetually "five years away." It's here, now, making a real impact in the real world. It's not about escaping reality; it's about enhancing it.

      As for cryptocurrencies, well, let's just say that generative AI doesn't come with the same level of volatility (or the same carbon footprint). It's a technology that's built on solid mathematical foundations, not the whims of the market.

      So, while it's easy to be cynical about the latest tech trends (and believe me, there's plenty to be cynical about), let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Generative AI, for all its hype, is one trend that's worth keeping an eye on. Because unlike 3D TVs, it's not going to fade into obscurity. It's here to stay, and it's only going to get better.

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        While I understand the sentiment behind your statement, I believe it’s important to distinguish between generative AI and the other technologies you’ve mentioned. Generative AI, unlike the metaverse, 3D TVs, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies, has already demonstrated substantial and practical applications across various fields.

        Firstly, generative AI has proven its worth in industries such as healthcare, where it aids in diagnosing diseases and personalising treatment plans. It’s being used in environmental science to predict climate changes and in the creative arts to assist artists and writers. The transformative impact of AI on productivity and innovation is evident and growing.

        Secondly, generative AI is continuously evolving. Advances in machine learning and data processing mean that AI models are becoming more accurate, efficient, and capable of handling complex tasks that were previously thought to be impossible. This constant improvement is a testament to the technology’s robustness and potential for long-term relevance.

        Unlike 3D TVs, which had limited content and user appeal, or NFTs and cryptocurrencies, which are often plagued by market volatility and regulatory uncertainties, generative AI offers tangible benefits and solutions to real-world problems. Its integration into everyday tools and services demonstrates its practicality and value.

        Lastly, the societal and economic investment in AI technology far exceeds that of the other technologies you’ve listed. Major industries and governments are heavily investing in AI research and development, recognising its potential to drive future growth and innovation.

        While it’s healthy to remain critical and cautious of technological hype, dismissing generative AI as a fad overlooks its proven capabilities and ongoing advancements. It’s here to stay, and its potential is just beginning to be realised.

        1. Bck

          Ai s vs. FADS.

          I hear what you wfote, but i do see very little reason why LLM would play any role in "usable" AI. Beyond reformatting what "real" AI tells it, maybe

          Or maybe in a very constrained universe, like the Tesla Autopilot wit proper sensors.

          Nothing to do with the current hype, which has a Mechanical Turk peddled by the Wizard of Oz quality to me.

          My 0.02€

  3. Alien Doctor 1.1


    It might be that some leftpondians that will disagree, but El Reg, come on, "color?"

    Without the "u" it appears to look more like a digestive disease than anything else.

    1. Rich 2 Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      I know. That’s because el Reg went all “American” because ….errrr ….Americans can’t understand proper English?

      The excuse given at the time was that spelling words incorrectly apparently makes The Reg more “international” (yes - quite!) or some such bollox. Really, I have no idea. It’s bloody annoying though

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: WTF?

        Isn't it enough that we had to suffer the misspellings of "color" and "center" in HTML all these years?

      2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: WTF?

        I fully understand and share your/OPs resentment. I did, however, develop a partial resilience regarding British and wrong spelling. But what really triggers me is, if someone starts mixing them in a single text.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: WTF?

        would if the english spoke it. just ask shaw.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      I'm American, and I preferred the British spellings and other aspects of UK dialect as well. It gave the Reg a bit of flavor to help distinguish it from the US-English-dominated IT press.

      But I have a degree in literature and have a long history of reading British and Commonwealth literature, so my tastes are no doubt a bit far from mainstream.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      I really don't know for sure, but I think it's either that weird regional dialect again - it means "colour", apparently. Or they mis-spelt "Colon". It's hard to tell.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...privacy-protected service recommendation engines"

    or ads to you and me. Ads with some "privacy-protected" bollocks loaded on top by oh-so-trustworthy adslingers (ignore the occasional "security breach"), but ads. More ads. Ads everywhere. Ads baked into the OS. Ads as far as the eye is allowed to see.

    How tremendously hateful.

  5. IceC0ld

    having read the article - color me surprised :o) - Sorry Alien - but I still can't see why they would even bother ? maybe it's just me, but all I require a phone to do is, well make and receive calls, the addition of text was useful, and I even admit to watching videos on that there TikTok thingy, my phone is an old Google Pixel 3, several years held now, still works, won't replace until it fails, and even then, will not go to the all singing, all dancing top of the range Super Max variants :o)

    I fear that nowadays the race to have the latest and greatest may be over, and model update fatigue has set in, as people realised that the new phone was literally the same item, new name, maybe a smidge more ability in various things, but it also had a thinner profile, so a smaller capacity battery, I DO like the later screens, fill the top up, the quality cameras, and the reliability of said devices too, but that's it, there is no more next new thing coming, unless they are to implant the damn things INTO us.

    SO, in reflection, phones are here to stay, they will get more expensive, and do not much more than the model before, and we will always bitch over them as well

    the fan bois will still claim theirs is SO much better, Android fanz will say they had THAT feature years back, and so it will roll on :o)

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Well, just look at cars. Cars were (IMHO) already perfect some 10-20 years ago, had everything you might want, and yet the industry started to add more stuff, like subscription services and telemetry and all the stuff no sane user would actually ever want. But marketing wants it. It's called "checking inside the goose laying the golden eggs for more gold". We all know how that ends, but greed is louder than reason.

      Phones will go the same way, they will start monetizing users more and more until the phone becomes totally unusable as such, and/or somebody invents something which could replace it. It's the old process of rise and decline.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        I don't know about that, comparing my current 2021 Audi to the previous one I'd owned in 2002 I wouldn't want to give up some of the advances, like support for wireless Carplay, cruise control that automatically maintains a set following distance, lane departure warning and so forth. Even the stuff I have no desire to use like satellite radio and the subscription service that gives you the built in navigation system, voice control, and so forth has its uses for some.

        Yeah it looks like we're going down a road past those useful or not actively hostile features towards enshittification where some marketers hope everything a car does except braking, acceleration and steering becomes a subscription feature - but it won't happen with all brands at once so we'll be able to vote with our wallets and punish those who try it first.

        Just look at the angry feedback given to BWM over the idea of making heated seats a subscription feature, and to GM over their plan to drop support for carplay/android auto - so far they haven't backed down and I kind hope they don't because right now most average people aren't aware of it but when I can only imagine how pissed off people will be who have bought their shiny new GM car/truck (and it is too late to return) and they ask their salesman "hey I can't figure out in the GUI how to get it to interface with my iPhone like in my last few cars" and be told "sorry this brand new car you just paid tens of thousands of dollars for can't do that!"

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          support for wireless Carplay, cruise control that automatically maintains a set following distance, lane departure warning and so forth

          Well, people differ. Those are all examples of things I consider misfeatures. My 2015 Volvo XC70 has none of them, and my wife's 2018 Volvo XC601 has all of them, and every time I drive her car they annoy me greatly.

          I honestly cannot think of a single feature her car has which mine lacks, and which I would want. If I were ever to buy a new car again (vanishingly unlikely, because they're all horrible) I'd pay more to not have that sort of rubbish.

          I don't want my car to be part of the attack surface for my phone or vice versa, and I most certainly do not trust any auto or phone manufacturer to implement integration securely. When I use cruise control, I want to set a speed, not a following distance. Lane departure warning, auto stop/start, collision "avoidance", and so on are obnoxious. And putting a touchscreen in a car should be forbidden by law.

          1Which also manages to be larger on the outside, yet somehow smaller on the inside, than my car.

  6. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Not for me

    I'll be sticking to the dumbest phone I can find of any colour {smirk}

    My current one is a 'few' years old, cost me 60 squids, texts are free, and the only charge is for actually phoning out. Oh, and the battery lasts about a wee between chnarges.

    1. ITMA Silver badge

      Re: Not for me

      "Oh, and the battery lasts about a wee between charges"...

      What are you charging it with? Beer? LOL

  7. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

    Many of these AI applications will be AI "hallucinating" any old cr@p, and the vendors hoping the users will swallow it without a second though. How can people tell if what the AI tells them is true or factual or even logical?

    An idea that, unbeliebably, El Reg is A-ok with

    Yeah, I for one won't be forgetting or forgiving that one anytime soon

  8. Scene it all

    I'd switch to a Huawei phone if it interfaced with my car's Bluetooth and could do maps.

  9. heyrick Silver badge

    Some "AI" has uses, but most is...

    My Xiaomi phone has a little photo editor, and there's a useful widget in their (under AI, of course) where you can select something (random detected objects, lines, or people depending on what option you picked) and they will be semi-intelligently deleted. I tried it out on various photos, like those Instagram "girl in a pretty dress standing in a forest" types, getting rid of the human. The results? Some were an abysmal smear of junk (like Dall-E2's faces) while others were so well done that it would be hard to spot where the person had been. It was even able to get rid of a person leaning against a tree and fill in the trunk continuing it down to the grass.

    Additionally AI to recognise what the camera is looking at to tweak the settings for the best photo (so long as it isn't overly aggressive and makes food look cartoony).

    Things like that, I can see being of benefit. But I rather suspect that it'll be AI shoehorned into everything because it's the big new buzz.

    Worse, doubly, tripley, quadrupley worse if it tries to do "really complicated things" by whisking away loads of your data to the cloud to be processed by something allegedly with more power than your phone could offer; though given that modern reasonable quality smartphones aren't slouches, this is likely more an excuse to justify flinging personal data off your phone than actual technical necessity.

    to;dr : There is a place for some artificial assistance, but I think anything useful will be buried under a deluge of artificial idiocy mostly designed to be "look over there!" while helping itself to your personal/private stuff.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Some "AI" has uses, but most is...

      Things like that, I can see being of benefit.

      Why? Serious question. I cannot imagine ever wanting to do any of those things to a photograph, whether it's one I took or from some other source.

    2. ITMA Silver badge

      Re: Some "AI" has uses, but most is...

      "where you can select something (random detected objects, lines, or people depending on what option you picked) and they will be semi-intelligently deleted"

      Sounds like a feature inspired by Stalin and the NKVD.

      What's it called - the "Lavrentiy Beria" Photo Editor?

  10. nightflier


    Phrases that stood out to me:

    "Marketing and customer support programs will be required to drive consumer interest and adoption"

    "increase user willingness to pay."

    "make it more costly for users to switch brands."

    Colour me skeptical.

    1. Andrew Hodgkinson

      Re: Keywords

      Yes, I mean, the translation of that is: "The additions are junk, so we need to lie to customers and hope they don't notice; we also want to charge more for the junk, so we'll try to find ways to lock users into our devices so that we can get away with those increased charges."

      It's an unusually terse corporate-speak way to describe enshittification...

  11. bofh1961

    AI? I haven't even tried the camera in my phone yet!

    C'mon, AI is little more than just another name for predictive text at the moment.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: AI? I haven't even tried the camera in my phone yet!

      Au contraire. It's vastly more wasteful of resources than predictive text is.

  12. TWB

    I don't want AI to 'help'

    I've got friends who try to second guess what I'm about to say and it really annoys me. AI will only be used to try and sell me more stuff when we all need to be consuming less.

    I would like AI to help do useful stuff but most of that is unsexy and makes no money.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't want AI to 'help'

      >I would like AI to help do useful stuff but most of that is unsexy and makes no money.

      AI is heavily in zero sum. Like Ad tech. My spending is 100% committed. "Ad Tech" can't increase the pie size, no matter how much AI is thrown at it, all it can do is dramatically increase the cost of sale, both in money terms, and in the enormous energy waste of Ai and Ad Tech in general. As it delivers no value to the ultimate consumer, and takes money away from the production of the goods and services we are buying, it leaves us poorer, and lowers economic efficiency.

      We see this clearly from the peaking of Western economic efficiency in the early 2000's

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