OpenAI’s Sam Altman Tapped

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After rumors began to swirl that Sam Altman’s OpenAI tapped Jony Ive on a secret piece of hardware, the company’s wunderkind CEO says he has no plans to compete with the smartphone market.

Insider reports that Altman made these remarks at The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live event this week—if that event sounds familiar it’s because that’s the same conference X CEO Linda Yaccarino pulled out of. Altman insisted that he isn’t sure what the concept of a piece of OpenAI hardware designed with Apple alum Jony Ive would be, just that he has a lot of vague ideas. The CEO also said that he doesn’t believe any AI device would overshadow the popularity of the iPhone, claiming that he has “no interest in trying to compete with a smartphone” because it’s “phenomenal at what it does.”

“There is something great to do, but I don’t know what it is yet,” Altman said in an interview with Wall Street Journal’s Joana Stern during the conference, as quoted by Insider. “I do think every sufficiently big, new technology enables some kind of new computing platform—[I have] lots of ideas, but all at the very nascent stage.”

News of a potential OpenAI hardware project broke in September when rumors emerged that Altman had approached Apple’s former Chief Design Officer Jony Ive to help on the project. Ive was the lead designer of Apple’s monumental iPhone, iPad, and iMac before eventually leaving the tech giant in 2019 to pursue other ventures after 27 years at the company. Shortly thereafter, reports emerged that OpenAI had raised $1 billion for the hardware project, with backing from Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son—Son also reportedly pitched the involvement of Arm, a chip designer in which SoftBank has a 90% stake. Sources told the Financial Times that Altman and Ive were looking to create a device that provides a more “natural and intuitive way” to interact with AI with one source referring to it as the “iPhone of artificial intelligence.”

The nickname “iPhone of artificial intelligence” coupled with Altman’s comments at the conference indicate that the company isn’t looking to literally reinvent the iPhone. Instead, the project could simply have a goal to devise a transformative piece of AI hardware much in the way the iPhone reinvented cell phones with a touchscreen. While Altman says that he has “no interest” in competing with the smartphone, OpenAI could simply hope to replace the smartphone altogether.

While it’s still not clear what the end goal of the product talks will be (or if anything will come of them at all), it does seem like the general public has become fatigued with the same rollout of a slightly better smartphone slab year after year. Tech market analysis firm Canalys revealed in a report last month that smartphone sales have experienced a significant decline in North America. The report indicates that iPhone sales have fallen 22% year-over-year, with an expected decline of 12% in 2023. The numbers are pretty staggering, especially fresh off the release of the iPhone 15, and could be an indicator that people are getting fatigued of the hottest new tech gadgets.

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