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Apple watchers see AI as firm’s next venture

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    Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an announcement of new products in Cupertino, Calif.

SAN JOSE, Calif. >> With iPhone sales slowing and the last new Apple product released two years ago, expectations are building for what the company will reveal next week at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

Some Apple watchers are counting on artificial intelligence.

With Facebook, Microsoft and Google emphasizing AI in their conferences over the past two months, market analysts believe it is Apple’s turn. As the race for artificial intelligence heats up in Silicon Valley, some worry that Apple is already behind the game.

“If Apple skips AI, I would consider that a significant miss on their opportunity,” said John Jackson, a Boston-based analyst for IDC. “Apple is late to this game. There is no other trick up their sleeve around this.”

Apple, long known for its secrecy, declined to discuss specifics of the event but emailed a statement that its global developer community has earned more than $70 billion since the App Store launched in 2008.

Rumors and early reports indicate the Cupertino tech giant might release a new iPad Pro, and according to Bloomberg, a Siri-controlled home speaker to challenge Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Gene Munster, a venture capitalist at Loup Ventures and a longtime Apple watcher, said a home speaker would be a step in the right direction for Apple.

“Artificial intelligence is fundamental to every company now,” Munster said. “We knew Apple was going to improve on Siri, and (the speaker) seems to line up. It makes logical sense.”

In addition to the Siri speaker, rumors of a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, a 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2, an updated MacBook Pro and a new iOS 11 have circulated on the internet.

The five-day conference to be attended by more than 5,000 developers — who each paid $1,599 after winning a lottery — is moving from San Francisco to San Jose, where it will be held for the first time since 2002. Apple CEO Tim Cook will give the keynote speech Monday morning. His speech will be streamed live on Apple’s website.

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