Former Apple designer Jony Ive in talks with ChatGPT creator to build 'iPhone of AI'

Project will be backed by more than $1 billion in funding from SoftBank's Masayoshi Son

Former Apple chief design officer Jony Ive and Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook inspect the iPhone XR at an event in 2018 in Cupertino, California. Getty Images
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OpenAI, the maker of generative AI platform ChatGPT, is in advanced talks with former Apple design chief Jony Ive and SoftBank Group chief executive Masayoshi Son to create the “iPhone of artificial intelligence”.

Development of the product will be bankrolled by $1 billion from the Japanese investment holding company, the Financial Times reported on Thursday, citing sources.

Terms of the potential investment, as well as the timeline for the development of the product, remain unclear.

Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, tapped design studio LoveFrom, which Mr Ive started after stepping down from his high-profile role as Apple's chief design officer in 2019.

The Information this week had also reported some aspects of the product discussions.

Mr Altman and Mr Ive have held talks at the San Francisco-based studio on how the product would look and how OpenAI's technology would fit in it, the sources said.

They are looking at creating a product that is “more natural and intuitive” for users, allowing a seamless experience when interacting with AI, they said.

The iPhone was groundbreaking and pioneered a new market for mobile devices, having removed the physical keyboard in favour of an all-touch interface.

The type of device to be created and its design remain at an early stage, with many different ideas and options being considered, the sources said.

Smartphones have revolutionised mobile communications and advancements have made them even more powerful and useful. However, the industry has been stagnating, with shipments set to drop to their lowest levels in a decade, Counterpoint Research said last month.

Having a new and unique product could help revive the market, and could challenge the dominance of Apple and Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest mobile phone manufacturer, as well as other mainstays.

The AI revolution: What does our future look like?

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The grand designs of Jonny Ive

Mr Ive being on board OpenAI's project would be a huge boost for its consumer device plans.

Mr Ive was a close creative collaborator with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

He spent more than two decades at the tech company and led the design of the coloured iMacs that helped Apple re-emerge from near death in the 1990s as well as the design of the iPhone.

Mr Ive also had a hand in designing parts of the iOS user interface, as well as buildings including the company's Apple Park headquarters in California and Apple Stores.

He left Apple in 2019 and co-founded design firm LoveFrom with fellow designer Marc Newson. LoveFrom, which describes itself as a “creative collective”, has clients such as Airbnb and Ferrari.

Tokyo-based SoftBank, meanwhile, is a major player in technology investment.

The company and its tech-focused Vision Fund have made nearly 160 investments, data from CB Insights shows.

Among the companies in SoftBank's investment portfolio are China's Alibaba Group, chipmakers Nvidia and Arm, Uber Technologies, TikTok parent ByteDance and Indian e-commerce platform Flipkart.

SoftBank has been looking for deals in AI, including a potential investment in OpenAI, after the blockbuster listing of its Arm unit, the FT reported earlier this month, adding that Mr Son was looking to invest tens of billions of dollars in the technology.

The success of OpenAI, the parent company of the wildly popular chatbot ChatGPT, has prompted companies such as Microsoft and Alphabet to pour billions of dollars into investing in the technology.

Updated: September 28, 2023, 11:27 AM