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These former Apple employees are bringing AI to the desktop

These former Apple employees are bringing AI to the desktop

AI chatbots like ChatGPT, to date, have been fairly impersonal and exist outside of the applications and data we use every day. A new startup created by three former Apple employees called Software Applications Incorporated hopes to change that.

The company’s CEO Ari Weinstein is a repeat founder, having sold his last startup, the iOS automation app Workflow, to Apple in 2017 along with co-founder and CTO Conrad Kramer. This time, the two were joined by Kim Beverett, a 10-year Apple veteran who was on stage at this year’s WWDC and previously oversaw product management for several teams, including Safari, Messages, FaceTime, and user privacy. .

In their first interview since leaving Apple to start something new, the trio tell me that their goal is to bring generative AI to the desktop in a way that “drives operating systems forward.” While they don’t have a product to show yet, they are prototyping with a variety of great language models, including OpenAI’s GPT and Meta’s Llama 2. The ultimate goal, according to Weinstein, is to recreate “the magic you felt when you used computers in the ’80s and ’90s.”

“If you turned on an Apple II or an Atari, you got this basic console where you could write basic code as a user and program the computer to do whatever you wanted,” he explains. “Today, it is exactly the opposite. “Everyone spends time on highly optimized operating systems with pieces of software that are designed to be extremely easy to use but are not flexible.”

“We believe that language models and AI give us the ingredients to create a new type of software”

He gives an example: “Sometimes you have a browser window open with a schedule and you just want to say ‘add this to my calendar,’ and somehow, there’s no way to do that… We think that language Models and AI “They give us the ingredients to create a new type of software that can unlock this fundamental power of computing and make it possible for ordinary people to use computers to solve their problems.”

The team’s love of early PC nostalgia is evident on the Software Applications website, which is literally Mac OS 8 running in a browser tab. Weinstein says they hope to hire up to 10 employees next year, including a designer and some machine learning experts. They’ve already raised $6.5 million in funding from OpenAI’s Altman, Figma CEO Dylan Field, and other notable names in Silicon Valley.

In a world where venture capital money is drying up and mass layoffs are occurring across the tech world, it’s quite a feat to raise that much before you have a product, although the trio’s past success certainly helps. “I met Ari on the platform formerly known as Twitter when we were both in high school,” Field tells me. “She is one of the most talented people I know and I would support anything she does.”

Apple doesn’t buy startups that often, and when it does, they rarely continue as distinct products like Weinstein’s last project did. Shortly after purchasing Workflow, it was renamed the Shortcuts app, which is now pre-installed on iPhones and Macs. If you have an iPhone 15, you can use Shortcuts to create all kinds of use cases for the new Action Button on the side of the device, such as controlling the smart lights in your home or triggering an action in a third-party app.

Given that Apple appears to have been caught off guard in the generative AI race, a natural question is whether Weinstein, Kramer and Beverett felt they needed to leave the company to build what they’re working on now.

When I ask him, Weinstein refutes that notion: “We created this company because we are very excited about what is happening in generative AI right now, because we were excited to work together again, and because we love the creative, open environment of a startup.” . Beverett, for his part, adds that Apple’s in-person work policy became unviable after moving further away from Cupertino during the pandemic.

While a handful of startups like Rewind are building custom AI systems for the desktop, none I’ve come across seem to have as broad a vision as software applications, suggesting they have a path open for them. the moment. And since most consumer software companies build primarily for mobile devices these days, it’s refreshing to see a team focusing on the Mac.

“The average interaction on a mobile device is measured in seconds, and the average interaction on a desktop is measured in minutes or hours,” Weinstein says. “So saving people time at the desk is really exciting for us.”

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