iOS 18 — this is the biggest AI move Apple needs to make

iOS 18 logo on iPhone in person's lap
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

For something that won't be coming out in its full form until the fall, iOS 18 is certainly generating a lot of interest and speculation. The likely arrival of AI-powered features will do that for a software update.

A lot of the pre-release talk about iOS 18 is focusing on how Apple might integrate AI into its iPhone software. Will it mean auto-generated playlists in Apple Music? Generative creation tools in apps like Pages and Keynote? Perhaps even a smarter, more conversational Siri that's better equipped to field more complex questions

That's all fine by me. But whatever it is Apple adds to iOS 18, AI-wise, I hope that the Voice Memos app gets some love and attention, too.

Yes, you read that right. I think Voice Memos is crying out for more advanced capabilities. And should Apple add them in iOS 18, the voice recorder app has the potential to be one of the most essential built-in tools on your iPhone.

The state of voice recorders

Samsung Galaxy S24 vs. Google Pixel voice recorder app showdown

Dueling voice recording apps on the Galaxy S24 (left) and Pixel 7a (right) (Image credit: Future)

Currently, Voice Memos on iOS is... fine. If I need to record a voice over for a video, I fire up the app. And I think Apple has equipped the app with some handy editing tools that make it easy to trim a recording on the iPhone's relatively limited screen space.

But you compare it to similar apps on Pixel and Galaxy S phones — Recorder on the Pixel, Voice Recorder on Samsung's phones — and you see how Voice Memos could do so much more. You can transcribe your recordings on the Pixel and Samsung phones, with the Pixel even doing the transcribing on the fly. Both apps recognize and label when different speakers appear on recordings. And as of the Galaxy S24, Samsung's voice recorder can tap into AI to summarize what's on a recording. (That feature is extended to last year's major Samsung phones via the recent One UI 6.1 update.)

When I need to record an interview or a presentation, it's not the iPhone I grab — it's whatever Pixel I happen to have on hand. (In my head-to-head Recorder vs Voice Recorder testing, I find Pixel's transcripts are easier to clean up and I like how recordings are auto-assigned a title.) The iPhone's Voice Memos is a fine recording app if all I need are the basics, but for anything beyond that, the built-in recording apps on the best Android phones put Apple's efforts to shame.

How AI can help Voice Memos

iOS 18

(Image credit: Getty Images)

At a bare minimum, Apple needs to add a transcription capability to Voice Memos. Yes, plenty of third-party apps offer this functionality, but it seems like something that should be built directly into Apple's own offering. What's more, transcription should take entirely on the device, something you'd expect iPhones of recent vintage to have enough processing power to handle. (And if not, well, that's surely something the upcoming iPhone 16 models and their A18 chipsets should be able to support.)

It's not just a matter of converting audio to text, by the way. The transcript needs to be linked to the recording, so that if you tap on a particular word or sentence, you jump to that place in the audio. That's table stakes for a transcription feature.

I think Voice Memos should be able to recognize different speakers and label them as such in the transcript. Again, that's something you'll find on recent Pixels and Samsung phones, though Apple has the opportunity to one-up the competition, as my testing found that Recorder and Voice Recorder can get confused if there's a lot of cross-talk or rapid back-and-forth in recorded conversations. Besting rival recording apps on accurate speaker identification would give iOS 18's version of Voice Memos a real leg up.

I'm less sold on summaries as an important AI-powered add-on to Voice Memos. Yes, it's nice to have, particularly if you're recording brainstorming sessions, lectures or anything where you need a quick rundown of what was said. But I don't think it's a must-have addition.

Instead, what I really want Voice Memos to do is auto-assign a title based on the content of a recording. Right now, Apple's app uses the location of your recording as a title, and it's up to you to go in and change that. Make a lot of recordings in the same place, and it's very hard to tell which recording is covering what topic. Taking the responsibility for changing the title out of users' hands and automating it would be a real time-saver.

iOS 18 outlook

Obviously, Voice Memos is not Apple's primary focus with iOS 18. The push into AI with this update will largely be Apple's attempt to make up for lost as it looks to catch up with the efforts of other companies that adopted this technology faster.

But if the purpose of an OS update it to add new capabilities and enhancements that make old apps feel like new, Voice Memos is crying out for some improvements. And AI could deliver a lot of helpful functionality to that particular app. 

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Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.