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AI, of course, lets companies optimize their operations, business models and customer experiences around data-driven insights, while developing products and services that align more closely with customer needs.

Now that leading cloud service providers are providing AI-driven machine learning and deep learning training platforms—customized to business user data and accessed as cloud-hosted application programming interfaces—companies of all sizes can seize the benefits of AI.

“For many types of AI problems, companies can derive benefits much more quickly than before,” says Carlos Morales, senior director of deep learning systems at Intel and an executive staff member of the technology company’s AI Products Group.

“If there’s a process in a business that required the hiring of many data engineers and scientists, AI as a service in the cloud is a way to get things done without relying on so many of these individuals.” For larger business entities, AI can serve more complex business needs, according to Morales’ colleague Binay Ackalloor, who leads Intel’s Enterprise Business Development Group for AI Products.

“In my work with companies across the spectrum, an analyst or researcher might say, ‘What if I apply AI to this particular problem, and if we see good results we can get the company’s management to buy in to move the project forward?’” Ackalloor says.

“The CEO and top brass now have crucial information to move the project to the next milestone.” Five years ago, deployment of AI-enabled business technologies was limited by cost, as well as by the availability of the expertise that development required.

Few companies had the right skill sets on staff to work with line-of-business professionals in identifying valid use cases, locating relevant data, building an application, and assessing the costs and benefits of running it.

“A business running 24/7 across the world on different platforms can put in place a robust pipeline to manage all the data produced—not just its own data but third-party data, too,” he says.

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But now that Apple is becoming a major digital services provider, it’s struggling to avoid the fate of its rivals. Apple services such as the App Store, digital books, news, video, podcasts and music, put the company in the more precarious position of information provider (or at least overseer), exposing it to a growing online crackdown by China’s authoritarian government. “There's a headwind around services there, and it's unclear what services can be available,” said Gene Munster, a veteran Apple analyst and co-founder of Loup Ventures.

“It points to an issue with China more broadly with how U.S. companies can operate there, and it will likely remain a headwind on Apple services for a long time."While standard iPhone services like iMessage work in China, many paid offerings that help Apple generate recurring revenue from its devices aren’t available in the country.

It has made sweeping efforts to improve the situation but has also blocked some air-quality information online, including one episode in 2014 that was reported by the Washington Post. AQI data for the Apple Weather app comes from the Weather Channel, a unit of International Business Machines Corp. Apple removed the information for Chinese cities after the Weather Channel changed how it collects the data in the country, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Weather Channel used to get AQI information on the ground in China, but now collects it via satellites, which is less accurate, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. A spokeswoman for the Weather Channel didn’t respond to a request for comment.Greater China became Apple’s second-largest region in the 2015 fiscal year, generating $59 billion in revenue.

More than a million other workers assemble Apple products in the country for Foxconn and other Apple manufacturing partners. China’s first major move to limit an Apple service happened in 2008, when the company’s iTunes Music Store was axed in the region. In 2016, iTunes Movies and iBooks, the former name of Apple Books, were blocked in China. This wasn’t so much of an issue when iPhones were selling well and revenue was surging. But more recently, iPhone sales have slowed and the company switched some of its focus to services.

The company’s News+ subscription service, rolled out this year, is not available on Apple devices purchased in China, and the app loses its functionality for users from other countries who travel there. Apple has also pulled hundreds of VPN apps that helped users evade China’s Great Firewall and access banned Western internet services such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

At its 2012 annual conference for software developers, Craig Federighi, Apple’s software engineering chief, said, “It’s going to be important, get your apps ready for China,” during a presentation slide dedicated to new China features. That year, iOS 6 added support for Baidu web search and the micro-blogging service Sina Weibo, in addition to new text-input features.

This year, Apple upgraded that QR feature, improved the handwriting keyboard and added a new Junction View feature to its Maps service for improved local lane guidance on complicated highways. To keep growing in China, Apple will either need to get more of its services up and running in the country or find its next hardware hit beyond the iPhone.“The company still has an opportunity on hardware there, especially for future iPhone models, the AirPods, Apple Watches and other wearables,” Munster said. \--With assistance from Yuan Gao.To contact the author of this story: Mark Gurman in Los Angeles at mgurman1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Alistair Barr at abarr18@bloomberg.net, Andrew MartinFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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