The goal is to challenge Google in an area the Internet search giant has long dominated: smartphone features that give users what they want before they ask.
               
As part of its push, the company is currently trying to hire at least 86 more employees with expertise in the branch of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, according to a recent analysis of Apple job postings. The company has also stepped up its courtship of machine-learning PhD's, joining Google, Amazon, Facebook and others in a fierce contest, leading academics say.
               
But some experts say the iPhone maker's strict stance on privacy is likely to undermine its ability to compete in the rapidly progressing field.
               
Machine learning, which helps devices infer from experience what users are likely to want next, relies on crunching vast troves of data to provide unprompted services, such as the scores for a favorite sports team or reminders of when to leave for an appointment based on traffic.
               
The larger the universe of users providing data about their habits, the better predictions can be about what an individual might want. But Apple analyzes its users' behavior under self-imposed constraints to better protect their data from outsiders.
               
That means Apple largely relies on analyzing the data on each user's iPhone rather than sending it to the cloud, where it can be studied alongside information from millions of others.
               
"They want to make a phone that responds to you very quickly without knowledge of the rest of the world," said Joseph Gonzalez, co-founder of Dato, a machine learning startup. "It's harder to do that."