4 min read

Introduced by Apple, CoreML is a machine learning framework that powers the iOS app developers to integrate machine learning technology into their apps. It supports natural language processing (NLP), image analysis, and various other conventional models to provide a top-notch on-device performance with minimal memory footprint and power consumption.

This article is an extract taken from the book Machine Learning with Core ML written by Joshua Newnham. In this article, you will get to know the basics of what CoreML is and its typical workflow.

With the release of iOS 11 and Core ML, performing inference is just a matter of a few lines of code. Prior to iOS 11, inference was possible, but it required some work to take a pre-trained model and port it across using an existing framework such as Accelerate or metal performance shaders (MPSes). Accelerate and MPSes are still used under the hood by Core ML, but Core ML takes care of deciding which underlying framework your model should use (Accelerate using the CPU for memory-heavy tasks and MPSes using the GPU for compute-heavy tasks). It also takes care of abstracting a lot of the details away; this layer of abstraction is shown in the following diagram:

There are additional layers too; iOS 11 has introduced and extended domain-specific layers that further abstract a lot of the common tasks you may use when working with image and text data, such as face detection, object tracking, language translation, and named entity recognition (NER). These domain-specific layers are encapsulated in the Vision and natural language processing (NLP) frameworks; we won’t be going into any details of these frameworks here, but you will get a chance to use them in later chapters:

It’s worth noting that these layers are not mutually exclusive and it is common to find yourself using them together, especially the domain-specific frameworks that provide useful preprocessing methods we can use to prepare our data before sending to a Core ML model.

So what exactly is Core ML? You can think of Core ML as a suite of tools used to facilitate the process of bringing ML models to iOS and wrapping them in a standard interface so that you can easily access and make use of them in your code. Let’s now take a closer look at the typical workflow when working with Core ML.

CoreML Workflow

As described previously, the two main tasks of a ML workflow consist of training and inference. Training involves obtaining and preparing the data, defining the model, and then the real training. Once your model has achieved satisfactory results during training and is able to perform adequate predictions (including on data it hasn’t seen before), your model can then be deployed and used for inference using data outside of the training set. Core ML provides a suite of tools to facilitate getting a trained model into iOS, one being the Python packaged released called Core ML Tools; it is used to take a model (consisting of the architecture and weights) from one of the many popular packages and exporting a .mlmodel file, which can then be imported into your Xcode project.

Once imported, Xcode will generate an interface for the model, making it easily accessible via code you are familiar with. Finally, when you build your app, the model is further optimized and packaged up within your application. A summary of the process of generating the model is shown in the following diagram:


The previous diagram illustrates the process of creating the .mlmodel;, either using an existing model from one of the supported frameworks, or by training it from scratch. Core ML Tools supports most of the frameworks, either internal or as third party plug-ins, including  Keras, Turi, Caffe, scikit-learn, LibSVN, and XGBoost frameworks. Apple has also made this package open source and modular for easy adaption for other frameworks or by yourself. The process of importing the model is illustrated in this diagram:

In addition; there are frameworks with tighter integration with Core ML that handle generating the Core ML model such as Turi CreateIBM Watson Services for Core ML, and Create ML.

We will be introducing Create ML in chapter 10; for those interesting in learning more about Turi Create and IBM Watson Services for Core ML then please refer to the official webpages via the following links:
Turi Create; https://github.com/apple/turicreate
IBM Watson Services for Core ML; https://developer.apple.com/ibm/

Once the model is imported, as mentioned previously, Xcode generates an interface that wraps the model, model inputs, and outputs.

Thus, in this post, we learned about the workflow of training and how to import a model. If you’ve enjoyed this post, head over to the book  Machine Learning with Core ML  to delve into the details of what this model is and what Core ML currently supports.

Read Next

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Build intelligent interfaces with CoreML using a CNN [Tutorial]

Watson-CoreML: IBM and Apple’s new machine learning collaboration project

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