Redmond Finally Fixes Their Photocopiers?

Microsoft is confident Windows on Arm could finally beat Apple
Microsoft is gearing up for next-gen AI PCs.

There's a lot in Tom Warren's latest report about Microsoft's "Windows AI" event next month, but the headline would seem to say a lot: AI aside, Microsoft finally thinks they'll have laptops that can compete with Apple's M-series chips.

Microsoft is getting ready to fully unveil its vision for “AI PCs” next month at an event in Seattle. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that Microsoft is confident that a round of new Arm-powered Windows laptops will beat Apple’s M3-powered MacBook Air both in CPU performance and AI-accelerated tasks.

After years of failed promises from Qualcomm, Microsoft believes the upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors will finally offer the performance it has been looking for to push Windows on Arm much more aggressively. Microsoft is now betting big on Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X Elite processors, which will ship in a variety of Windows laptops this year and Microsoft’s latest consumer-focused Surface hardware.

Obviously, beyond performance, a focus of Apple's M-Series is performance-per-watt – a fancy way of saying they're powerful while also battery efficient. If you don't have to worry about the latter, yes, you can push the former – which Apple does on their M3 Ultra chips, which are only found in their desktop machines. If Microsoft gets more performance and better battery life, that will be impressive. Otherwise, it's just better than Intel. Which is not saying much of anything.

Microsoft is so confident in these new Qualcomm chips that it’s planning a number of demos that will show how these processors will be faster than an M3 MacBook Air for CPU tasks, AI acceleration, and even app emulation. Microsoft claims, in internal documents seen by The Verge, that these new Windows AI PCs will have “faster app emulation than Rosetta 2” — the application compatibility layer that Apple uses on its Apple Silicon Macs to translate apps compiled for 64-bit Intel processors to Apple’s own processors.

Again, an M3 MacBook Air is one thing. An M3 Pro or M3 Max MacBook Pro is another. (And I guess that's what Microsoft would say their new Intel variants compete with?) Maybe it can compete there too, but that doesn't sound like the angle they're taking... Also, I'm not sure how much it matters winning in performance on emulation when most macOS apps now run natively on Apple Silicon since we're three and a half years into the transition to Apple silicon...

I’m also told that Microsoft is planning to ship consumer models of its upcoming Surface Pro 10 and Surface Laptop 6 with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite processors inside instead of Intel’s Core Ultra chips. Microsoft has already announced business-focused versions of the Surface Pro 10 and Surface Laptop 6 that ship with Intel Core Ultra processors, but the Arm models will be marketed toward consumers instead.

Yeah, this is not good news for Intel. Sales aside, it's just awful optics. A divorce in the Wintel family (at least until a rekindling of the romance in a new and exciting way perhaps).

Microsoft describes devices running Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite processors as “next-gen AI Copilot PCs” internally, meant to differentiate them from existing PCs that run on AMD’s latest chips or even Intel’s Core Ultra processors. This new class of PCs will get access to new AI-powered Windows features first, including an AI Explorer app that lets you “retrieve anything you’ve ever seen or done on your device.”

AI Explorer is designed to work as a timeline you can summon on your PC. Windows Central first reported details on AI Explorer last month, and it sounds much like the Timeline feature in Windows 10 that Microsoft eventually removed. While Timeline relied on app developers to work, this time around, AI Explorer utilizes a Neural Processing Unit chip on devices to scan through a timeline of events. It will work with any Windows apps, allowing users to recall what they were previously working on.

I continue to think this could be a massive moment for Windows. And Microsoft would seem to clearly think so as well. It also doesn't seem like a coincidence that they're holding this event a few weeks before WWDC. Might Apple have something similar up their sleeve?

Sources tell me that Microsoft’s vision includes the idea of a “Copilot for every person” slogan, meant to hearken back to Microsoft’s decades-old “PC in every home” vision for Windows. This is a big push for AI in Windows inside Microsoft, and I’m told the company is expecting that 50 percent of new Windows devices will be running AI-capable chips by the end of 2026. Expect to see a round of new Windows on Arm devices in June, just a month after Microsoft details its AI PC plans.

I don't dislike the "Copilot" branding, but I think it works better inside of the Office suite of products. Here, it sounds a little too generic. You can imagine mom and pop wondering what a "copilot" is, beyond the literal meaning. I think "AI" has enough of a mindshare in the world already that you could probably simplify it with something along those lines. Like, you know, "Windows AI" or some such. Sure, there's a slight risk of a negative connotation here, but it's more straightforward.