Microsoft's Copilots with Qualcomm usher in Copilot+ PCs and take on Apple
Microsoft's AI Announcements
Copilot+ PCs come for Apple...

Microsoft just unveiled... a lot of stuff. Ostensibly, "AI" is the unifying element, but as expected, it feels just as much like they're going right after Apple with some new Surface machines and the new Qualcomm chips inside. What's slightly weird about this event is that it wasn't live-streamed, so you have to rely on live-blogs (and posts) from the various players who are there.1 Just like the old days!

If I'm following along correctly,2 the Surface Pro is Microsoft's would-be iPad Pro-killer. What it lacks in thin, it seems to make up for in functioning like an actual computer. As we all know after the last week or so, some people don't want a tablet that can also be a laptop. But some people do. And Microsoft has clearly been doing a better job positioning on this purpose than Apple has to date. The issue holding Microsoft's devices back have been their chips. They're saying that changes today. Obviously, we'll have to see it to believe it. The devices look good though – being able to used the keyboard while detached is a nice... um, touch.

Surface Laptop is Microsoft's would-be MacBook Air-killer. But same general idea: the chips have been holding it back – in this product's case, Intel's. Now they're going with Qualcomm too and touting performance and yes, battery life. Again, we'll see. It is humorous how the device has the wedge design, which the MacBook Air made famous, but has since moved away from (unless you shop at Walmart). And yes, it has a fucking touchscreen.

These (and more) are what Microsoft is now calling 'Copilot+ PCs' which feels very Microsoft. The 'Copilot' branding has been a good one, but to me, it felt better as a part of the Office suite. Microsoft clearly wants to use it for all AI-related things, and I honestly just wish they would use 'Microsoft AI' or 'Windows AI'. Still, fine 'Copilot' sure – but 'Copilot+'? Has the streaming shitshow taught us nothing? 'Copilot+ PCs'? Has the last 40 years of Microsoft branding taught us nothing? Anyway, what does a 'Copilot+ PC' mean? Here's Kris Holt:

To be dubbed a Copilot+ PC, a system will need to deliver at least 40 TOPs (tera operations per second) of NPU performance and have at least 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

And Microsoft has created this spec requirement because they're not the only ones releasing 'Copilot+ PCs'. There's Acer, Dell, HP, and Lenovo, oh my. The fact that all of these top PC makers signed up for this speaks to both Microsoft's continued clout – obviously, what other OS are they going to run? ChromeOS, I guess? – and perhaps to the performance claims that Qualcomm is making here. Again, we'll see soon enough. But it's pretty impressive coordination.

Lastly, there's a lot of buzz around Recall, a feature being baked into Windows which, yes, will allow you to quickly call back to anything you were doing on your PC, with AI powering the search, capture, and natural language capabilities. This is exactly what I thought Microsoft would and should be doing. And yes, it's what Rewind (now called Limitless) has been doing on the Mac. Other companies have tried this type of thing before – including Microsoft, previously – but this is a very obvious and clear use case for AI. So much so that I'd be pretty surprised if Apple doesn't offer something very similar at WWDC in a few weeks. Perhaps the most surprising element here though is that 'Recall' is good branding! I half can't believe this isn't 'Copilot+ Windows Remembrance Backup Plus Storage for Pros NT 25'.

So is Windows back? I mean probably not in some way that profoundly changes the PC market as it stands right now. It could juice sales for a time, particularly if businesses buy into this "AI PC" movement. But the upgrade cycles should continue to elongate as machines are "powerful enough" and other devices continue to dominate lives.

Still, Microsoft seemingly now has a credible answer to the MacBook Air and iPad Pro – and specifically, Apple Silicon – thanks to Qualcomm's silicon (which is slightly awkward for Microsoft, but far more so for Intel!). I'll remain slightly skeptical of this until we actually see third-party tests and more importantly, hear about real world usage. But clearly the entire PC industry seems fully behind this being some kind of new era. Or if nothing else, an easy new marketing angle.

Update May 21, 2024: A bit more on the topic...

Microsoft Kicks x86 to the Curb
In order to save Windows laptops

1 Sort of fun to see what The Verge has created for liveblogging in 2024. It's sort of like their own Twitter!

2 This way of doing things obviously force-filters coverage through a lens and it's sort of weird that Microsoft wouldn't want the free publicity associated with people being to watch (and post about) a live event. Then again, maybe they're going for an aura of exclusivity around the event. Still weird in 2024!