Recall a Time Machine...

Microsoft's AI strategy should push Apple...
I Tried Microsoft’s New AI-Focused PCs. Windows Is Exciting Again.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told our columnist new efficient, powerful chips equip Windows Copilot+ laptops to compete with Apple’s MacBooks

Ahead of the Windows AI Copilot+ PC announcements, Joanna Stern sat down with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to talk through the new devices and initiatives. A few tidbits worth calling out:

“Apple’s done a fantastic job of really innovating on the Mac,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella told me in an exclusive video interview. “We’re going to outperform them. We finally feel we have a very competitive product.”

I do love how Nadella doesn't shy away from mentioning competitors by name. This is typically a no-no in corporate comms. Nadella has been doing this since basically day one (kudos to Frank Shaw on the strategy here, I imagine). It's also just an incredibly confident and honest statement. It suggests the reality that Microsoft simply hasn't been been competitive when it comes to laptops/tablets with Apple for several years now (as predicted). And very much puts down a marker that this will change going forward. We'll see and get to call back to this one way or another!

Apple moved all its Macs to its own Arm chips a few years ago. Almost everything we hated about laptops? Gone. The machines run quiet and cool, and their batteries last a long time. Now, Nadella has the same in his new Surface Laptop. He told me he hasn’t heard his Surface Laptop’s fan go on and he’s been blown away by the all-day battery life.

You know where else he wouldn't hear a fan? Using a MacBook Air. Because those machines don't contain a fan. Just saying...

There will be Copilot+ PCs powered by Intel and AMD chips too, but they won’t arrive until later.

This wasn't exactly a secret, but also was clearly downplayed with the star of the show being Qualcomm's new Snapdragon X Elite chips. The fact that all the key PC manufacturers are moving to ARM for this certainly doesn't speak well for the future of x86, but perhaps Intel and AMD can continue to play on the desktop. Then again, Apple is now all-ARM-all-the-time there too...

For the first time in a long time, Microsoft seems to have a winning computer strategy: modern, cutting-edge chips and unique software features. Yet there was one obvious question to ask Nadella: If AI is creating this more natural, humanlike way of interacting, why are we talking about traditional computers?

“I fully expect the Copilot to be everywhere,” he said, adding that as Microsoft develops its AI agent that can speak and see, it will be in smart speakers, smartphones and even VR headsets. “It’s going to be ambient.”

Um, does this imply that Microsoft will be getting back into the phone arena? He could just mean partnering with the likes of Samsung (as they are with Copilot+ PCs) and other OEMs. But those devices still run Android, and Google will be pushing Gemini throughout the OS. And, of course, Samsung has its own AI capabilities they're pushing. So Microsoft either has to hope that Copilot+ PCs create some crazy consumer demand for their AI or... make a Surface Phone.

One more thing: in the video, Nadella refers to the new Windows AI 'Recall' functionality as being a sort of "photographic memory" for your machine. I like this framing. You immediately know what he means.

When Stern does her brief demo of the experience, you can't help but, um recall Apple's 'Time Machine' feature. While it still exists, it's not touted as it once was in our Cloud age. It always felt a bit ahead of its time, UI and all. But can you imagine that powered by AI? I sure can. As I wrote back in March, when such functionality within Windows was just rumored:

This strikes me as exactly the type of thing Microsoft, as still the world's leading desktop/laptop operating system creator, should be doing. If Microsoft has done anything interesting in the past couple decades with Windows, I'm honestly not aware of it. This would be interesting.

There are a few startups who are trying to operate in this general space – the AI-powered "catch-all" service – the problem is that you really need extremely deep OS-level integration to allow this to work well. And the OS makers are unlikely to be okay with a third-party, let alone a smaller startup, accessing such layers. The risk is simply too high. So that leaves basically two players – Microsoft and Apple (and Google with ChromeOS, I suppose).

For all the hand-wringing about Apple and AI, this is something that would worry me if I were Cupertino. It's just exactly the type of thing that should be built into an OS (with the appropriate user opt-ins, of course). In a way, this is actually the next generation of search (because it would ideally include anything you searched for on the web as well). Just go about your business and let the AI sort it out when you need to recall/do something.

It's all so obvious that I'd actually be surprised if we don't hear about something along these lines at WWDC this year. macOS AI? And actually, as great as it would be on a desktop/laptop, it would obviously be far more powerful on a mobile device. This is obviously where Apple has a massive advantage over Microsoft (and where Google should be focusing in the space).

You can almost hear Craig Federighi now, dad joke and all:

"Remember Time Machine? Many of you still use it to back-up your most important information and memories. Well now we're bringing it back to the future, powered by Apple AI. Time Machine is no longer just for backing-up, it's now for real time recall of anything you've done on your Mac. All fully run on your device where it's stored safely and completely encrypted.

And that's not all. We're bringing it to your iPhone and iPad too. So you can instantly find anything you've done on any device with a simple semantic search. All still stored locally and encrypted.

But if you need a way to search across your devices, we've come up with a secure way to do that in iCloud as well..."

That last bit may be a bridge too far. But one day, you can totally see it.

Update: On my 'Surface Phone' point, in the longer (subscriber) version of the interview, Stern specifically brought this topic up with Nadella. His answer was fairly vanilla, talking about playing nicely on other platforms.

But Stern pushes him with "you could bring back Nokia". To which he replies with an answer that's not exactly a "no"!

"I mean I'm gonna really think more about what we can do next in terms of where Copilot goes." He's sort of laughing. Sort of not!