Microsoft declares (PC) war all over again


With AI tools and Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite chips inside its new Surface Pro laptops (called Copilot+ PCs), Microsoft is making no secret that it wants to compete head-on with the world’s most popular laptop, Apple’s MacBook Air

It look like the PC wars have begun again

Despite this declaration of war, it feels like Microsoft owes a lot to Apple. For example, it’s all-new Recall feature reminds me of something Apple already had in its systems called Time Machine. Like Recall, Time Machine saves versions of everything on your device in an encrypted form and lets you “recall” them later on. The feature has always been tied to the user ID and heavily secured. 

We’ll soon find out if Recall is as well protected.

But it’s not the only nod to Apple’s work Microsoft has made in its latest fan-fueled attack on the Mac: even the processors are based on the Arm chips Apple has used for years now in iPhones, iPads, and Macs. And, just like Apple’s Rosetta on M-series chips, Microsoft has an on-board emulator to run older apps that aren’t yet optimized for Windows on Arm. Microsoft claims 87% of the apps people use most will already be ARM-optimized. Helpfully, Apple’s adoption of Arm in Apple Silicon means most of the world’s biggest developers have already ported applications to Arm.

“We have completely reimagined the entirety of the PC — from silicon to the operating system, the application layer to the cloud — with AI at the center,” wrote Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer Yusuf Mehdi. (Arguably, that’s something Apple also already did.) 

Comparisons, comparisons, comparisons

Microsoft shared a range of test results it claims show not only that the new devices compete with Apple’s, but in some cases exceed what the Mac can do. However, as we see each time a tech product gets released, some of the claims seem a little uncertain.

Take performance, for example: Microsoft claims its product can run 58% faster than the MacBook Air M3. The company even ran a side-by-side photo editing test between the two computers to prove its advantage.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Surface device contains a fan, which the MacBook Air does not, which means Microsoft’s system can run at a higher temperature.

Once the inevitable comparative reviews appear, it will be interesting to learn how long you can run such intensive tasks on a Surface in terms of energy consumption and battery life, and how this compares to the same tasks on a Mac. Microsoft says that when it comes to simulated web browsing, you’ll get over an hour more battery life on its device than Apple’s. However, Ars Technica calls Microsoft’s battery life claims “muddy”, saying they need further independent verification.

To some degree, the comparisons might become moot, given Apple is already striding toward equipping Macs with M4 chips; they’re already available in what I see as Apple’s more direct Surface competitor, the iPad Pro

Making Windows…

Microsoft doesn’t see it that way. It believes its Surface Pro devices should be seen as MacBook Air competitors, is buoyed by no-doubt excellent test results, and hopes that by pimping out its systems with AI it has a compelling market proposition with which to tempt enterprise users to stay inside the Windows flock.

(Though even that bid for regained relevance still needs to get past the data sovereignty/privacy problems that beset all the big genAI solutions at the moment. Enterprise users will need to be certain of the cloud-based components of these systems before using them to handle regulated data, I expect.)

All the same, on paper and in keynote at least, Microsoft is making what seems to be one of its sassiest bids yet, once again raising the temperature as the industry prepares for what’s shaping up to be among Apple’s most existentially important WWDC events ever.

There’s a lot to get through.

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