May 27, 2024


đź“° FEATURE STORY

Can Microsoft revive the PC?

We’re seemingly at that time of year when three big tech companies are trying to outdo each other on AI services and capabilities. Google had its I/O, where they mentioned AI over 120 times. Apple is expected to talk more about AI at next month’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC).

We’re going to focus on Microsoft and its AI PCs. Called the Copilot+, the company is betting on inbuilt AI capabilities to usher in the next generation of AI PCs. CEO Satya Nadella put it this way – hoping to revive the Mac vs PC rivalry. That’s a big gamble, given the popularity of Apple’s product lineup in this category. Can Microsoft do it?

Context

The PC has evolved over the decades into something that almost doesn’t resemble what it was. As AI has permeated almost every aspect of digital technology, manufacturers have seen it as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

AI PCs have more processing power and can get things done faster than traditional PCs. That includes AI tasks done directly on the device since they don’t have to rely on cloud data centres, which usually power AI applications like chatbots. Some manufacturers even make PCs that can train AI models, which need heavy computing power that’s usually done on servers.

Companies are looking to on-device AI services and capabilities to help sell PCs. Ideally, the services will be used for tasks ranging from the relatively simple, like planning a trip or replying to e-mails, to things like programming.

AI PCs need special processors called neural processing units (NPUs). These handle a bulk of the on-device AI tasks by working with the CPU and the graphics processors. It’s all to make things faster and more intuitive for the user.

This year marks 40 years since Apple debuted the Mac with a commercial directed by Ridley Scott during the Super Bowl. It was seen by many as the company prioritising user experience and not necessarily selling computing power or storage. Apple and Steve Jobs wanted the Mac to be something people would integrate into their everyday lives.

It wasn’t necessarily about computing since IBM and Commodore already did that. The Macintosh was about people being comfortable with a new technological extension of themselves. It wasn’t just for the computer nerds but for everyone. That sounds a lot like what people talking about AI say today.

Seems Microsoft wants to have that Apple moment now with its newly launched Copilot+ PC. It has been designed with AI in mind since they’ll run AI systems on the chips and other gear inside the computers to make them faster and more personal. Is the PC about to rise once again?

VIEW: Start of something exciting

The advent of AI PCs, like what Microsoft is betting on, could reverse a longtime declining trend in the importance and interest of PCs. Over the past two decades, the demand for the fastest laptops has decreased since a lot of software moved into cloud computing centres. People just needed a good internet connection and a web browser.

Microsoft wants to bring AI capabilities like chatbots back to the devices in people’s homes and not run on data centres. That’s because even something like ChatGPT runs in data centres, which is usually expensive to manage. The company is also smartly targeting the average consumer with over 40 AI models running directly on the device. This makes it easier to run outside data centres.

Satya Nadella said we’re entering an era where computers can understand and predict what we want. That’s where something like the “Recall” chatbot comes in, which can look up a file by typing a question using simple language. What Microsoft has in its favour in selling AI PCs is OpenAI and ChatGPT. That could be the base upon which the future of PCs is built.

COUNTERVIEW: A lot of hurdles

The PC market is looking for a jolt. Whether these AI PCs can rekindle the market hinges on a few different factors. The company needs to convince people to upgrade to such a product. The initial sales of Microsoft’s new devices are likely to be small since they cost over $1,000. Also, consumers are upgrading their computers less frequently since their photos and videos are now stored on the cloud or are in streaming services, not devices.

The purchase of computer devices by schools and companies has stabilised after witnessing a boom during the height of the pandemic. Plenty of high-end smartphones also have in-built AI capabilities with more advanced chips, though it’s fair to say they’ve still got a ways to go. But the point is, for an average consumer, a little AI may be a lot.

There’s another thing that should be pointed out, there are already AI PCs in the market today from other manufacturers. People who’ve bought these are left in the lurch and won’t see a need to upgrade. Most of the data processing for AI still has to be done on servers. Consumers will still need fast internet connections. With Apple expected to speak about AI in relative detail next month, Microsoft doesn’t have the brand appeal to warrant Nadella’s prediction of a Mac vs PC rivalry rematch.

Reference Links:

  • Explainer: What are AI PCs? – Reuters
  • The rise of AI PCs – Fortune
  • Microsoft hints at the future of AI in Windows with a smarter Copilot – The Verge
  • Recall is Microsoft’s key to unlocking the future of PCs – The Verge
  • Microsoft’s Copilot Key: The Future of PC Computing – PC Tablet
  • Can Artificial Intelligence Make the PC Cool Again? – The New York Times
  • Microsoft’s Copilot+ PC just made “AI PCs” obsolete, leaving anyone who bought a 2024 laptop behind – Tom’s Hardware

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Microsoft can revive the PC.

b) Microsoft can’t revive the PC.


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