Microsoft Recall Raises Concerns Over Copilot Plus AI Features

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10 Jul 2024

Microsoft launched Windows for Arm in 2012 with the Surface 2-in-1, powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3. It didn’t catch on. The original Surface was slow, buggy, and ran an Arm-only version of Windows called Windows RT. Microsoft retreated to x86 with the release of the Intel-powered Surface Pro.

But Windows on Arm crawled forward with a new strategy. Instead of building a new version of Windows, Microsoft would bring Arm to the Windows everyone already used. After testing the waters in 2019 with the Qualcomm-powered Surface Pro X, Microsoft and Qualcomm committed fully. The Copilot Plus PC is the result. The launch didn’t go according to plan. Microsoft pitched Copilot Plus PCs on the strength of on-device AI performance, which is accelerated by a neural processing unit (NPU) included in Snapdragon X. But Microsoft bungled the software, going so far as to recall the headline feature (ironically known as Windows Recall) over security and privacy concerns. Sag said that cast a dark cloud over the launch. “Recalling Recall was a very weird overcorrection [...] I think they would’ve been fine shipping it disabled by default.”

Microsoft’s recall of Recall brought the AI-enabled features of Copilot Plus PCs into question.

Matthew Berman

Snapdragon X, on the other hand, met and surpassed expectations. My review of the Surface Laptop 7, published on PC World, called it “a new era for Windows PCs.”

The Surface Laptop 7, like other Copilot Plus PCs with Snapdragon X chips, benefits from an advantage Arm chips often hold when compared to x86: efficiency. Laptops with Snapdragon X can last over 20 hours on battery, yet meet or beat x86 alternatives in performance benchmarks. Tests have found Snapdragon X is up to 50 percent more efficient than comparable x86 chips in single-core workloads and 20 percent more efficient in multi-core. That translates not only to long battery life but also less heat, less fan noise, and better performance on battery power.

I’m not alone in my praise. Leonard Lee, executive analyst and founder at neXt Curve, said the launch was “a big win” for Qualcomm, though he cautioned it’s too early to know how well Qualcomm-powered laptops have sold. Sag agreed. “My experience with the [Copilot Plus] PCs that I’ve used so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

PC chip competition heats up

The launch of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X puts x86 at a disadvantage, at least for the moment.

“We don’t know when Intel and AMD are going to come on board with Copilot Plus,” said Sag. “I think the best case scenario is the end of Q4 2024, but to be realistic, it’s probably going to be the beginning of next year.” Lee was more optimistic about x86’s reply. “My early thinking is Intel’s Lunar Lake [architecture] will be a stabilizing entry for Intel. And they have an ecosystem and software backing them up [...] Intel and AMD will fight tooth and nail to be relevant.”

We’ll know more this time next year. Qualcomm is likely to announce more Arm chips for Windows’ PCs later this year. The Consumer Electronics Show, to be held in January of 2025, will see PC makers announce the next wave of Copilot Plus PCs; some with Arm chips, and some with x86. “The ground hasn’t settled yet. We’re going to have a couple years of this uncertainty.” —Anshel Sag, Moor Insights & Strategy

And while Qualcomm was Microsoft’s partner for the Copilot Plus PC launch, other Arm chip makers are likely soon join in. MediaTek, Nvidia, Broadcom, and Samsung are among the big names that could design their own chips for Windows. Even x86 stalwarts may get into the Arm action; Sag concluded.

Update: 10 Jul 2024