Tech Perspectives

The AI PC Rally of 2024: the First Salvo

A perspective on recent industry events that have caught the IDC's device team's eye.
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We’re a few weeks into what I’m calling the AI PC Rally of 2024, where nearly back-to-back industry events pull back the curtain to reveal more AI capabilities and use cases to make the latest generation of PCs and phones more compelling.

So far, Google I/O and Microsoft Build have passed. In a few more weeks’ time, Computex and Apple’s WWDC beckon. We’ll revisit those when time comes (and a deeper report for clients is on the way from my teammates Tom Mainelli and Linn Huang), but a number of things have caught our device team’s eye so far.

Microsoft Build was one of the events that we were most eager to see given all of the interest around Copilot and its potential to pivot the industry. Specific to devices, the big question was not just the new features that Microsoft would unveil, but also whether their existing AI models would migrate from the cloud to the device to take advantage of NPUs unlocked by suppliers like Qualcomm.

To that end, Microsoft delivered 40 local AI models via its Windows Copilot Runtime layer, not to mention Microsoft’s own 3.3 billion parameter SLM called Phi-Silica to run locally on AI PCs. Not surprisingly, creative use cases were one major focus, as seen in the impressive Cocreator drawing app. Other use cases included live captions, Auto Super Resolution upscaling, as well as Copilot even helping users to play games like Minecraft. These won’t dramatically change our outlook for 20% of PCs this year to be AI-enabled, but the demos were a plus nonetheless.

What was more provocative was the Recall for Windows 11 feature, which perhaps has the most potential for changing user behavior by providing users with a scrollbar to easily search their PC activity including web browsing, meeting notes, and productivity files for recalling later. But it needs an allocation of at least 25GB of storage for roughly three months of screenshots, which raised privacy concerns.

Of course, privacy is one of the main reasons for running an AI model locally on the device’s NPU rather than in the cloud (and that is on top of the encryption, automatic deletion, and options to exclude applications or disable the feature altogether), but fears of exposed paper trails triggered strong responses nonetheless, especially when involving screenshots. It is worth pointing out that Rewind AI, a similar third-party app with an inclination toward Apple users, captures a user’s screen too, and yet hasn’t drawn as much scrutiny, perhaps because of its lower profile.

Another important thing to watch is how developers take advantage of the hardware and software tools at their disposal, which is one of Microsoft’s objectives for its Build conference after all. Given the rocky history of Windows on ARM, it was certainly refreshing to see native apps like Photoshop, Spotify, and Amazon Prime available. More importantly, third party browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox, and Brave are now native, playing a critical role as more applications become browser-based. Legacy applications – which can be important in enterprises in particular – can still be run through the Prism emulator, which Microsoft claims to be as efficient as Apple’s Rosetta 2. Qualcomm even told gaming developers two months ago that many games will run through emulation at full speed, although some big titles like Roblox, Valorant, League of Legends, PUBG, and Fortnite, don’t run due to anti-cheat drivers at the kernel-level.

And of course, there was a big hardware reveal that the Windows ecosystem has been eagerly awaiting in light of all of the attention that Apple’s MacBooks have been gaining in recent years. An ecosystem of OEMs will be rolling out what Microsoft deems Copilot+ PCs. It’s an odd name, but the systems look promising with an NPU capable of at least 40 TOPS as well as 16 GB RAM and 256 GB of storage, with offerings starting at $999 and shipping on June 17th.

Performance benchmarks naturally are of interest, but power efficiency via the NPU is also one of the pitches, with a range of Snapdragon X Elite proof points such as 20% better battery than the latest 15″ MacBook Air and double battery life of an Intel-based Surface Laptop 5. Qualcomm’s many OEM design wins included:

  • Dell offered designs spanning its Latitude, Inspiron, and XPS, which is notable given that Dell tends to lean toward Intel for its commercial-heavy customer base. Lenovo’s Yoga Slim 7x and ThinkPad T14s Gen 6, the former of which also uses a proprietary “Lenovo AI Core” chip, which is likely the LA3 that it has used on Legion gaming laptops for power efficiency.
  • HP and Acer both offered products that featured their own AI branding, which was obvious not only in its product naming suffixes, but also with their own logos on the products themselves. Acer’s logo is even featured on the touchpad and lights up when Copilot is activated.
  • ASUS launched a product in its Vivobook line, which is targeted at creators but on a more budget-friendly level than its ProArt line with with discrete GPUs. Samsung naturally leveraged its broader ecosystem by including its Knox secure enclave to share data with Galaxy phones and bundled a free 50″ TV in some geographies.
  • Microsoft’s own Surface Pro line for 2024 included both detachable tablet and clamshell offerings, with the former offering not only an OLED option but also a wireless Flex keyboard.

Not to be outdone, Intel talked up its upcoming Lunar Lake platform, whose NPU also does 45 TOPS and thus also can power Copilot+ PCs. We are sure to hear more about Lunar Lake at Computex next month along with archrival AMD’s Strix Point. See many of you in Taipei!

Bryan Ma is Vice President of Client Devices research, covering mobile phones, tablets, PCs, AR/VR headsets, wearables, thin clients, and monitors across Asia as well as worldwide. Based in Singapore, Bryan provides insights and advisory services for both vendors and users, and coordinates his team of analysts in building IDC's core market data, analysis, and forecasts in these sectors.