The excitable Apple gossip ecosystem is buzzing about rumors that Apple will announce plans for an Arm-based Mac computer on Monday at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Why would Apple move off the Intel chips it’s used for 14 years? Because it wants more flexibility and control — and to increase responsiveness, performance, and power management. Apple can build on the highly efficient A-series of processors it’s engineered for the iPhone and iPad and take advantage of the shared underpinnings of macOS and iOS. But is this news interesting to anyone other than Mac users?

Qualcomm And Now Intel Have Already Delivered New Types Of PC Processors

It turns out that Apple will be joining a trend that’s been underway for a few years. Arm, the British silicon chip designer, offers increasingly powerful processor designs for smartphones. In 2018, Qualcomm began selling an Arm-based chipset, the Snapdragon 8cx, for use in PCs. ASUS, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung all offer models with it. Most notably, Microsoft launched the Surface Pro X, using an SQ1 processor based on the Snapdragon 8cx, as a lightweight, always-on version of its Surface laptops. But partial software compatibility on Arm has limited adoption of these new PCs.

It isn’t easy to get software makers to convert to a new type of processor. Why go to all that work? Apple, Microsoft, and Qualcomm aim to create a new type of PC: a highly responsive, always-on, all-day, and always-connected experience that brings smartphone sensibilities to PCs. And Intel has struggled with improvements to both its Core processors for PCs and the next generations of silicon manufacturing. Intel finally responded this month with new processors — that include Intel Hybrid Technology — combining low-power and high-power x86 cores to offer more flexible power efficiencies and performance.

Computer Makers Are Reimagining PCs To Create Ambient Experiences

This trend is more than a drive to increase battery life. PC makers aim to upgrade the PC experience to match and work better with the mobile-centric digital experience using ambient technologies. These enable personal devices to collect and know much more about the environment around a user and combine it with the digital context from our work and personal lives. I call them ambient experiences. Imagine a laptop that knows when you are present, and if you’re paying attention, and adjusts accordingly to lock, unlock, or dial down battery use — or a laptop that is always listening and watching in order to respond with Siri or Google Assistant suggestions for your situation. And it works with your smart earbuds, connected tools, and your digital accounts to organize things seamlessly in the moment. Intel’s Project Athena lays out some of this vision. Apple is about to contribute more ideas to this trend of ambient PCs.

What research would you like to see on ambient experiences?

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