This is a pivotal period for Microsoft and their attempts to make artificial intelligence (AI) a bedrock for millions of Windows PCs as well as the wide range of apps and services, often subscription based. No surprise then that Yusuf Mehdi, executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer at Microsoft, is calling this “the year of the AI PC”. It is not something one would realise immediately, but the tech giant has a major AI functionality specific Windows update lined up for later in 2024. A harbinger of what’s incoming? Windows PCs will now require a Copilot key, for the generative AI assistant that’s increasingly finding space and utility in Windows 11.
In all likelihood, it’ll replace the Windows icon key you may have noticed in all these years on keyboards for Windows PCs. Noticed, but perhaps not actively thought of, more so because it became a habit. Why is the Copilot physical key important? “Nearly 30 years ago, we introduced the Windows key (this worked as quick access to the menu) to the PC keyboard that enabled people all over the world to interact with the operating system. We see this as another transformative moment in our journey with Windows where Copilot will be the entry point into the world of AI on the PC,” illustrates Mehdi.
That said, Microsoft hasn’t yet detailed the exact functionality of the Copilot key, whether it can be used in combination with other keys for shortcuts or exactly which PC makers will usher in this change on laptops, desktops, convertibles and all-on ones. The latter, we’ll likely know starting with announcements next week, at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
There is little doubt Microsoft has grand plans for Copilot, which only rolled out to enterprise customers in the latter half of 2023. That plan includes their range of apps, including the Microsoft 365 subscription that hosts Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams. The AI assistant can write first drafts. Summarise long emails in Outlook and meetings in Teams, analyse spreadsheets in Excel and create presentations in PowerPoint based on your inputs.
Hardware and chips powering the next generation of Windows computing devices, will provide the foundation for Microsoft’s AI vision. The company knows that all too well. “We’re also seeing incredible momentum from our silicon partners AMD, Intel and Qualcomm, all of whom have introduced their latest silicon innovations to the world that unlock new AI experiences on the Windows PC. Together, we’re putting new system architectures in place to power new Windows AI experiences bringing together the GPU, CPU, NPU and the cloud,” says Mehdi.
Consumers’ first tryst with Copilot enables integration of the chatbot in the Windows 11 taskbar. Broader AI integration, apart from the Copilot functionality that enterprises already have access to, includes AI within File Explorer and Start, a more powerful Paint app, and Edge which the company calls “an AI-powered browser” – that’s another layer of rebranding for apps within the Windows and Copilot ecosystem.
The company’s Bing AI chatbot, with OpenAI’s GPT large language model as its underlier, has been rebranded to Copilot to widen the scope of functionality and utility across devices beyond Windows PCs too. An illustration of that is the Copilot app, now available for millions of Android phones and the Apple iPhone as well as iPad, with functionality including an AI chatbot, drafting emails, summarising chunks of text and a text to image generator.
Later in the year, Microsoft intends to release what can be safely classified as the biggest Windows update for the year, tentatively code-named “Hudson Valley”. One of the big features is expected to be natural language in search – even if you don’t specifically remember the file name or document you’re searching for, a broader search command which may include the sender’s name or app it was sent on or when, can likely generate a successful search result.