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article imageMicrosoft planning Cortana overhaul with new 'conversational' UI

By James Walker     Jun 12, 2017 in Technology
Microsoft is reportedly testing a new Windows 10 Cortana interface that is more "conversational," akin to Google Assistant. Cortana is also moving from the taskbar, near the Start button, to the system tray, next to the Action Center icon.
Microsoft is said to be making the changes in a bid to make Cortana more of a digital assistant than a pure search tool. In its current form on Windows 10, most people only use Cortana to find files on their PC and information on the web. This comes from the feature being positioned as a search bar on the taskbar.
According to a new report from Thurrott.com, Microsoft is planning major changes. The company intends to move Cortana's button to the system tray, the assistant's original home. Before Windows 10's public unveiling, internal prototypes featured Cortana in this location. The button was moved next to the Start menu to improve discovery and encourage adoption.
This has posed a problem for Microsoft though. As many Windows users only employ Cortana's search functions, always available from the Start menu, it's common for Cortana's icon to be removed entirely. This saves space on the taskbar for pinned app icons.
Microsoft's new implementation will attempt to address these issues. By putting Cortana back in the system tray, Microsoft will seek to convince users to try out its assistant features. These will be expanded to enable true conversations, adding in a chat thread UI that's similar to Google Assistant. Whether this will solve the user engagement issues remains to be seen but users who aren't a fan of the taskbar button should be pleased.
The new interface will open on the right side of the screen, presumably within a flyout pane that's similar to Action Center. It will support "smart reply" suggestions that prompt you to continue the discussion with a selection of supported responses. This provides another motive for the button move as the notion of having a conversation doesn't align with Cortana's current role as the search bar.
The news suggests that Microsoft is preparing to make Cortana a more important component of the Windows experience. At present, Cortana's role is exceedingly limited in practice. While users can say or type questions and get a response, doing so is no quicker on a desktop device than opening a web browser or using the search bar directly. By adding conversations, Cortana could replace the browser for quick queries by letting you ask follow-up questions without having to start from scratch again.
There's no word yet on when or even if the new UI will be launched publicly. Thurrott's report has been independently corroborated by Windows Central though, implying the project is real and a significant effort within Microsoft. Both sources have stated that development is still in the early stages, making any release a long time off. As with any radical changes to the core Windows UI, the plans could change dramatically or be scrapped entirely before anything is announced publicly.
More about Microsoft, Windows, windows 10, cortana, digital assistant
 
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