Microsoft’s lock screen cards for Windows 11 are about to arrive – and a much-needed addition will follow

Microsoft recently tested a new feature for the lock screen in the form of info cards in both Windows 11 and Windows 10, which are now imminent, but this functionality is missing an important piece of the puzzle – something the software giant is going to remedy, thankfully.

The widget-style lock screen cards give you a snapshot of the current weather, or stocks (finance), local traffic, and so on, but the problem was you could either switch them all on, or all off – with no fine-tuned control.

So, if you wanted weather and sports scores, but not traffic updates and stocks, you were stuck with the latter two.

However, according to a report from Windows Latest, Microsoft has told the tech site that you’ll be able to customize which cards appear on the lock screen in the future. However, no timeframe was mentioned for when this might happen.

Analysis: Get on with it (please)

Do this already, Microsoft. We made the observation before that it seemed pretty odd to introduce lock screen cards as an all-or-nothing affair, because many folks won’t want a load of these – and will regard that as clutter – but might be happy with one or two tucked away on the lock screen.

So, this was an obvious – and very necessary – move in our books. And hopefully, it won’t take long to usher in this change, as we can’t see that it’ll be all that complex to implement a choice here. Maybe the feature will arrive with the 24H2 update, at the latest we’d hope.

Meantime, all Windows 11 users will get the new lock screen cards later today in the cumulative update for April, or they almost certainly will, unless Microsoft delays the rollout if any problems were encountered in the March preview update (we haven’t heard about any issues in testing). And the same is presumably true for the Windows 10 update also coming today.

Speaking of the Windows 10 incarnation of these lock screen cards, something else we’d like to see is Microsoft working on the layout and presentation here, so it looks neater like the Windows 11 design. The reality may be that Windows 10 is not that high a priority any longer, though (when you consider that for a time, Microsoft froze all feature development on the older OS, before having a rethink).

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Windows 11 is forcing users to upgrade Mail app to new Outlook client which comes with a nasty addition – adverts

Windows 11 and Windows 10 users are being forced to upgrade to a new version of Microsoft’s built-in email app, with the Mail app becoming Outlook.

Windows Latest highlighted the situation whereby this happened to the tech site – and when we opened Mail, it was the same deal for us (albeit the upgrade process happened in a different way – we’ll come back to that shortly).

As Windows Latest explains, when opening the Mail app, they were informed by a pop-up that the Mail and Calendar apps are changing to be replaced by a new unified Outlook app. (We’ve previously been told about those old apps going out of support before 2024 comes to a close).

This new Outlook web app replaces both of those clients, and before they knew it, Windows Latest was looking at the new app rather than the old Mail client. The all-in-one replacement has a fair few changes from the Mail app, as we’ve explored before.

Now, this isn’t an irreversible change, though – not yet, because there is a slider top-left of the app window which says ‘New Outlook’ and if you switch it off, you’ll be sent back to the old Mail app.

That said, when doing this, Microsoft warns you that while you can switch back now, you will be returned to the new Outlook in the future. So that forced upgrade is coming soon, and it will be irreversible.

Analysis: Gloomy Outlook – cloudy with a chance of ads

We hadn’t opened the Mail app for some time, so upon reading Windows Latest’s tale, we tried it – and indeed we got a small message: “A newer version of Outlook is required to continue. Outlook will now check for updates.”

Our Mail client was then automatically upgraded to the new web Outlook, just as with Windows Latest. We weren’t treated to the fancier (graphical) pop-ups the tech site experienced though – we just got a simple text-based dialog box. (Possibly because the PC we were on is still running Windows 10)

So, it seems this is a wide rollout of the forced upgrade, albeit it as noted, a change that can be temporarily rescinded – although later this year, you will be transferred to the new Outlook email app, whether you want it, or not.

Why aren’t people keen on the new email client? Well, it’s a whole different layout, and change can take some getting used to, as always. Others seem to be complaining that it diverts important messages away from the main inbox (’Focused’ pane) too readily. However, the biggest stumbling block for many is that the new Outlook has adverts, apparently, although those with a Microsoft 365 subscription don’t see them (we have the latter, so weren’t bothered by adverts).

Certainly, adverts is a nasty sting in the tail, but you may just have to get used to them if you’re not an Office (sorry, Microsoft 365) subscriber. Microsoft’s constantly experimenting with using more ads or promotional tactics in Windows 11 (and 10) sadly, and increasingly it seems that’s something we’ll have to live with.

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Google Bard AI’s addition to Messages could change the way we text forever

Google’s experimental AI chatbot Bard may be coming to the Google Messages app in the near future – and it promises to bring some major upgrades to your phone-based chats. 

Tipster Assembler Debug uncovered the feature in the beta code of the Google Messages app. The AI-enhanced features are not yet available, and Assembler Debug states that it doesn’t seem to work. However, according to leaked images, you can use Bard to help you write text messages, as well as arrange a date and craft a message calling in sick to your boss, alongside other difficult conversations. 

Bard in Google Messages could also help to translate conversations and identify images, as well as explore interests. The code suggests it could provide book recommendations and recipe ideas, too.

According to the examination of its code, the app is believed to use your location data and past chat information to help generate accurate replies. However, you can provide feedback to Bard's response with a thumbs up or down by long pressing, as well as copy, forward, and favorite its answers, thus helping the AI learn if its reply was appropriate. 

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The project codename “Penpal” was noted in a beta version (20240111_04_RC00) of the Google Messages app. According to 9to5Google’s insights of the beta code, Bard can be accessed by selecting the “New conversation” option, allowing you to select Bard as a stand-alone chat option.

You must be eighteen-years-old to use it and conversations with Bard in the Messages app are not end-to-end encrypted or treated as private, unlike messages exchanged with your contacts. So you might want to avoid sending personal or sensitive messages through the app when Bard is enabled. 

Google states that chat histories are kept for eighteen months to help enhance Bard and could be reviewed by a human, but no information is associated with your account beyond three years. Google recommends not to say anything to Bard you wouldn't want others to see. Conversations with Bard could be reviewed by Google but are not accessible to other users. However, you can delete your chat history with Bard anytime, which will take 72 hours to remove the data.

Echoes of Allo

Bard AI's inclusion into the Messages app seems slightly reminiscent of the past project Google Allo, which incorporated the Google Assistant in both stand-alone requests and chats. This service was shut down in 2019 but it could live on in some way through this Bard integration.

When asked directly Bard said: “While I can't say for certain right now, there are strong indications that I might become available with Google RCS messages in the future.” 

Bard then went on to say that integration with Google Messages was being tested in March 2023 and the functionality aligns with Bard's capabilities to process language, generate text, and answer questions, as well as summarize information making it a natural fit for enhancing messages. 

The integration of AI into messaging apps reflects many companies' eagerness to infuse AI technologies into their upcoming smartphones, with Samsung’s Galaxy AI features being a recent example. Google, however, is no stranger to AI tools in its phones with features like Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, or Live Translate all being staples of Pixel devices.

The implications of AI being added to messages are also intriguing, meaning you may never know if that thoughtful reply or fantastic date idea was thought up by a human or their AI assistant.

Although Bard’s inclusion in Google's messaging app isn’t yet available and no release date has been announced, Google could decide to not continue with the project. Google could go the Samsung route and make its functionality a subscription-based feature. However, all of this is speculation right now and we’ll have to wait to see exactly how much Bard will change the Messages app in the future.  

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