Windows 11 is close to getting some smart additions for those who use a stylus, and other improvements besides, as seen in a new preview build.
This is preview build 22635.2776 (also known as KB5032292) which has been pushed out to the Beta channel, the last avenue of testing before Release Preview (the final step before new features come to the finished version of Windows 11).
The big step forward here is for Windows Ink, with the ability to write directly in some text boxes in Windows 11 coming to a lot more people. In other words, rather than typing in text for a search, for example, you can directly scribble your search terms into the box.
This ability was available for the US, but is now coming with support for a bunch of new regions – that includes English (Australia), English and French (Canada), English (India), and English (United Kingdom), plus many more (check out the blog post for the full list).
Windows Ink is being further bolstered by a greater level of accuracy for its recognition technology, as well as some new gesture controls. There are now gestures to select, join, or split words, to delete a word, and to insert a new line.
The Task Manager has also been tinkered with in this beta release, with Microsoft noting that it has improved process grouping in the panel that lists your running processes.
Also rolling out in this preview are notifications for Microsoft accounts on the home page of the Settings app. We’ve seen these in the past, and they’re prompts to remind you about the status of your account, and tasks you might want to finish off (though we should note we’ve not been keen on the way this has been handled in the Start menu).
Analysis: Supercharging that stylus
This is an important update for those who use a stylus, then, outside of the US, as a lot more territories across the globe are now being covered with support for writing directly in menus. This is an excellent time-saving feature for those using their convertible laptop as a tablet, for example, and it’s something Microsoft is set to develop more going forward.
Indeed, we’ve been told in the past that the eventual aim is that you’ll be able to use your stylus to write anywhere in Windows 11, which is a very cool concept.
Improved process grouping in Task Manager should be a useful little change, too, if you’re one of the Windows users who takes an interest in diving into this area of the interface. Task Manager can be a useful tool for troubleshooting what’s slowing down your PC, for example, if it seems to have hit a sticky patch.
We don’t know how the change will work yet, but more intelligent grouping of related processes should enable better visibility into what’s happening under the hood at any given time with your Windows 11 system.
YouTube is offering Premium subscribers the opportunity to try out a pair of new AI features on the mobile app.
The most impressive of the two, in our opinion, has to be the conversational AI which will answer questions about a video you’re watching as well as recommend other content. On “eligible videos”, you will see an Ask button below the channel name. Tapping it opens up a chat interface where you can begin talking with it. You can ask any question you want pertaining to the video or you can choose one of the preset prompts if you can't think of any. The feature can summarize the clip for you or recommend other content.
It works fine for the most part, however, keep in mind that this is an experimental state. In our time trying the conversational model out, it was able to summarize videos accurately and succinctly. Recommendations were solid, for the most part. If you look at the image below, you will see that the tool suggested a video by Vox on subtitles even though we watched content pertaining to Steve Jobs. For mistakes like this, people can tap either the thumbs up or thumbs down icon to provide feedback to YouTube's software.
The conversational AI is currently only available on the YouTube app on Android to American users aged 18 years or older. Those interested will need to act fast as it will only be available until December 15.
The second AI feature is a comment summarizer that will break down “large comment sections” on mobile into individual topics. It won’t be a widespread function as it’ll be restricted to videos in English.
To find this tool, head over to the comments of a video. You will see a Topics tab with a star icon at the top. Opening it displays a menu highlighting all of the discussions currently being held.
We looked through videos from big channels and small-time creators to see if certain types of content are more likely to get the summarizer. As it turns out, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern of any kind. It doesn’t matter how popular the channel is or if the clip has a lot of views. YouTube appears to be rolling out the tool at random. Premium subscribers on Android and iOS have until December 5 to try out the summarizer before YouTube takes it down.
There is a third experimental feature that we’ve yet to mention: Playables. This is a collection of 30 games on YouTube’s homepage that you can play at any time; no download is necessary.
You will find these on either the Home page or Explore menu on the left-hand side as its own entry. To be blunt, there aren’t any must-play titles in the collection. The library mostly consists of puzzles or easy-to-pick-up games. You have the classic solitaire, a Wordle knockoff called Hurdle, and Angry Birds just to name a few. Nothing major, but they can be a fun way to waste some time.
In addition to being on mobile, Playables are on the desktop. The games will also be available for a limited time although they will last longer than the AI tools. You have until March 28, 2024, to try out the collection before the plug is pulled.
No word on when any of this will see an official launch although we did ask YouTube for more details. This story will be updated at a later time. If you're thinking of becoming a creator, check out TechRadar's list of the best YouTube camera for 2023.
Microsoft released a new update for its web browser, Edge 119, through its Stable Channel (one of Microsoft’s release channels for new versions of Edge) on November 3.
This update introduced many new features, including SplitScreen and an improved Sidebar app. Microsoft has also snuck in an interesting quirk into the settings of the sidebar: the toggle for turning Edge's sidebar on and off has seemingly disappeared. This has caused alarm for some users as some think this means that you can’t disable (or enable it) in some cases.
Before this update, there was an “Always Show Sidebar” setting that allowed you to enable or disable the sidebar in Edge which would be found by entering edge://settings/sidebar into Edge’s address bar. Version Edge 119 moves this toggle to Copilot’s settings. Windows Copilot is Microsoft’s new AI-fuelled assistant that the company is positioning to function all throughout Windows and many Microsoft products, including Edge.
There does appear to still be a way to be able to turn the sidebar on and off by turning on the Show Copilot option. You can keep the sidebar on and choose to turn off Copilot, which should remove the Copilot icon, but doing that will hide the “Auto-hide Sidebar” option. You will not be able to toggle the sidebar as that specific setting will no longer be accessible.
Microsoft put out the following description about this sidebar toggle change, according to NeoWin:
“Always show sidebar:
This setting is not available when Copilot in Edge is off”
This could be confusing to some users, especially if they don’t want to use Copilot at the moment. You can still disable Copilot, but it seems like it disables even the ability to enable and disable the sidebar, which many users (including those who aren’t sold on Copilot yet) like using. NeoWin goes as far as to posit that moving this setting to the Copilot settings feels like Microsoft is trying to push users towards using it to grow engagement.
Regardless of where you stand on Copilot, there is still a way to turn the sidebar on or off (although, a roundabout one at that). To do this, go to:
Settings > Sidebar > Copilot > Always Show Sidebar
Google has been busy injecting AI-powered features into all of its services this year, and some of the most promising are in Google Maps. Well, this week those features – including the long-awaited Immersive View for Routes – are going to start rolling out on your Android or iOS phone, alongside some new tricks.
The biggest news is the rollout of Immersive View for Routes in 15 cities, starting this week. The feature combines Street view, aerial imagery, and live information like weather and traffic to give you an aerial, photo-realistic preview of your planned Google Maps route – so we're excited to take it for a spin soon.
Google's machine learning algorithms are also improving other parts of the Google Maps experience, including its Search function and the AR-powered 'Lens in Maps' feature, which overlays useful labels on buildings you're pointing at with your phone's camera.
In short, whether you're a lost pedestrian or an electric car driver, Google Maps is about to get even more useful. Here are the five main AI-powered updates that are coming and when they're expected to roll out.
1. Immersive View for Routes is finally rolling out
Rolling out this week on Android and iOS in 15 cities
Google Maps' Immersive View has had a frustratingly slow rollout since it was announced back in May 2022, but the feature is starting to become more widely available – and the more recent Immersive View for Routes will be rolling out on Android and iOS in 15 cities this week.
If you haven't tried it, Immersive View combines Street View, satellite, and live data to create a real-time aerial view of famous landmarks in supported cities. In May, Google announced Immersive View for Routes, which gives you the same impressive visuals for any routes that you're planning, making it much more useful.
Well, this week the feature is finally rolling out in the 15 cities Google mentioned back in May: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Florence, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Tokyo and Venice.
It isn't yet clear if this will be available for every route you plan in Google Maps in those cities, or select parts of the city. But to use it, all you'll need to do is tap the Immersive View for Routes card in the bottom-left corner of any route you have planned in the Maps app.
With simulated weather and traffic conditions (the latter being predicted based on historical data) overlaid on top of the 3D view, it should give you a good idea of whether that bike ride route is looking like a good one today.
2. Maps Search is getting more helpful
Photo-first results roll out this week in the US, UK and more
Thematic results rolls out this week globally on Android and iOS
Considering Google is still the king of search, Google Maps' search function isn't quite as powerful as it could be – but that's about to change this week.
Google says it sees millions of broader searches in Google Maps, like “animal latte art” or simply “things to do around me”, so it's bringing a couple of updates to help with those. The first is photo-first results for searches, which will come from an AI-powered analysis of billions of photos shared by Maps users.
Rather than simply showing you cafes with 'animal latte art' in their name or reviews, it'll use this image analysis to give you a list of photo-based results, too. Pick your favorite from the images and it'll give you more info and directions. This feature is rolling out this week in the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan.
The other update, rolling out globally on Android and iOS this week, will help answer those broader 'things to do' searches. Rather than a long list of results, you'll now see themes appear in Google Maps search results (like 'art exhibitions' or 'anime'), which promises to make it more like a Maps-based Time Out guide.
3. Google Maps' AR mode spreads its wings
Lens in Maps comes to over 50 new cities this week
Did you know that Maps has a built-in Google Lens feature that can label things around you using your phone's camera? This used to be called 'Search with Live View', but Google now calls it 'Lens in Maps' – and this week the feature's coming to over 50 new cities.
If you're feeling completely bamboozled in a new area, it's a handy feature – just tap the 'Lens' icon in the Google Maps search bar on Android or iOS. That opens a live camera view, so you can spin around and see what Google Maps has labeled in your immediate surroundings, like restaurants, ATMs, stations, or landmarks.
This AR-powered feature (which sounds ideal for some AR glasses, like Google's rumored Project Iris revival) is coming to dozens of new cities including Austin, Las Vegas, Rome, São Paulo, and Taipei. So look out for it on your next holiday.
4. Driving navigation will soon get clearer
improved navigation coming in “the coming months” to 12 countries
If you regularly use Google Maps as your in-car sat-nav, you'll be pleased to hear that some navigation improvements are coming down the road – well, in the “coming months” at least.
Google says these improvements will include “improved lane details” (like the below) to help you know exactly when to get off the highway, along with some more realistic buildings to help you pinpoint exactly where you are.
In the US, you'll also soon see HOV (High-occupancy vehicle lanes) on your route, while in Europe 20 new countries will soon get Google's AI-powered speed limit information.
These Maps navigation improvements for drivers will be rolling out in the “coming months” in 12 countries, including the US, Canada, France, and Germany. That timeframe can mean a wait of 3-6 months, but it's something to look out for.
Microsoft has pulled back on an upcoming upgrade to the video casting feature in Windows 11 due to reported bugs. The new feature was temporarily available to Windows Insiders, members of Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program who get to test upcoming additions, and has been dropped from the latest Windows 11 preview.
Many users will be familiar with video casting features if you use something like Chromecast, or if you go back even further back in time, you might remember using HDMI cables to connect your computer to your TV. This allows you to choose and control media on your computer (or device) and see it on your TV screen, for example, to see it better or share it with others.
The removal of the feature was discovered in an update released on October 19, known as Windows 11 Preview Build 22635.2486, via the Windows Insider Program’s Beta Channel (one of four preview channels through which Microsoft releases previews). If users choose to upgrade to this preview build, they will find that it lacks the casting experience that Microsoft is in the process of testing. The casting feature was first added to Build 22631.2129 back in August of this year, and Windows Central writes that it’s been explicitly disabled by Microsoft while it carries out fixes on bugs and improves the feature.
Windows Central goes on to quote Microsoft apparently planning to switch the casting feature back on in a future Beta Channel release.
Highlights of the new preview build
That’s the main development of note in this current update and it doesn’t introduce any major new features overall. Other notable changes include that the Xbox Game Bar now shows up just as ‘Game Bar’ in the Start menu, and system components showing up under a ‘System’ label in the Start menu. The latter should make system components easier to identify and find, and should show up as ‘System’ in the All apps display (once you open the Start menu). The Game Bar will also show up under Settings > System > Apps > Installed apps, and will apparently update via the Microsoft Store.
Some more minor fixes address crash-related issues with the Start menu being affected by language settings and taskbar glitches that were causing problems with the search function.
Windows Central writes that dropping the upgraded video casting feature is for a “good reason,” even though it temporarily reduces Windows 11’s functionality. I can see why Microsoft is taking its time to get this one right. Chromecast is an extremely popular and beloved feature in Google Chrome and Google devices that’s existed for years, so if Microsoft wants to compete, the feature has to be slick and function reasonably well. If Microsoft wants users to adopt its cast feature in the same way, it has to prove its worth.
Bloomberg’s Dave Lee broadly observed that the future of Alexa could involve a more sophisticated AI assistant, but one that device owners would need to fork out to subscribe to.
This would be an avenue of monetization, giving that the previous hope for spinning out some extra cash – having folks order more stuff online using Alexa, bolstering revenue that way – just hasn’t worked out for Amazon (not in any meaningful fashion, at least).
After Limp talked about Amazon pushing forward using generative AI to build out Alexa’s features, Lee fired out a question about whether there’ll come a time when those Alexa AI capabilities won’t be free – and are offered via a subscription instead.
Limp replied in no uncertain terms: “Yes, we absolutely think that,” noting the costs of training the AI model (properly), and then adding: “But before we would start charging customers for this – and I believe we will – it has to be remarkable.”
Analysis: Superhuman assistance?
So, there’s your weighty caveat. Limp makes it clear, in fact, that expectations would be built around the realization of a ‘superhuman’ assistant if Amazon was to charge for Alexa’s AI chops as outlined.
Limp clarifies that Alexa, as it is now, almost certainly won’t be charged for, and that the contemporary Alexa will remain free. He also suggested that Amazon has no idea of a pricing scheme yet for any future AI-powered Alexa that is super-smart.
This means the paid-for Alexa AI skills we’re talking about would be highly prized and a long way down the road for development with Amazon’s assistant. This isn’t anything that will remotely happen soon, but what it is, nonetheless, is a clear enough signal that this path of monetization is one Amazon is fully considering traveling down. Eventually.
As to exactly what timeframe we might be talking about, Limp couldn’t be drawn to commit beyond it not being “decades” or “years” away, with the latter perhaps hinting that maybe this could happen sooner than we may imagine.
We think it’ll be a difficult sell for Amazon in the nearer-term, though. Especially as plans are currently being pushed through to shove adverts into Prime Video early next year, and you’ll have to pay to avoid watching those ads. (As a subscriber to Prime, even though you’re paying for the video streaming service – and other benefits – you’ll still get adverts unless you stump up an extra fee).
If Amazon is seen to be watering down the value proposition of its services too much, or trying to force a burden of monetization in too many different ways, that’ll always run the risk of provoking a negative reaction from customers. In short, if the future of a super-sophisticated Alexa is indeed paying for AI skills, we’re betting this won’t be anytime soon – and the results better be darn impressive.
We must admit, we have trouble visualizing the latter, too, especially when as it currently stands, we can’t get Alexa to understand half the internet radio stations we want to listen to, a pretty basic duty for the assistant.
Windows Photos is getting a significant update that will introduce a selection of new features designed to improve user experience.
According to Microsoft’s official blog post about the Photos improvements, users can expect features like in-depth search, background blur, location search, and ‘Motion Photos’ – think live photos on iPhones – which will bring a little life to the currently rather drab photo software.
Background blur will surely be welcomed by Photos users who want to remove backgrounds from their photos, highlight certain subjects, or modify the area being blurred. To be honest, it may be cruel to say it, but like the majority of these updates, it’s about time. Many of the new features have already existed for a while on other platforms, most notably within Apple’s software ecosystem.
Get with the times, man
You’ll also be able to search for specific photos by the type of content within the photo. This means you can now type in things like ‘cat, car, beach, holiday’ and more, with the app attempting to identify and collate relevant images. You’ll have to log into your Microsoft account to be able to use the feature, and the blog post does warn that the enhanced search bar may not work right away.
Other features to expect include live photos and location searches, which will help you find the right picture when you’re ready to reminisce (or plan your next vacation Instagram post). If you went to the beach, you can type in either ‘beach’ or the name of the specific beach, the city you visited, or just home and school.
Microsoft seems to be on a roll recently, dishing out updates and new features across its product range, and it’s really good to see. With updates to Microsoft Edge, the continuing popularity of Bing AI, and now a Windows Photo refresh, we’re really eager to see what the company has to offer in the near future.
Despite Microsoft’s efforts, many users are stubbornly clinging on to Windows 10, rather than upgrading to Windows 11, and the upshot of that is that the company is still adding new features to the older operating system – with Windows 10 getting a new version of the Photos app.
The new version of the Photos app for Windows 10 is basically the same as the one found in Windows 11, and offers new editing capabilities and a filmstrip view that lets you view all your photos and videos in a single window.
You can also view your photos and videos in a mode called ‘multi-view’, a favorite feature of existing users of the app. Multi-view is another novel way to go through your photos and videos, allowing you to open them all within one window and easily compare them side-by-side, as detailed by Windows Latest.
What have users been saying?
However, despite all of these flashy new features, some users have complained that they prefer the old version of the Photos app for Windows 10. According to posts from both Microsoft’s Feedback Hub and the Microsoft Answers Forum, some users voiced that they’d like to see the “Clarity” and “Spot Fix” features returned to the newer Photos app.
If you’d like to add your opinion on this issue, you can go to the Feedback Hub which is designed for users to submit their feedback directly to Microsoft. You can also speak to other users about the issue on the Microsoft Answers Forum, which is Microsoft’s dedicated community support forum.
A major complaint is that this new Photos app no longer has the “clarity” options that the older version had. The “clarity” capability in the older app was similar to that of Photoshop, and one user wrote that they aren’t interested in other effects, they just want their photos to appear more clearly.
This particular feature was greatly praised because it could be used for more than just visual edits – it could also be used to clarify blurry photos to make features sharper, and if it included alphanumeric characters, easier to read.
The lasting popularity of older Windows features
Microsoft has been very keen to make Windows (and its features) more modern, but to be fair, there’s plenty it’s already gotten right. After all, there are reasons why Windows is still the most popular desktop OS around, so it shouldn’t be overly keen to jettison its older apps, especially if they remain popular.
Microsoft often makes a point of saying it’s open to feedback and encourages users to submit it, and hopefully it pays attention, because there is clear demand for some of the older Photo app’s features.
I understand why Microsoft keeps trying to push users to Windows 11 and its apps – I imagine it would like to focus its efforts on one primary OS, especially when it comes to security. That said, a lot of users really prefer Windows 10, and Microsoft needs to acknowledge why the older version remains so popular. Turning Windows 10 into Windows 11-lite won’t go down well for fans of the older OS.
Key Windows 11 features may soon be customizable as Microsoft further integrates its Windows Copilot AI assistant into the operating system.
In total, six are currently tested and they affect various aspects of Windows 11.
Next, there is an “AccessbilityTools-ai-plugin.json” that gives Copilot a way to “control accessibility [tools]. This would make it “easier for those with [a] disability to navigate through the system.” Third is “ai-plugin-WindowsSettings.json” for controlling important Windows 11 settings. Which ones exactly are not stated within the report.
Fourth is “ClockService-ai-plugin.json” to help people manage their computer’s alarm settings. Rounding out the pack are “LaunchApplication-ai-plugin.json and SmartFileActions-ai-plugin.json” for opening apps through AI commands.
Modular control hub
Windows Copilot was in limited release when it first came out back in late June 2023, and it was pretty barebones. Since then, Microsoft has been repeatedly upgrading the AI function to be more comprehensive. Earlier reports state Copilot may be able search for specific files as well as offer “store suggestions”, presumably for apps to download at the Microsoft Store.
You may read all this and think that the AI assistant may become a bloated mess, but on the contrary, it might not. Due to the fact all the .json files mentioned are plugins, Windows Copilot will most likely be a modular tool, meaning you can pick and choose particular Windows 11 features it can control. This effectively turns the AI into your personal control hub for the OS.
Upgraded AI assistants
Of course, that’s assuming the final version will release exactly as we just described. Nothing in the news story has been officially confirmed by Microsoft. Be aware there’s a chance, if small, that the company could terminate certain plugins at any time.
So far, the updates have been first-party only. Windows Latest claims the tech giant could begin offering third-party plugin support within the coming weeks. Partnered third-party companies or developers remain unknown at the time of this writing.
Generative AI models have opened a lot of possibilities for personal assistants. Gone are the days of asking simple questions to Siri or Cortana. Technological improvements have made it possible for AIs to help in our day-to-day tasks. Google, for example, is working on an AI writing tool for upcoming Chromebooks.
The homepage shows some status details along the top – the name of the PC, internet connection status, and when Windows Update last checked for updates – and a bunch of panels with various bits of info underneath.
Those panels (Microsoft calls them ‘cards’) include cloud storage details (OneDrive) – and how full it is – and a personalization panel that offers the ability to quickly change the Windows theme or color mode.
Another important card offers up recommended settings, providing access to recently used settings, or ones that you use a lot based on your past history of tweaking Windows 11.
Microsoft has also implemented panels for Xbox (with details like your Game Pass subscription, if you have one), and a card for Bluetooth devices to give you quick access to all the peripherals you might hook up wirelessly with.
The other big introduction here is a revamped backup system for restoring your Windows 11 environment to a new PC (or your existing one, should the OS somehow crash and burn irrevocably).
The Windows Backup app is on hand for beta testers to back up their PC. When restoring Windows 11, the app will pull in all your settings and customization, as well as your pins on the taskbar and Start menu, and Microsoft Store apps. (Third-party apps from elsewhere will still get their pins kept on, but you’ll be directed to download the relevant installer from the web when you first fire them up).
Elsewhere in build 22631, there’s been a change to Dynamic Lighting whereby the Windows 11 accent color can be synced with your RGB peripherals, a neat little touch.
As expected, there are a bunch of bug fixes and other minor features, all of which are summarized in Microsoft’s blog post about the preview build.
Analysis: Time is of the essence
The theme here is timesaving. The new Settings homepage lets you easily adjust customization elements, and change commonly used settings in a single click, all in one place (rather than having to hunt in different Settings submenus, and let’s face it, these can be a bit of a maze to navigate at times, perhaps requiring Googling to find things).
Another major timesaver is the ability to have all your bits and pieces where you left them when restoring your PC from the Backup app. Having to redo all your customization and pinned elements is a real drag – a potentially lengthy process, and you may even forget stuff – so this is very helpful.
With these features progressing to the Beta channel, they’re coming close to arrival now. The next step is the Release Preview channel, and from there, it’s a short hop to what’ll surely be inclusion in the Windows 11 23H2 update due later this year.