Windows 11 gets a useful addition to the Start menu for a change –and some other nifty tweaks

Windows 11 just got some useful new tweaks for the Start menu, albeit they are still in testing for the moment.

These came as part of the preview build (version 22635) that was released in the Beta channel late last week, which Microsoft added to over the weekend.

There are two main tweaks here for the Windows 11 interface, both of which apply to the Start menu and bolster it with useful functionality.

First off, Microsoft has added jump lists for apps which support them, meaning that when you right click on such an app in the Start menu, you’ll see a list of context-sensitive actions that you might want to take.

Think of these as handy shortcuts, so as in Microsoft’s example in its blog post for the preview, when you right click on the PowerPoint app, you’ll see options to immediately open files that you recently worked with in the program. Or for the Snipping Tool, you’ll be presented with options to immediately take a screenshot (or a delayed grab).

The second tweak Microsoft has made for Windows 11 testers, the one more recently added to this preview build, is the ability to drag and drop apps in the Start menu directly to the taskbar, or the desktop, in order to pin them.

Away from the Start menu, as regular leaker Albacore shared on X (hat tip to Windows Latest), there’s also been a change for the taskbar, although this isn’t in the Beta channel, but the Canary channel, an earlier testing avenue.

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As noted, there’s a setting that turns off the notifications bell on the taskbar, giving you a bit more space, and a lack of nagging, if you’re not a fan of that feature. Right now, it doesn’t work though – and as ever with anything in this earliest testing channel, it might not make the cut for inclusion in Windows 11.


Analysis: Better late than never

There are some small but useful changes here, and hopefully with the Start menu tweaks, we should see these coming through soon enough (possibly in the Windows 11 24H2 update, which is rumored to be set for launch in September 2024).

Mind you, the change for dragging and dropping an app from the Start menu to the desktop (or taskbar) should really have been in Windows 11 in the first place. This is another example of a seemingly basic piece of interface functionality that was left out of Microsoft’s newest OS for no apparent reason – drag and drop in the File Explorer address bar is another example of this.

These represent odd decisions by Microsoft which are constraining in terms of the interface and your workflow when you come over from Windows 10 (where these abilities are available). At any rate, at least these pieces of the interface puzzle are now in place, if only in testing right now.

Via Windows Latest [1, 2]

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MacOS Sequoia’s wildest update – iPhone mirroring – might be more useful than you think

When Apple introduced macOS Sequoia and its new iPhone Mirroring capability, I didn't get it. Now, though, after seeing it in action and considering some non-obvious use cases, I may be ready to reconsider.

Apple unveiled the latest AI-infused version of macOS during its WWDC 2024 keynote, which also saw major updates to iOS, iPadOS, visionOS, tvOS, and watchOS. It also served as the launch platform for Apple Intelligence, an Apple-built and branded version of artificial intelligence. I get that Apple's been building AI PCs for a while (ever since the M1 chip, they've included an on-board neural engine), and there are many features, including a better Siri, powerful photo editing features, and smart writing help, to look forward to but I found myself fixating elsewhere.

Apple was putting the iPhone on your Mac, or, rather, an iPhone screen floating in the middle of the lovely macOS Sequoia desktop. In a way, this is the most significant redesign of the new platform. It puts an entirely different OS – a mobile one, no less – on top of a laptop or desktop. 

Wow. And also, why?

I admit that I had a hard time conceiving what utility you could gain from having a second, live interface on an already busy desktop. Apple has said in the past that they build features, in some cases, based on user requests. Who had ever asked for this?

After the keynote, I had the chance to take a deeper dive, which helped me better understand this seemingly unholy marriage and why, in some cases, it might make perfect sense.

Making it so

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Apple built a new app to connect your iOS 18-running iPhone to your macOS Sequoia Mac. In a demo I saw, it took one click to make it happen. Behind the scenes, the two systems are building a secure Bluetooth and WiFi connection. On the iPhone, there is a message that mirroring is live. On the Mac, well, there's the iPhone screen, complete with the dynamic Island cutout (a strange choice if you ask me – why virtualize dead space?).

I was honestly shocked at the level of iPhone functionality Apple could bring to the Mac desktop.

You can use the Mac trackpad to swipe through iPhone apps.

You can click to launch apps and run them inside the iPhone screen on your Mac desktop.

Pinch and zoom on the Mac trackpad works as expected with the iPhone apps.

There's even full drag-and-drop capability between the two interfaces. So you could take a video from the Go Pro app on your mirrored iPhone screen and drag and drop it into another app, like Final Cut Pro on the Mac.

Essentially, you are reaching through one big screen to get to another smaller one – on a different platform – that is sitting locked beside your desktop. It's stange and cool, but is it necessary?

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Not everything makes sense. You can search through your mirrored phone screen, but why not just search on your desktop?

You can use the mirrored iPhone screen in landscape mode and play games. However, there's no obvious way to tell someone trying to play a game that uses the iPhone gyroscope that this is a bad idea.

I like that there's enough awareness that while the iPhone screen can look exactly like the screen on the phone, you can click to access a slightly larger frame that allows you to control the mirrored screen.

It's not the kind of mirroring that locks you in. To end it, you just pick up and unlock the phone to end the connection.

Even seeing all this, though, I wondered how people might use iPhone Mirroring.

Even seeing all this, though, I wondered how people might use iPhone Mirroring. There's the opportunity to play some games that aren't available on Mac. Multi-player word game fans might like that if they get a notification, they can open the mirrored phone screen, make a move, and then return to work.

When macOS Sequoia ships later this fall, you'll even be able to resize the mirrored iPhone window, which I guess could be useful for landscape games.

Notifications from your phone sounds redundant, especially for those of us in the iCloud ecosystem where all our Apple products get the same iMessages. But the system is smart enough to know it shouldn't repeat notifications on both screens, and you'll have the option to decide which iPhone notifications appear on your Mac.

Some notifications only appear on your iPhone, and others appear in both places, but you can't always act on them on the Mac.  This new feature might bridge that gap. A fellow journalist mentioned that iPhone mirroring would finally give him a way to jump from a notification he saw on his Mac for his baby cam app, where this is no cam app, to the live feed on the iPhone. This finally struck me as truly useful.

Is that enough of a reason to have your iPhone screen pasted on your Mac desktop? I don't know.  It might take up too much real estate on my MacBook Air 13-inch, but it would be kind of cool on a 27-inch iMac, if I had one.

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Meta Quest headsets are losing one of their most useful features

If you're using a Meta-made virtual reality headset such as the Meta Quest 3, you might have noticed a disappointing development in the past few days: it seems that the ability to directly send the VR action you're immersed in to a big screen via a Chromecast has been removed.

As reported by Android Central and noted on multiple Reddit threads, the v60 software update for Meta Quest headsets takes away the option to beam the gameplay to a Chromecast dongle connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

While Meta hasn't come out and said anything about this publicly, it has updated the official documentation for its headsets: “Chromecast is not fully supported with Meta Quest” the documentation now reads.

The updated advice is to cast the VR feed from your headset to the Meta Quest app for Android or iOS, and from there to a Chromecast. You can also cast whatever's happening in VR to a computer, through the Meta Quest website.

What's going on?

If you're playing games in VR then of course you don't need to see the action on a TV set – but if you're playing with friends and family then it's really useful to be able to share what's happening on a different display that everyone can see.

Without any official comment from Meta (or indeed Google), we can only speculate about why the feature has been removed. It's possible that the functionality isn't reliable enough, or that Meta wants to funnel people through its own apps.

Even stranger, it seems that secondary accounts on these Meta headsets can still send gameplay directly to a Chromecast, while primary accounts can't, which suggests there's no technical reason for the feature being withdrawn.

If Meta decides to come out and say why it's taken away the ability to connect directly to a Chromecast, we'll let you know. In the meantime, it's now a little bit harder to share your VR gameplay on a connected television set.

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Microsoft Store update brings a useful way to more easily find Windows 11 apps and games you’ll enjoy

Windows 11 users are getting a rejig for the Microsoft Store to make it easier to find apps or games that might be relevant or interesting.

As posted on X (formerly Twitter) by Rudy Huyn, Principal Architect for the Microsoft Store, there’s a holiday update inbound for testers.

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This means that the store will no longer show apps and games installed on your device – or at least, it won’t show nearly as many – and will instead favor new apps and games that you might enjoy based on your past download history.

Hopefully, this adjustment won’t take long to arrive with a broader rollout to Windows 11 users who aren’t testers.

Note that the Microsoft Store did already show apps you might want to grab, it’s just that the balance has shifted more towards displaying these, rather than installed software.


Analysis: Another (small) step forward

This is another useful move for the Microsoft Store, as it’s not much help to show the user what they’ve already got installed on their PC. While we’re not keen on Microsoft’s ‘suggestions’ throughout Windows, in the case of an app store, recommendations can be more useful to glance at than a list of what you already know about.

That said, this change alone is obviously not going to do much in terms of persuading folks to use the Microsoft Store if they don’t bother with it. The move is hardly a major selling point in itself.

Still, Microsoft has been doing a lot of work on the store of late, and those improvements are building momentum. The store now loads up way faster, and we’ve seen meatier chunks of work, too. Most notably the introduction of AI (it’s getting everywhere) in the form of a dedicated hub for AI software – and also AI-generated review summaries.

The latter could be pretty handy indeed, as wading through a bunch of reviews isn’t much fun, so it’s a useful task where AI can do the proverbial grunt work.

Via Windows Central

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The latest Meta Quest 3 update brings 4 useful upgrades, and takes away a feature

‘Tis season for a Meta Quest update, with new features, and even a performance boost, coming to your Oculus Quest 2, Meta Quest 3, and Meta Quest Pro VR headsets via update v60. Unfortunately, the update also means the removal of a feature – so long, phone notifications.

Per the announcement on Meta's blog, which change is the most impactful is a toss-up depending on which headset you own. For Meta Quest Pro users it’s likely going to be the mixed-reality performance boost that’s coming exclusively to your headset. Meta is enabling higher clock speeds for the Pro’s CPU and GPU that it says will result in a 34% and 19% increase in performance for these components respectively.

This boost won’t improve the passthrough video quality, just the rendering and responsiveness of the virtual objects in your MR space though – so it might not be enough to convince you to try more MR apps if you haven't already. 

If you don’t own a Quest Pro, the best upgrade coming in v60 is to the number of rooms your Quest device can remember. If you opt in to share your point cloud data, your VR headset will gain the ability to store information for more than one play space at a time – meaning you should be able to move your play space between rooms more easily, without having to redraw the boundaries every time.

Hamish interacting with objects in VR while wearing a Meta Quest 3. They stand in front of a plant while someone watches on.

You can now enjoy your Quest 3 in multiple rooms more easily (Image credit: Meta)

As we mentioned above, however, users are losing access to one feature – phone notifications will no longer show on your headset.

It’s not clear exactly why this tool is being taken away – our guess is that it has something to do with the feature not being popular enough – but those who do rely on it will notice a downgrade. You’ll now need to remove your headset every time you want to check why your phone has pinged, unless you have a Meta Quest 3; as we noted in our Meta Quest 3 review, this headset’s mixed-reality passthrough is a major leap forward, and it’s good enough for you to be able to make out what’s on a real-world screen. 

A new Horizon (Home)

A few other changes coming in v60 include new Meta Horizon Home environments – the Blue Hill Gold Mine, Storybook, and Lakeside Peak (which you can see in the GIF below). These visually distinct spaces will not only give you a nice space to load into when you boot up your headset, but a more personalized space that you can invite your VR friends to, to hang out and watch Meta Quest TV content together before jumping into a multiplayer experience.

The scene shifts between a pristine storybook world, a wild west saloon at night time, and a stunning mountain view

(Image credit: Meta)

Your profile is also getting a power-up. Now, unless you keep the info private by changing your account preferences, people who look at your profile can see more details about your shared VR interests, including the apps you both use and your mutual friends.

Neither is super-impactful right now, but as the metaverse becomes more social these sorts of minor tweaks will help to make the experience a lot more seamless, so they're certainly appreciated.

As with previous updates, v60 is gradually rolling out now, so if you don’t see the new features yet don’t panic – you shouldn’t have long to wait until the update installs and they unlock.

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Windows 11 gets a bunch of small but useful changes – including something nifty for Notepad

Microsoft has pushed out a new preview build for Windows 11, and made some useful changes in the earliest development channel – plus the company has applied some nifty tweaks for default apps in testing, too.

Let’s start with the freshly deployed preview build 25941 in the Canary channel, which introduces a toggle to turn on dynamic refresh rate (in Advanced Display settings). This allows Windows 11 to adjust the refresh rate of the screen on-the-fly, so when you don’t need to be running at the display’s maximum refresh, it can be toned down, thus saving a bit of power with your high refresh rate display.

Another related tweak is that when choosing a refresh rate, Windows 11 will now mark rates (with an asterisk) that can’t currently be selected due to the resolution you’re running at (but could be used at a different resolution).

Build 25941 also has a raft of bug fixes as detailed in Microsoft’s blog post introducing this new preview version.

Elsewhere in testing, Microsoft has rolled out updates for the Snipping Tool and Notepad apps in Windows 11 (for Canary and also Dev channel testers).

With the Snipping Tool, users now get the benefit of a ‘combined capture bar,’ a panel that easily allows you to switch between capturing screenshots and video clips. And with those videos, screen recording has been bolstered so you can record the PC audio and a voiceover using a microphone should you wish.

As for Notepad, this is getting an auto-save feature. Anything you write will be saved, and sessions will be saved when you close Notepad, coming back up when you next start the app.


Analysis: Small tweaks with bigger results

Dynamic refresh rate is a neat feature to see arrive in Canary (it was previously in Dev channel, too), and hopefully this will be inbound for beta builds before too long, and shuffling its way through to the release version of Windows 11.

It’s going to be of considerable benefit to laptop owners, as the energy savings to be made by lowering the refresh rate (where possible – such as when you have a screenful of text you’re reading, which really doesn’t require any smoothness) will add up to longer battery life when out and about.

As for the beefed-up Snipping Tool, that’s a more streamlined experience, and the support for voiceovers will doubtless be welcomed by those knocking up, say, a quick help video on how to do something on the Windows 11 desktop.

It’s certainly useful to give Notepad auto-save – it’s a favorite app for some folks – for obvious reasons (and there’s the ability to switch it off, if you don’t want it). What’s also cool about this is that you don’t have to engage with any dialog boxes (such as confirming ‘Do you want to save?’). Notepad just keeps the content saved without prompting you when you close the app, bringing the text back when it’s reopened.

Via Neowin

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Microsoft’s ChatGPT-powered Bing AI just got a really useful new feature

Microsoft is in the process of adding a new feature to its Bing chatbot that will considerably increase the utility value of the AI, namely image recognition.

Bing Vision is being tested with a small number of chatbot users at present, as Neowin reports, and it lets those folks upload an image for a query. In other words, instead of typing text, you can sling the AI a picture, and it’ll identify it and provide information on the image.

Neowin flags up some of the people on Twitter who’ve got to play with Bing Vision, and their results include the chatbot identifying an Egyptian temple from a photo, which is a good example of how you might be able to use the facility.

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In another instance, a scan of a maths equation was fed to the chatbot which correctly identified it as the ‘Schrodinger equation’, and there’s a further example where a humorous cartoon is analyzed and explained by the AI.

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to get Bing AI to flex its image recognition muscles, that’s because only a niche set of users are getting the feature right now, as mentioned at the outset. We’re told by Microsoft’s head of advertising and web services, Mikhail Parakhin, that it’s currently just over 10% of the user base.


Analysis: Bing Vision is coming to everyone soon

You’re pretty lucky if you’ve got this image recognition system enabled, then, as not many folks have at this point. Do note that it is only available on desktop PCs, by the way, as Bing Vision isn’t yet being offered on mobile devices.

Clearly, this is a useful extra string to the bow of the AI that can help in all sorts of potential ways for image-based queries, as we can see from those who’ve already tried it out on Twitter.

See a picture of a beautiful beach, lake, mountain, or town, and wonder where it is? Chuck that image at Bing and it should hopefully be able to tell you not just the location, but further details, say, on how you might plan a trip there.

The feature should be much more broadly rolled out in a few weeks, Parakhin tells us, and that will include mobile users too – in fact, it should arrive for everyone by then. Good stuff.

Microsoft is working at a pretty fast pace to expand the capabilities of Bing AI, which isn’t surprising given that AI is the talk of the town right now. Microsoft just ushered in voice input for desktop PCs (previously this was mobile-only), as well as improving this feature for mobiles (and adding an iOS widget for Bing Chat, to boot).

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Leaks suggest iOS 17 could make your iPhone way more useful in the home

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2023 event is happening soon (June 5, 2023) and like clockwork, the leaks are popping up. The rumors this time suggest iOS 17 will have a new lock screen that will turn your iPhone into a sort of smart display.

What gives this rumor more credence than others is the fact it comes from notable industry insider Mark Gurman from Bloomberg. He claims in a recent report that Apple is looking for a way to “make iPhones more useful when they’re [sitting] on a person’s desk or nightstand.” The tech is reportedly based on the customizable lock screen from iOS 16 which allows “users “to see small snippets of information”. 

Beyond that, not much else is known. Gurman’s anonymous sources state the iOS 17 features function similar to Amazon’s Echo Show displays and it’ll utilize a “dark background with bright text” similar to the Apple Watch's Nightstand Mode.

Smart home expansion

It's been known for a while now the company has been working on growing the smart home side of its business. All the way back in January of this year, rumors were floating around stating the tech giant is planning to launch a low-end iPad as the company’s first official smart home controller. Gurman’s report states it’s been “designed to control things like thermostats” and house lights, as well as “show video”.

It's hard to say whether or not Apple wants the iPhone to play a bigger role in its smart home plans. Sure, a smart display is useful for displaying basic information, but there has to be more to it than that. And we can't help but wonder how this will affect the Matter standard

The protocol is in dire need of some support, after all. Matter 1.1 recently launched, and what was supposed to be a major upgrade, but without more device-type support, it's a little underwhelming. Looking at Gurman’s leaks, there isn’t a single word about Matter, which is rather concerning.

Either way, mum's the word for now.  Gurman states that “an Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on [the company's] plans for iOS 17.”

A peek at the future

As for the rest of the report, it mostly consists of previously seen leaks like watchOS 10 getting widgets as part of a major revamp and the world premiere of the company’s VR headset. Some of the more interesting tidbits, however, include “significant changes to the iPhone’s Wallet app” plus an AirPlay upgrade “to make it easier for users to beam [content] to devices they don’t own.” Apparently, Apple spoke to some hotels “that offer TVs and speakers” to make the latter possible.

Be sure to stay tuned for our coverage of WWDC 2023. We do expect to see the official reveal of iOS 17.

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Microsoft could cut one of Windows 11’s most useful features to save your PC

An early version of what is likely to end up being a major Windows 11 update has been rolling out to people signed up to test it out, and it looks like Microsoft is making a rather large change to one of the most useful features: Alt + Tab.

As Neowin reports, it looks like Microsoft will limit the amount of recent windows that you can scroll through when pressing the Alt + Tab keys on the keyboard.

A twitter user known as Xeno has been digging into the latest version, and noticed that in the ‘Multitasking’ settings of Windows 11, the limit of tabs you can quickly switch to (with each ‘tab’ representing an open application) has been reduced from an unlimited maximum to 20.

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While I’m not a big fan of Microsoft removing features and functionality from Windows 11, in this case, it might be a good move.

RAMifications

Alt + Tab is one of the oldest features of Windows, and one of its most useful. By holding down the Alt key, and then tapping the Tab key, you can quickly switch between open programs. This can be a lot faster than trying to find the open app on your desktop or taskbar, especially when using devices with smaller screens, such as laptops.

Alt + Tab lets you switch between full screen apps as well, such as games, rather than having to close them down, and it has been a life-saver for many people when an app or game becomes unresponsive, as you can Alt + Tab out of it and close it, rather than having to restart your entire PC and potentially lose any unsaved work.

Limiting the usefulness of this feature would certainly be worrying, but as Xeno points out in another tweet, 20 is still a big number of open apps. If you have huge amounts of apps all running in the background, your PC will start performing slowly – and trying to find the app or window you need quickly can also become a nightmare.

Because Alt + Tab allows you to instantly switch to apps and start using them, Windows 11 needs to keep them running in your PC’s memory (RAM), so having 20 or more will be a severe drain on resources, slowing down your computer and even potentially making it crash.

It seems to reduce the likelihood of these crashes, Microsoft has implemented the limit, and in this case, it’s probably the right thing to do. I’m terrible for closing apps once I’ve used them, but even I have never had more than 20 open at once to wade through. For extreme power users who often have lots of apps going at once, and have the best RAM to handle it, Windows 11 will at least let you quickly Alt + Tab between the 20 most recently-used apps. Bad news for the 21st app, but it’s likely you weren’t using it much anyway.

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Microsoft Teams update introduces a useful new way to control your calls

Dealing with dodgy audio levels on a Microsoft Teams call could soon be a thing of the past following a new update to the platform.

The company has revealed that users of its video conferencing service will soon be able to control aspects of calls using a Bluetooth device.

The change means users will soon be able to use a Bluetooth headset or speakerphone to answer or end a Microsoft Teams call, giving users much more flexibility, such as answering a call on the move, or at their desk.

Microsoft Teams Bluetooth

The news will allow Microsoft Teams users to use the buttons on a connected Bluetooth device to control their call, largely by answering, ending, or putting the call on hold.

Thes devices won't even require a USB dongle when connected to a Windows PC running Teams desktop client, and Microsoft says that for many headsets and speakerphones, this will work without requiring any user action to enable other than pairing the device with the PC.

It's likely that only certain devices will be able to use the feature to begin with, and Microsoft notes that users should stay tuned to its certification page for additional information about devices tested to meet all certification criteria with native Bluetooth connections soon.

The official Microsoft 365 roadmap notes that the feature is currently still in development, but is set to start rolling out to users in March 2022. When live, the feature will be available to all Microsoft Teams desktop users only, with no news of a mobile launch just yet.

The update could be good news for companies looking to upgrade their online collaboration hardware, and follows the recent launch of a new initiative designed to attract even more customers to Teams.

Microsoft recently announced a new device trade-in scheme whereby businesses can claim cash back on old video conferencing hardware and desk phones when they make the switch to Microsoft Teams. The scheme will be facilitated by a partnership with Network-Value, a company that specializes in global device trade-in and responsible equipment disposal.

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