Microsoft is including a brand new key to PC keyboards for the primary time since 1994

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A rendering of Microsoft's Copilot key, as seen on a Surface-esque laptop keyboard.
Enlarge / A rendering of Microsoft’s Copilot key, as seen on a Floor-esque laptop computer keyboard.

Microsoft

Microsoft pushed all through 2023 to add generative AI capabilities to its software program, even extending its new Copilot AI assistant to Home windows 10 late final 12 months. Now, these efforts to rework PCs at a software program stage is extending to the {hardware}: Microsoft is including a devoted Copilot key to PC keyboards, adjusting the usual Home windows keyboard structure for the primary time for the reason that Home windows key first appeared on its Pure Keyboard in 1994.

The Copilot key will, predictably, open up the Copilot generative AI assistant inside Home windows 10 and Home windows 11. On an up-to-date Home windows PC with Copilot enabled, you’ll be able to at the moment do the identical factor by urgent Home windows + C. For PCs with out Copilot enabled, together with people who aren’t signed into Microsoft accounts, the Copilot key will open Home windows Search as a substitute (although that is form of redundant, since urgent the Home windows key after which typing instantly into the Begin menu additionally prompts the Search operate).

A fast Microsoft demo video exhibits the Copilot key in between the cluster of arrow keys and the correct Alt button, a spot the place many keyboards often put a menu button, a proper Ctrl key, one other Home windows key, or one thing related. The precise positioning, and the important thing being changed, could fluctuate relying on the dimensions and structure of the keyboard.

We requested Microsoft if a Copilot key can be required on OEM PCs going ahead; the corporate advised us that the important thing is not necessary now, however that it expects Copilot keys to be required on Home windows 11 keyboards “over time.” Microsoft typically imposes some extra {hardware} necessities on main PC makers that promote Home windows on their units, past what’s strictly essential to run Home windows itself.

If nothing else, this new key is an indication of how a lot Microsoft needs individuals to make use of Copilot and its different generative AI merchandise. Loads of previous firm initiatives—Bing, Edge, Cortana, and the Microsoft Retailer, to call a number of—by no means managed to change into baked into the {hardware} like this. Within the Home windows 8 epoch, Microsoft required OEMs to construct a Home windows button into the show bezel of units with touchscreens, however that requirement finally disappeared. If Copilot fizzles or is deemphasized the best way Cortana was, the Copilot key may change into a method to shortly date a Home windows PC from the mid-2020s, the best way that modifications to the Home windows emblem date keyboards from earlier eras.

We’ll positively see extra AI options from Microsoft this 12 months, too—Microsoft Chief Advertising and marketing Officer Yusuf Medhi referred to as 2024 “the 12 months of the AI PC” in as we speak’s announcement.

Chipmakers like Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm are all constructing neural processing models (NPUs) into their newest silicon, and we’ll possible see extra updates for Home windows apps and options that may make the most of this new on-device processing functionality. Rumors additionally point out that we may see a “Home windows 12” launch as quickly as this 12 months; whereas Home windows 11 has largely had AI options stacked on high of it, a brand new OS may launch with AI options extra deeply built-in into the UI and apps, in addition to extra {hardware} necessities for some options.

Microsoft says the Copilot key will debut in some PCs that might be introduced on the Shopper Electronics Present this month. Floor units with the revised keyboard structure are “upcoming.”

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