- Microsoft will make manufacturers add a dedicated Copilot key on new Windows devices.
- New computers with the new key will start appearing as soon as February 2024.
- The dedicated Copilot button will work as a direct shortcut to access the chatbot AI.
UPDATED 1/16/2024: Microsoft continues to push forward with its AI ambition by announcing a new “Copilot” physical key for new keyboards and Windows devices. On January 4, 2024, Yusuf Mehdi, executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer, revealed that the addition of a new dedicated for its Copilot AI is the most significant change to the PC experience in the last three decades.
According to the announcement, the new keyboard key will offer a physical entry point to interact with the chatbot. As I understand it, devices with the Copilot key are expected to appear as early as February 2024, and future Surface devices will also include this new physical key in the keyboard.
The new Copilot key will appear on the right side, next to the “Alt” key, replacing the second “Windows” key in some keyboards. Initially, it was said that Microsoft would make it a requirement for manufacturers, but a recent statement has confirmed that the company won’t force manufacturers to insert a dedicated key on their laptops.
Additionally, Microsoft has said that manufacturers will have the choice to place the Copilot key anywhere on the keyboard. However, the recommendation is to build the “Copilot” key on the right side, next to the “Ctrl” key. Ultimately, this means that the key won’t be one of the requirements to pass the Windows hardware certification process.
Also, the new key will be required for computer manufacturers shipping new devices, but it’s unclear when it will be mandatory. (If you choose to disable the chatbot AI, then the new key will default to the Search interface.)
I believe that the exception to this rule will be keyboard manufacturers. However, I happen to have a Keychron keyboard with a dedicated assistant that already accesses Copilot directly.
And this is just the beginning, as it’s already known that Microsoft has bigger AI plans for Windows 12 and across the company’s products. Earlier reports suggest that the company is also working on further integrating AI into the Windows Shell that will allow Copilot to run in the background to perform more advanced searches, help start projects and workflows, understand context, and more.
Other AI improvements include a new Timeline feature, live wallpapers, Super Resolution to upscale games and videos automatically, and more.
At this point, these are not just rumors, as Yusef Mehdi has said that in 2024, the company is expected to usher in a “significant shift toward a more personal and intelligent computing future where AI will be seamlessly woven into Windows from the system to the silicon, to the hardware.”
Does this mean that Microsoft plans to replace the Windows key, the Start button, and the Start menu? Probably not right away, but in my opinion, it’s something that the company wants in the future of Windows.
However, for this to happen, first, Copilot must become a very valuable feature for users and work flawlessly. Microsoft has tried this in the past with the original release of Windows 8, which didn’t include the Start button or a traditional Start menu, and then the changes backfired, forcing the company to roll back the experience.
I believe if people start interacting with Copilot, then, this time around, it could be game over for the Start button and Start menu since the AI assistant is already capable of launching applications and performing advanced tasks, such as changing system settings, and more upgrades like search with AI is already in the pipeline.
Also, the new advances in processor technologies and the availability of Neural Processing Units (NPU) in more devices will make the Copilot AI more capable.
Recently, Dell demonstrated a concept (via Gizmodo) showing Copilot being able to perform even more advanced system actions and act as a true personal IT administrator for users. For example, in the future, Copilot could be able to identify and resolve system or app problems automatically without user interaction. For instance, in the concept, Dell demonstrated that the chatbot AI could change the security settings and automatically turn on the battery saver by connecting to a public wireless network.
Although Copilot is already one click away from the Taskbar, and through the “Windows key + C” keyboard shortcut, the addition of the new Copilot key in the keyboard shows that Microsoft is really all-in with AI and wants users not to miss it.
Update January 16, 2024: This content has been updated to reflect that the company has now confirmed that the key will be encouraged but not a requirement.