It is the first big change to the keyboard since the Windows key was introduced in 1994, the tech giant says.
Copilot keyboard is Microsoft’s latest AI innovation
Microsoft launched Copilot for Windows last May as part of a suite of AI-powered assistants, or Copilots, which it has been rolling out across its product portfolio in the past year. Underpinning the Copilots is technology from OpenAI, the AI lab and developer of ChatGPT, in which Microsoft has invested billions of dollars.
The Windows Copilot is an assistant that enables users of the operating system to ask questions to the system in natural language, as well as launch apps and complete tasks. It already has a button on the Windows 11 taskbar, and users of new machines will be able to activate it via a physical button on their keyboard.
Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s executive vice-president and consumer chief marketing officer, described the move as a “transformative moment” in Microsoft’s AI journey. He said: “The introduction of the Copilot key marks the first significant change to the Windows PC keyboard in nearly three decades. We believe it will empower people to participate in the AI transformation more easily.”
Mehdi added that the Copilot key “joins the Windows key as a core part of the PC keyboard”. When pressed, it will “invoke the Copilot in Windows experience to make it seamless to engage Copilot in your day-to-day,” he added.
Windows 11 and the birth of the AI PC
Microsoft claims the development will help simplify the user experience as it prepares to usher in the era of AI PCs – desktop machines capable of running artificial intelligence models locally. Vendors including Intel and Qualcomm have already pitched such machines, and other big players in the market such as Dell are expected to come to the party in 2024.
Mehdi said Microsoft will “continue to build Windows to be the destination for the best AI experiences”, and added that “this will require an operating system that blurs the lines between local and cloud processing”.
New PCs featuring the Copilot key are set to be announced at the CES 2024 trade show, taking place in Las Vegas next week, Microsoft said. These machines are likely to be available “beginning in late February through spring”, and will include the next editions of Microsoft’s line of Surface devices.
However, with Copilot for Windows not yet rolled out to all Windows 11 users in all regions, even if you get hold of one of these machines, the system’s full functions may not be available. “When Copilot for Windows is not available or enabled on the device, pressing the Copilot key will launch Windows Search,” Microsoft said.
Redmond will be hoping to use Copilot as an incentive to encourage more users to switch from Windows 10 to Windows 11, with technical support for the former set to end in 2025. So far, take-up of the newer operating system has been low, with Windows 10 still accounting for 67.4% of all Windows installations worldwide, compared with 26.5% for Windows 11.