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What Apple could learn from Windows 10

Ryan Faas | Jan. 4, 2016
Microsoft's OS offers advances that rival Apple should consider implementing on its own.

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Credit: Apple/Microsoft

Microsoft sought reinvent its flagship operating system with Windows 10 by backing away from some of the extreme user interface changes that characterized Windows 8. Windows 10 introduces the concept of Windows-as-a-service, bridges all manner of devices from PCs to tablets to phones, and introduced a range of new features when it arrived last July.

Despite years of being criticized for copying Apple and for some of the missteps of Windows 8, Microsoft has increasingly shown a real sense of creative design in recent years. I've spent the past few months living with Windows 10 as my primary desktop OS, and there are aspects of it that Apple should learn from and adopt in OS X and iOS.

Cortana on the desktop

Despite the fact that Siri first appeared on the iPhone 4S over four years ago and has been integrated into every iPhone and iPad since (as well as the Apple Watch and fourth-generation Apple TV), Apple's virtual assistant has yet to make it to the desktop. This seems a surprising omission, given that Apple has built speech-recognition capabilities into OS X for dictation and has integrated several virtual/intelligent assistant features into recent OS X releases. These include the ability to pull calendar and location data from email and offer reminders about when to leave for events based on Maps.

Windows 10 brings Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant, to the desktop and positions it front and center in the task bar. Although Cortana can respond to spoken commands or requests, it can also rely on that age-old interface, the keyboard. The mix of input methods provides a natural interface for those used to talking to their devices and those more comfortable typing.

Given that there should be little technical challenge in bringing Siri to the Mac, it's surprising Apple hasn't done so. The advantages are obvious in making a range of tasks easier to do and providing ready access to information without having to rely on apps, the web or Spotlight. It would further unify the user experience across all of Apple's platforms and deliver a broader set of user interactions that would improve the virtual assistant.

Cortana's Notebook

Another aspect of Cortana Apple would do well to emulate on both OS X and iOS is Cortana's Notebook feature.

The Notebook serves as a single place for users to configure the assistant and define key information it uses. It allows you, for instance, to define personal information like preferred name, home and work addresses, and connected accounts like Twitter and Facebook. It also provides a single place to enable or disable features like the hands free "Hey Cortana" function; privacy settings; whether the assistant will actively search for data on a PC as well as the types of data it tracks (events, flights, packages, etc.); how to handle meeting/event reminders; preferred modes of transit; and other settings.


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