How Microsoft aims to bring Bing deeper into Windows Blue, Xbox One

How Microsoft aims to bring Bing deeper into Windows Blue, Xbox One

Summary: Microsoft's Bing is morphing from a 'mere' search engine into more of a service that will power next-generation devices Windows Blue PCs and tablets, as well as the Xbox One.

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In all the talk about Microsoft's makeover into a devices and services company, one service many forget the company has in its back pocket is Bing.

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Bing is evolving into more than "just" a Web search engine for Microsoft. It also gives the company a way to harness and make use of data using Microsoft's myriad machine learning and computation capabilities. And though it may be hard to see through all the "Scroogled" fog, Bing may be more important as a service than a "mere" search engine to Microsoft going forward.

This week, as part of its Xbox One reveal, Microsoft execs didn't call out Bing by name much, if at all. However, as a subsequent post on the Microsoft Offical Blog noted, it's Bing that provides the responses when users search by voice via Kinect for movies, TV shows and music. It's Bing that's parsing the natural-language-query commands, such as "Xbox, Snap Internet Explorer." Specifically, it's the Tellme voice technology, combined with social-graph information, plus Bing's search functionality.

A quick Tellme refresher: Microsoft bought Tellme Networks in 2007 for between $800 million and $1 billion.  Tellme provided both a "speech cloud service" and an interactive speech self-service platform that provided interactive voice response, or IVR. (An example of an IVR system is the system that provides an automated voice response when users check on their flight statuses.) Microsoft offloaded the IVR assets to 24/7 in 2012. But it kept the cloud-speech service, which it combined with other internal speech technologies. The cloud service part from Tellme is what is used in Windows Phone, the Bing mobile app, automotive entertainment systems and Xbox Kinect sensors.

Additionally, Bing did work with certain Microsoft Xbox partners, like Netflix and HBO to index their catalogs, alongside Xbox's own game catalog, so that users could search for "Great Gatsby" and see any movies, games, music or other content available through the Xbox. Bing provided the back-end search/recommendation service, starting with the Xbox 360. In a similar way, Bing indexed the Windows Phone app store to provide users with recommendations, in addition to the basic Web search it also provided.

Microsoft is promising the voice-search capability it provides with Xbox and Kinect will be significantly enhanced with the Xbox One. But that's not the only place where Bing is supposed to bring the bling.

Windows Blue, a k a Windows 8.1, has been rumored to include significant Bing improvements. In the leaked Blue builds so far, these search enhancements can't really be seen and tried. But Microsoft's Online Services Division, the unit that includes Bing and the remaining Microsoft Tellme team, has been working with Windows to build a search service that will work across devices, apps and the Web, according to my contacts.

On the apps front, the AppEx team inside Bing is continuing to develop more new Windows 8 apps that Microsoft is expected to roll out when Windows Blue is available this fall. This is the team that built the Weather, News, Sports, Travel and other apps that were preinstalled with Windows 8 and Windows RT. Officials with the AppEx team have said they're working on more, similar kinds of apps. Some new apps -- an Alarms and a Sound Recorder app, specifically -- have leaked as part of the Windows Blue leaks, but I am hearing there will be more. (Update: Supposedly these two already leaked apps were not built by the Bing AppEx team, but were built by a team in Windows.)

The Bing team also is going to power the app-store search and recommendation engine that is part of Windows Blue, I'm told. But Bing is also providing the core search technology for Windows Blue, too, that will improve the search discoverability and relevance in Windows 8.

Instead of having to hunt within Apps, Settings, Mail and other subcategories, users will be able to just start typing and have the operating system figure out for what they're most likely to be searching, one of my contacts said. If that comes to pass, that would be a major improvement over how search currently works in Windows 8 and Windows RT. 

I've been asking around as to whether the Bing/OSD team might be doing anything to improve voice search with Windows Blue, given what they've been doing on the Xbox side of the house. I am hearing from my contacts the answer is no. The reason? Voice isn't so far a priority on PCs/tablets, so Windows Phone and Xbox/Kinect are where the voice focus is at the moment.

That said, Microsoft officials announced on May 23 that a new Kinect for Windows sensor is coming in 2014 and will include improved voice capabilities. So maybe that will include more Bing/OSD capabilities, too.

Topics: Windows 8, Big Data, Cloud, Google, Microsoft, Windows Phone

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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24 comments
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  • Microsoft too slow

    "Voice isn't so far a priority on PCs/tablets, so Windows Phone and Xbox/Kinect are where the voice focus is at the moment."

    God forbid MS put a voice feature into Windows 8/RT that might help sell it!
    While Apple puts Siri into every tablet and Google puts voice search into Chrome, MS twiddles it's thumbs.
    bobkemp2123@...
    • Useless

      Voice has a definite place on phones for handsfree operation. I see no practical use for it on the PC or tablets. I have no need to listen to my own voice issuing command after command. Silence is golden.
      dlangdon01
      • Are they stupid???? No voice in Win8?!?

        Have these geniuses ever tried typing on a tablet screen or any of their large portable All in One touch screen PCs??? Voice is incredibly important. And it is much faster than typing.

        Why are they allowing Google to destroy them in this? Did they not see I/O this year? Google search going forward on every platform is all about voice search and it is incredible. Google now understands context and pronouns.

        Do they not realize how quickly they could run around Google by building Bing voice search into Windows 8 at the OS level. They want people to switch from Google to Bing, well then take the search box out of the equation and just have people ask their computers questions. And launching apps from deep within menus is much faster with voice. Why is the Windows 8 team so incompetent compared to Phone team and Xbox?
        cool8man
        • win 8 has voice, so does win 7

          just use the built in speech recognition

          granted they do the usual ms horrible job of marketing it.
          everss02
          • MS not learning from mistakes

            This is the problem with Microsoft. They make a cool feature/product and they don't improve it or market it. See: Windows XP tablets and Windows Mobile.
            bobkemp2123@...
          • The difference is on-machine versus cloud speech recognition

            The Tellme/Bing speech service works very well when there is an expectation of always-on internet connection (like on, say, a phone or an Xbox or a desktop PC). However, with a tablet or a laptop, the internet connection is intermittent (I don't have a cellular modem for tethering when I'm away from my normal WiFi points).

            As a result, it makes sense for Windows to provide the speech recognition through an on-machine service, rathter than using Bing/Tellme the way that phones and Xboxes do.
            Flydog57
      • speak for yourself or in your case choose not to

        I would love to have my home desktop listening to everything I said and responding or not accordingly. I am not talking about the desktop carrying a conversation unless that was what I was intending. I mean responding by launching programs, doing searches and controlling my home automation based on what I say not some series of commands of gestures. I also want it to know who I am and if there is anyone else in the house who they are or in the case of a stranger hiding in the basement alert me. Dictated email responses, internet searches are a few actions where voice recognition and active listening would be handy.
        Some smartphones are close to this type of comunication but lack the battery power to actively monitor speach. Watch the latest Ironman movie and Starks interacxtion with Jarvis you will get the idea.
        MS new XB1 is a step in that direction but their insistence on using Microsoft only programs is a huge mistake in my opinion. MS has it's fan base but that is the last group to consider when designing something new. You want to get the undecided and the I don't like MS but this is a great product types. By insisting on a search engine like Bing they alienate google fans. By insisting on IE they alienate those that prefer one of the other browsers. The days of trying to grab the market, own it and control it are over. No matter how good XB1 is it will suffer if it doesn't allow users to pick the tools they are comfortable with and place trust in as well as MS tools. I like several MS programs. The windows OS up until win8, IE, MS office and several of their older games but I prefer Google for searches and Logitech for video calling. There are others programs also but listing my likes and dislikes other then to demonstrate the idea of using a mix is not the focus of this article. I truely hope the XB1 is a hit and people love it but I also hope MS wakes up and stops trying to be only player.
        chaos213
        • WHAAAAAAAAAT??

          Competition doesn't play nice wit MS... And MS should always include their stuff... U sound crazy right now... Why would I want to break the experience by including Chrome or FF...
          U sound nuts...
          ShowanW
    • not really necessary

      Even on the mobile side it's a gimmick. Not many people in the wild run around talking to a tablet or smartphone. Touch is still the preferred interface and will be for years to come. On the PC side I have enough options from touch to keyboard and mouse. Voice has been around for years and never really caught on. Siri is pretty much useless....
      Rob.sharp
  • Siri sucks anyway.

    I have an iPhone, and find it extremely limited. Not sure that the tech is that great at the moment.
    jpalovely
  • How Microsoft aims to bring Bing deeper into Windows Blue, Xbox One

    Good because Microsoft Bing gives better search results anyway. I took the bing it on challenge, I preferred Bing. Now integrate that search into their other products so I find what I'm looking for fast. Relevant links only.
    Loverock-Davidson
  • "I preferred Bing"

    wow - what a shocking result
    deathjazz
  • Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.

    Next we'll hear how Bing is "part of" the operating system and cannot be separated without causing the machine to crash.
    john_whitfield@...
    • Huh?

      And if they say that, I suppose Google will refuse to work in any fashion on a Windows machine?
      Michael Alan Goff
    • Ring Ring

      The 90's called, they say get give back their materila and get some new material for the new century.
      schultzycom
  • Re:

    1) Bing sucks outside the US. Really sucks.
    2) Voice control is fun, but most likely only English (maybe german, french, spanish).

    Why force these things if it is crap for people outside the US.
    Martijn2
  • No as a main install on our and clients systems......

    We Remove BING/BONG.

    Google gives better results over a period of time.

    We try each of the search engines available monthly for two days, just to ensure are using the best.

    And at present that is Google.
    carlsf@...
    • People who decided to try it for themselves disagreed with you

      2 to 1 google users who tried both in a blind test thought the Bing results were better. More relevant and better organized.
      Johnny Vegas
      • Citation please

        That way, people can decide for themselves if the study was valid.
        John L. Ries
  • New year, same story

    Microsoft wants to integrate Bing "deeper" into their new devices and OS. They are going to get into the same trouble they were in before with Internet Explorer when they tried to make it "integral" to the Windows OS. Microsoft, like Apple, keeps looking for that "golden ticket" that will lock in users to their OS & devices.

    Apple has that "lock-in" ecosystem, since all their hardware and OS is proprietary. Microsoft does not understand that one of the primary reasons some people don't use Apple products is **precisely that** "lock-in" mentality. Thankfully, some software publishers are starting to recognize the distaste some of us have for being forced down into an iOS/Windows choice and are starting to produce versions of their software for LINUX.
    gevander