Microsoft’s next big AI push is here after a year of Bing

Roger Stringer Roger Stringer
February 07, 2024
7 min read
Microsoft’s next big AI push is here after a year of Bing

Tom Warren, for The Verge:

A year ago today, Microsoft unveiled its ambitious plans for an AI-powered Bing search engine. It was the biggest launch in the history of Bing, helped push AI usage even further into the mainstream, and spurred a wave of dreams and panic about what AI could impact next. The launch was even successful enough to rattle Google, which was quickly seen as falling behind on artificial intelligence.

“They will definitely want to come out and show that they can dance,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told The Verge at the time. “And I want people to know that we made them dance.”

The strategy worked. But one year later, Bing seems to have fallen out of the conversation. Google is still at over 91 percent of traditional search market share, according to StatCounter, and ChatGPT has rocketed to 100 million weekly users, all while Bing grew by less than half of a percent in the search market globally.

Microsoft doesn’t necessarily see this as a failure. “We’ve seen Bing share grow,” says Yusuf Mehdi, executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer at Microsoft, in an interview with The Verge. The launch may not have “completely reshaped the search landscape,” Mehdi says, but it’s been enough to matter for Microsoft. “Even a few points of share growth is significant for Microsoft and for customers to bring more competition.”

But while Bing may not have exploded, Microsoft’s AI ambitions did. Over the past year, the company has launched AI features inside just about everything: there’s AI in Office apps, AI features inside Windows apps like Paint, and even a dedicated AI key for laptops. Anywhere you look, Microsoft has some sort of AI feature — and this isn’t about to slow down.

But instead of Bing in the driver’s seat, Microsoft has pivoted to Copilot, an “AI companion” that the company is gradually placing inside all of its key software and services. Microsoft has now created a Super Bowl ad for Copilot that will air on Sunday. After a rebranding away from Bing a few months ago, Copilot is now being positioned as the future of Microsoft’s AI efforts, which are leaning more into productivity and creation than just search.

This new Super Bowl commercial for Copilot is a surprise from Microsoft in many ways after using the multimillion-dollar ad slots in the past to remind the world why its software matters and telling emotional stories of gamers with disabilities. This time, there are no Windows PCs, spreadsheets, or Xbox consoles — just a single iPhone and a push to get people to download the Copilot app on iOS and Android. If you’ve never heard of Copilot, you wouldn’t even know it’s a Microsoft commercial until the very end.

“That’s a pretty big thing from a company that historically, at least with individuals, has been heavy with the PC,” says Mehdi.

The Super Bowl ad, which focuses on the idea of using AI to be creative, walks a fine line between empowering people to do things they’d traditionally have to learn and be skilled in and concerns over AI replacing jobs — particularly in the creative industry.

It’s also a subtle but interesting change for Microsoft’s AI efforts, too. The software maker has been gradually shifting away from the renewed search battle with Google in recent months to focus on making Copilot a standalone product. “We really got behind a single brand called Copilot, so we cleaned up all these other things and we renamed Bing Chat,” says Mehdi. “So we have one brand, one experience.”


Microsoft is also working on a big Windows refresh that’s focused on AI. Mehdi didn’t want to talk about the specifics of how Microsoft will overhaul Windows for AI, but he did drop some breadcrumbs of what to expect. “The unique thing of Copilot inside Windows is that it can be aware of the context you’re in,” Mehdi says, “It can understand the pages, so it can do more rich things.”

Microsoft is also looking at running advanced AI models locally on PCs, something we’ve seen Nvidia and others focused on in recent months, and making more use of the NPU hardware that’s starting to ship in Windows laptops. All of that is largely what we’re expecting, but there’s also a bigger push to use AI to turn everyone into a Windows power user.

“I think it’s something like 20 percent of Windows users use 10 percent of the features. Once you can say, ‘Hey turn my PC into dark mode, configure that printer for me, help me get the following going,’ we can turn everyone into a power user of Windows,” says Mehdi. “It sounds cliche, but what I think that will unlock in terms of people’s ability to use computers to do amazing things will be quite profound.”

A year on, Bing’s AI isn’t top of mind — but it’s clear that it kick-started a major shift for Microsoft. And while the impact on Bing wasn’t enormous, the impact across the product line has been.

“When we launched, we said we had to start at some place,” Mehdi says. “I think we made the right call to start with Bing.”

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