Microsoft has been pursuing its AI ambitions in full swing and their commitment to their young AI has gone one step further with the introduction of the Microsoft Copilot key to Windows 11 PCs. The move appears to be one of the biggest changes the Windows keyboards have witnessed in the last 30 years since the Windows key was added to keyboards, done to reaffirm that it was, in fact, a Windows laptop, and to make the Windows menu accessible at the touch of a button. Now, the updated Windows keyboard layout will allow users to have instant access to the Copilot chatbot, bringing us progressively closer to the era of the AI PC. 

Why Are We Seeing a New Microsoft Copilot Key?

It’s clear that Microsoft is putting all its eggs in its figurative AI basket and a majority of the news we are expected to hear from Microsoft this year will revolve around Copilot and its integration into Microsoft 365. According to the company, the addition of the Copilot key “will empower people to participate in the AI transformation more easily.” Evidently, the company hopes the ease of access will encourage users to test the AI out every once in a while and perhaps even pick Copilot over other chatbots that require a few more steps to open up every time. 

“Nearly 30 years ago, we introduced the Windows key to the PC keyboard that enabled people all over the world to interact with Windows. We see this as another transformative moment in our journey with Windows where Copilot will be the entry point into the world of AI on the PC.”

—Yusuf Mehdi, Executive Vice President, Consumer Chief Marketing Officer

We have no evidence of which PCs will be introduced with the new Windows keyboard layout, and if all future Microsoft-powered devices will incorporate the change but there should be quite a few “AI PCs” in 2024 that incorporate the new key. Rumors on Twitter/X indicate that the Dell XPS 16 is one of the many to adopt the new Copilot key by Microsoft. In terms of layout, the Copilot key will be added in between the right Alt key and the arrow buttons, in the same row as the Windows Key and spacebar. 

Microsoft’s Copilot Key Brings Us Closer to the Ambitious Plans for AI Pcs (1)

Image – Microsoft

In addition to the Windows keyboard layout, the functionality of the Copilot key is quite straightforward for now. When pressed the key should open up the Windows Copilot bot that is now integrated into Windows 11, allowing you to type in your questions and ideas immediately. The announcement video also makes it clear that if Copilot isn’t available in your country yet, the key will direct you to the Windows Search instead. Comments from some users on the announcement display annoyance at the replacement of the right Control key, one that they regularly use, for a button whose function could have been easily added as a shortcut to the Windows key instead. Still, the new copilot key does represent the ambitions that the company has for its AI and perhaps its usability will expand with time as well.

Is Copilot Free To Use?

You might be wondering what the point of a new key is if you need to pay a subscription fee to access the tool anyway. Well is Copilot free? For basic use of the Copilot chatbot, yes Copilot is free to use. Even without the new Windows keyboard layout, you can just look up the Copilot chatbot in the browser of your choice and interact with the chatbot immediately. You can input questions into the chatbot via text, image, and even voice command and the AI should be able to help you out with your queries. 

Prior to the announcement of the Microsoft Copilot key, the company also released a mobile app to make it easy for users to have the AI chatbot available to them on the go, available for both iOS and Android devices. This should answer your question about whether Copilot is free to use. However, if you’re looking for the premium Copilot experience, then no, the additional versions and services by COpilot are not freely available. Access to additional Copilot tools like GitHub Copilot and Copilot for Microsoft 365 comes with additional subscription fees that need to be paid for the use of the more advanced mechanics that the Copilot AI can offer. 

The Copilot key might seem like a minor upgrade for now, but it is a monumental change for manufacturers to agree to incorporate this new detail from Microsoft. If the AI tool truly blossoms into the success story that Microsoft is hoping for, then we might be witnessing history in the making, signaling a new era of work. Reality is likely not going to be quite so dramatic and we will have to see a few more iterations of the AI’s growth for it to become such a critical part of our experience with our PCs. The CES 2024 expo between 9 Jan to 12 Jan will have a lot of announcements lined up for us, but we should also see the first round of PCs with the Copilot key make their appearance soon enough. For now, we slowly inch closer to understanding the vision behind the AI PC.