Microsoft is moving Cortana out of Windows 10 search and into the Action Center

Microsoft is planning a major overhaul of the Cortana experience on Windows 10, according to sources familiar with the matter. We already know that Microsoft is building a chat-based UI for Cortana, and now we're starting to hear more about Microsoft's plans in this area. Some big changes are reportedly coming, including debranding Cortana from Windows Search and moving Cortana's home experience into the Action Center and System Tray instead.

Cortana already handles a lot of the notifications that pop up on your PC, so from a user-experience perspective, moving Cortana into the Action Center makes sense. This move also goes hand-in-hand with the chat-based UI mentioned above, which puts a text-conversation interaction model front and center rather than encouraging voice engagement. People don't like speaking to their PCs, and Microsoft knows this. Prompting users to type is more likely to garner use.

Cortana to find new home in Action Center

According to my sources, the Cortana and Action Center combination will allow users to filter between or see Cortana's cards and notifications together. Cortana's new chat-based UI will also live in the Action Center as Microsoft going to be moving Quick Actions out of the Action Center and into a new, dedicated Control Center. This is something we exclusively revealed back in May 2017, and should make room for the new Cortana additions that are being introduced in that space.

I'm also told Microsoft is working on an updated design for the Action Center that will better fit Cortana's features and new chat-based UI. Of course, users will still be able to use voice commands to interact with Cortana, with features like "Hey Cortana" remaining intact. It is likely that the addition of Cortana in the Action Center will see the entire Action Center get rebranded, as the "Quick Actions" are moving out of the Action Center anyway.

In fact, Microsoft has already taken the first steps in moving Cortana into the Action Center. The latest Redstone 4 Insider Preview builds feature a change where Cortana's proactive content appears in the Action Center instead of Cortana's home area in Windows Search. This is just the start of what Microsoft is cooking up internally.

It's worth noting that Windows Search will still be powered by Cortana's backend. The significant changes here are that Cortana's entry point is moving from Windows Search into the Action Center which replaces the voice-orientated interaction model with a text conversation one. I believe Microsoft is hoping to get these changes out in time for Redstone 5 in the fall of this year, but as always, those plans could change.

The great news is that Microsoft appears to be finally debranding Cortana from Windows Search. Ever since Windows 10 launched, one of the biggest sore-points for users was how Cortana was a dominant part of the search experience. These upcoming changes should remove the unnecessary Cortana additions within Windows Search and give them their own home in the Action Center.

This is also great for Cortana, as it gives it it's own distinct home on the taskbar. Currently, Cortana is muddled up with Windows Search, and unless you're active in the tech bubble you likely don't even know Cortana exists. Now Cortana will have it's own icon on the taskbar. If one thing is for sure, Microsoft has no plans on backing down in the virtual assistant market. These upcoming changes are all in the name of making Cortana better and more noticeable.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

183 Comments
  • not sure if its a good idea to separte windows/desktop related searches from cortana. imo there should be an unified search experience. not 2 separated ones
  • These Cortana changes means Cortana will no longer be used for search. You search Windows with the dedicated search area, and you use Cortana for things like reminders, home automation, the notebook, etc. It gives Cortana a specific task: being your virtual assistant.
  • I wonder if it would affect the Cortana and Edge integration which I use a lot.  Cortana and PWA integration will be a very important feature also.  Cortana speaker may not do well, but its integration with Edge, MS Calendar, Spotify, IoT devices and PWAs provides unique productivity values.  The separation between Cortana and Search could make the abandonment of Cortana easier in the future if needed.  I hope it will never happen.  I start using Cortana control for Spotify a lot since its activation.
  • The separation and instead merging with the action centre is a good way help engagement while also making it much more accessible and user friendly. 
  • I pose this question to both you and Dan. With the deep integration of Alexis in PCs coming and the partnership between MS and Amazon, this seems that there may be an acquisition at some point. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, when there is a close partnership between two AI assistants within the same environment. Do you guys in your professional opinion, think this will help or hurt the Cortona branding and usefulness as an AI assistant within home or office? I understand that Cortana is simply the AI branding to Bing search, but it just seems like one will have to concede to the other at some point in the not too far off future. Thoughts or insight?
  • Microsoft *might* be creating a new API that allows any "AI" assistant to take the place of Cortana. l could see that giving them some long-term traction in that it could get users on board with the whole virtual assistant thing. Then later they would just have to get users to switch back to Cortana (although I suspect there Won't be that many using Alexa on Windows anyway).
  • She's graduating!
  • Zac, by the responses here, it seems there's real confusion about how MS could separate Cortana as a Virtual Assistant from Cortana as a search tool. It looks like the messaging on this will be difficult to get right without creating the perception that Cortana is being phased out, even if ultimately this results in a simpler and better system for many people. In your future pieces, could you spend some more time helping explain this to us?
  • Fully agree, this a great new home for Cortana 
  • As long as I can still search the web in the same place I search for files
  • Yeah. Also you could prolly still say, "hey Cortana, search the web for ..." And it will work
  • Yeah, but I get my real assistant to search for things all the time!  Decoupling Cortana runs the risk of taking her out of the everyday experience for PC users.  Once they do that they pave the way for Alexa or Siri to fill the vacuum.  PC users are a hard to please lot.  They complain about change, then try it, then find out its useful, then they get used to it, and then by the time MS reacts to the initial feedback, they whinge when they take it away.  Just look at the pattern of responses to when XP was introduced and when XP was replaced.  
  • Sooo true!
  • Exactly, in reality I believe it's about getting accustom to using your voice assistant instead of needing to do all that typing which I do like doing anyway. The Windows On Arms should be a tool that allow Cortana capabilities to grow.
  • I completely disagree. Why should they be two separate things? If Cortana helps you search for relevant web content, or reminders for emails based on key words or phrases, why not local files on your PC or device? Moving Cortana into the Action Center is such a huge diversion from what it should be. Action Center is for notifications; you're being asked to respond to something. Cortana is more than just notifications and messages. What about interests. Muddling things like "Local News" or "Sports interests" or "Tracking package" shouldn't be dismissible things, which is what the Action Center is and should be. This entire move is just horrible departure from the mobile experience that exists in Windows 10 Mobile, Android and iOS.
  • so basically cortana goes from luckily being used to rarely being used once it is decoupled from search
  • I think you are rightthere, I do not use Cortana myself, but if MS wants more people to use it then keeping it plain sight seems to make sense, unless MS is going to get rid of it at some point.   
  • Thats what im wondering. I was a big cortana user but started moving to Google now mobile is not there and I got a home for Xmas and its not as good on android with the voice side not being in android. This dose make me wonder if Microsoft are going to give up and move it on.
  • Exactly this thinking is the basis for bad user guidance through an UI. Searches of any kind should be in one place. I personally do not want to have to think on which side of the screen I have to start a certain search.
  • I am sure other AI's can handle web searches, even as a fall back because they cannot integently answer a question.  I know people get set in their ways, which is why they don't want Cortana added to the Windows / web search.  However, if Microsoft had implemented it properly and allowed anyone to turn Cortana off, then Micrsoft wouldn't still be trying to get the basics of Cortana correct in Windows as falling further behind in other areas with Cortana.  Basically, Microsoft might think they are doing a lot with Cortana, but alot of it is rework instead of concentrating on adding new skills, smart speakers, and other devices.
  • "Dedicated search area" - right now, I set Cortana to icon only. Does this mean there will be a search box in the task bar? That would be annoying.
  • I agree. I hope Cortana still has a presence in the search pane for internet results and keywords.
  • You will still be able to search the internet and keywords via Windows Search even after Cortana's experience is moved to the Action Center :)
  • Yes, but will you also be able to search the internet and the rest of the PC within Cortana? Keeping in mind the lack of much else Cortana can do (outside of the US), now the music has died, she'll become even more basic if the search is taken away as well. I want to think this is all about improving Cortana, but as we all know only too well once MS decide to 'focus' on something it usually starts haemorrhaging features before heading straight for the sunset. This feels a bit too much like a retrenching, to me, for comfort.
  • "now the music has died"
    Sorry, but this is a weird thing. The idea that PC users were IDing music frequently using Cortana seems hilarious to me. There's no data to support that. Puttting that aside, yeah Cortana has a lot of challenges ahead, but at the end of the day, Cortana is just the front-end for Microsoft Cognitive Services and its AI computing. That's literally the future of computing and not something they're just going to toss aside.
  • Shazzam was discontinued on Windows because of Cortana having the feature built in. People used features. That's what features are for.
  • "Shazzam was discontinued on Windows because of Cortana having the feature built in."
    Except we all agree Cortana and its services weren't available everywhere, unlike Shazam. No, Shazam was discontinued because not enough people downloaded and used it, period. Does Shazam not work on Android because SoundHound is there too?
  • Daniel, with all due respect you are wrong on this. I am as much a MS fan as anyone, but that removed a feature that I have used many times and required me to download an app for that. This degrades the user experience and gives credence to the fact that MS always takes away functionality on their platform. I want them to succeed, but I won't go beyond criticism where it is due.
  • Exactly Daniel.  Shazam was discontinued because of the same reason most every other windows app is.  Lack of users.  The exact same reason windows mobile was discontinued...LACK OF USERS!
  • I use Cortana to ID music all the time.
  • Interesting, it is the features that Microsoft always put as the guilty party before the judge and the executioner. This is the first I've heard of Shazzam...
  • This is Microsoft we are talking about though, they toss things aside quite alot.
  • Don't they just!!
    *written on my 950!!!
  • I used to think that when my beloved 1020 was left for dead.   But now,  I see why it was done.   Because NO ONE WAS USING WINDOWS PHONES.   Anything that is tossed by MS is because its not popular.   Same for my lovely ZUNE.  
  • @Mister Wolf; Exactly...
  • Doesn't matter if they were doing music Id frequently, as long as they were.  If Cortana can't do everything that Google ASSistant and Siri can do, than, Cortana cannot be considered competitive.  It's a feature, and they removed it.  Just like gesture recognition with Kinect.  As long as some people used it, if you kill it, you're gonna make someone mad.  Removing ANY features from Cortana is a bad sign.  "Pushing her aside" so to speak, is also a bad sign.  And considering they are in cheating on her with Alexa, I'm thinking she's on her way to the curb.  Which is sad.  On W10M, she was hands down better than Google ASSistant, especially for hands-free texting/calling.  It's one of the things I miss on my S7A, and I don't foresee MS making her any better on any platform.
  • I always think that all the Virtual Assistant devices can co-exist without conflict.  Each has its own Wake Word and each can play to its own strength.  While Alexa has dominated the consumer services but Cortana's strength in W10 is not replaceable.  Its integration with OS, Edge, future PWA, IoT, Calendar, etc provide the level of productivity that Alexa can't readily reach.  I use both Cortana and Alexa at home and have no issues using both.  Having different Wake Words sometimes help to avoid calling up several devices at once.  Some OEMs plan to add Alexa to their future offerings will be a good thing so that Virtual Assistant can cover more ground.  Cortana has no reason to leave. 
  • Daniel, I absolutely agree with that and want it to be true, but I recall making very similar arguments for why Microsoft would of course not drop mobile, after staking it out as the future of computing and as proven by the effort they were putting into UWP, investment to purchase Xamarin, etc. I think MS is good at deciding something is not a good investment -- dropping work on a recent priority is a genuinely tough thing to do, and it's a credit to MS that they can do this -- but not good at weighing the secondary messaging those cancelled projects send to their customers. They have truly spooked the consumer side of their market. I don't sense any self-awareness or regret for that. That leaves me even more concerned. I truly don't feel that anything new from MS is safe, which makes me (a major MS fan) reluctant to use any new MS service until it's already a success. And if my reaction is at all representative, then that's lethal to the successful launch of anything new they try to do -- without raving fans as early adopters, new functions can't reach the mass market, making the initial reluctance to go all-in on the launch a self-fulfilling prediction. It ensures the chicken-and-egg app-gap problem that killed Windows Phone repeats itself with everything they do. If you have anyone's ear at MS, please tell them to do something to win back our trust -- go all-in at launch of new technologies, invest in marketing them rather than waiting to see if there's interest, stick to new launches that aren't performing well for longer including a few iterations and improvements to see if they can achieve market growth. If something fails after all that, so be it, but if it fails before that level of effort, it just hurts their future launch efforts by further spooking customers that MS doesn't stand behind anything it does.
  • "If you have anyone's ear at MS, please tell them to do something to win back our trust "
    What do you want them to do? Literally every move they now make have people here going "welp, guess they're killing that too hurhur" Microsoft launches a new product = They'll can it after a few years, just watch Microsoft launches a new app = They'll discontinue it soon, just watch We literally can't write about the good or bad news here without people saying "it's over". So, not sure what you do there. I just ignore it, because we'll let the market sort it.
  • Yeah, you can't want Cortana to succeed and then say "I refuse to buy an Invoke or anything else" because that is contradictory. I'm skeptical but I haven't stopped supporting the things I like. I just wished they'd announced GLAS before the holidays and I decided to get an Ecobee. I question their timing, not the products.
  • You're pretty much proving his point, Daniel. The conern is that Microsoft turns a deaf ear to consumers if something isn't immediately successful, and you say you ignore criticisms that exhibit that fear. The market is repeatedly sorting one thing out: Microsoft struggles at developing new product lines these days. The reason people half-joke about impending cancelations is that it's been Microsoft's go-to move for so long, and it still is. If there is any resistance to breaking into a market, Microsoft won't push, they'll walk away. You say you ignore the "it's over" stuff, but while you come off as saying it's a knee-jerk, overblown reaction to the past, it's more a defeatist acceptance of the present. Microsoft has to stop kicking its consumers in the shins every 6 months. It seems like everything is building up to a cancelation these days. Band is the epitome of where the fears come from. People don't have confidence in Microsoft becuase Microsoft has no confidence in them. Surface was the last time they actually made a bet on a product, and that's been almost 5 years. We've seen a LOT of canceled products in the time. Contrast that with Google and Apple, who throw out new products as the market adopts the tech, and they do it in droves. How far behind the market has MS been with things like Cortana, mobile, automated home tech, fitness trackers, and many of the other things consumers have bought into in the last 5-10 years? Surface is much more an exception than a rule with Microsoft. That someone asks you to explain to Micrsooft that their skiddish commitment leaves us skiddish, and your response is "you guys are so dramatic, what do you want us to do?" just feeds into that drama and pessimism. What it boils down to is Microsoft is never transparent in its commitment to a product. Even Xbox never feels like it's on stable ground, as a big example of the inconsistency. Microsoft seems to think the point of success for a product needs to be its first iteration or year of life, and they treat anything after it as a wind-down of the brand. If they would occasionally say "give this thing 5 years, then decide," they might build momentum in some markets. Instead, it's more like their Lumia hardware (one flagship release), Band (2 years), and Kinect (one year of software support, then stripping features from the Xbox ecosystem).
  • When you have invested in MS products like the Band, Kinect, Groove, tablets with sub 10” screens, Mobile etc you might get immune to MS BS… Cortana was cool when it came to Mobile but MS has not treated it with any love while the competition has raced at full speed. Cortana is also very crippled outside US (i.e. the majority of the population in this world cannot use its add-ons). So no, I do not believe that MS will do anything successful out of Cortana. (And Daniel, what did you think of the band, Kinect, Groove and Mobile?)
  • Quote:  What do you want them to do? Literally every move they now make have people here going "welp, guess they're killing that too hurhur" End quote. Well, MS has to take responsibility for this behaviour.  Us MS supporters get peeved because we went out on a limb; yes, my Android brother-in-law told me I would regret investing in Windows Phone.  A few years later he was right, and he never fails to rub it in; so we go out on a limb and our trust is broken.  Sometimes business is a hard grind, not easy wins.  They had millions of users and growing market share in Europe and elsewhere.  But they turned their back on us.  Feel our pain...  Its too easy when in business to blame the customers.  
  • " Literally every move they now make have people here going "welp, guess they're killing that too hurhur" "   ... and is it surprising after the recent streak of discontinuing stuff? Can you blame users for this?
  • Right on the head daniel.   The fanbabies here are a fickle bunch are'nt they!   I opened my eyes and ears to whats really going on,  and it's very exciting to say the least.   
  • @Daniel, I understand the dilemma and the absurdity of overly negative statements. I'm a marketing strategist by profession, so that's how I view these issues. The technophile in me likes MS stuff a lot, so I'm an easier mark for them than most. You asked, "What would you want them to do?" I want them to do about what I suggested above: demonstrate at least a 2 year hard commitment to each major new launch where they make a push worthy of their scale of operations (e.g., spending hundreds of millions of dollars to drive awareness, study reaction, incorporate feedback if needed, and iterate). If it can't gain much traction after 2 years, then dropping it is reasonable with a proper period of support. They should also be clearer about this change in status from "working to drive market adoption" to "discontinued and providing existing user support only." There is still room for soft launches and market testing, but those things should be clear, perhaps through a better branded Microsoft Garage program. These could allow uncertain products to be market tested without a large investment, and then go mainstream if they gather momentum on their own or quietly shut down if they don't. But this should be kept separate from their mainstream product launches, which need that minimum 2-year hard push. Advertising obviously influences brand perception as does product development. But a company's actions, including customer service, commitment to new products, support, etc. also play a large role in determining how the brand is perceived by the market. The Micros