Microsoft has recently embraced the idea of bringing some of its best products to competing platforms. Cortana, its virtual personal assistant, debuted on the iPhone and Android in December, for instance. And the company developed a version of its WordFlow touchscreen keyboard for the iPhone earlier this year.
But while some of Microsoft’s attention has been focused outside the company, its forthcoming Windows 10 update does the opposite, adding refinements to the core Windows experience. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which will be available for free on August 2, brings improvements to Cortana, the Start menu, and the Surface Pen, to name a few.
Here’s a look at some of the best new features coming to Windows 10 with the update. Some other additions, like support for Microsoft’s Windows Hello facial recognition in the Edge browser, won’t be immediately available when the update rolls out.
Smarter sticky notes
Smartphone reminders have pretty much replaced the traditional yellow Post-it note. Microsoft is now making that evolution more literal with its improved Sticky Notes application in Windows 10.
With the Anniversary Update, the Sticky Notes app will be able to integrate with other software like Cortana to make it easier keep locations and reminders handy. If you create a sticky note that includes an address, for example, the app will offer to pull up that location on a map. Drawing a dollar sign followed by a stock ticker prompts the app to show how that stock is currently performing. It’s a neat little tool, although I found that I had to write out the full address, complete with its city, state, and zip code, to get it to appear on a map.
Cortana reminders can now include photos
Those lacking a photogenic memory will likely appreciate this addition. After the Windows 10 update, you’ll be able to add a photo to a reminder you’ve set with Cortana. This can be helpful if you want to remember a specific type of item, like a certain bottle of wine that you tried at a friend’s place, before going to the store.
Access Cortana when your computer is locked
Microsoft is making it easier to use Cortana quickly on your PC by letting you access it even when your screen is locked. If you have “Hey Cortana” enabled, just say the phrase to trigger Microsoft’s assistant without unlocking your computer.
Cortana gets a better memory
To make Cortana feel more like a true personal assistant, Microsoft added the capability to have the digital aide remember things for you. If you have a confirmation number buried in your email that you don’t want to retrieve later, you can just say something like, “Hey Cortana, remember that my confirmation number is 584.” If you ask Cortana what your confirmation number is, it’ll pull up the reminder it just created.
This worked well in practice with basic examples like this, but don’t expect Cortana to remember the cross streets where you parked your car. When I tried telling it to “Remember that I parked my car on 5th Ave. and 23rd St.,” it thought I wanted to set a reminder for when I reached that location.
Fun new types of ink for OneNote
Doodlers may appreciate the new Ink Effects coming with the Anniversary Update. In OneNote for Windows 10, you’ll now have the option to choose from four different special effects under the color pallet. My favorite effect is called Galaxy, which produces a trail of ink that blends different hues of purple, blue, and green punctuated with stars whenever your pen touches the screen.
Log into certain apps just by looking at your computer screen
Microsoft’s facial recognition technology, called Windows Hello, already allows you to log into your device by looking at the screen instead of typing in a password. With the update, Microsoft is extending this capability to work with some third-party apps and websites.
While Windows Hello won’t support the ability to log into websites at launch, this functionality already works with the Dropbox app for Windows 10. After I had set up the feature by navigating to the app’s settings menu changing my sign in options, Dropbox recognized me and didn’t ask me to type in my email address and password.