Microsoft has unveiled a redesign of their search engine Bing, bringing it in line with the recently revamped look of the company’s other main products: Windows, Office and Xbox.
The refreshed look is part of a wider rejuvenation and restructuring of the brand. This sea change was fully outlined by CEO Steve Ballmer in July this year, with the aim being to make Microsoft a ‘devices and services’ company.
However, in visual terms, these changes have been underway since August last year, when the company announced the first redesign of the Microsoft logo for 25 years.
The launch video (see below) shows each of the company’s core services occupy one colour from the traditional Windows quadrant: blue becomes the Windows operating system; green the Xbox and Xbox Live, and red has been assigned to Office.
The palette of the Bing redesign places it firmly in the remaining square, though reports over the exact shade vary – Microsoft themselves note that the shade is “Orange 124”, but others might call it yellow.
Apart from the colour the changes are a half-step from the previous Bing look, with a newly spiky lowercase ‘b’ providing the symbol, but with the logotype (a term that encompasses both the word ‘bing’ and the font) spelled out in Segoe– a typographical choice only a little less curvy than its predecessor.
Thankfully, there have also been some significant changes under the hood as well, with a clutch of new features:
This means you now start getting returns on your search before you’ve finished typing your query (similar to Google autocomplete) but Bing also offers you a choice ‘key tasks’ associated with what you’re typing. So if you type in the name of an airline Bing will offer quick links to the company’s online check-in or flight tracker.
This is intended to address ambiguous queries, with Microsoft offering the example of the query “temple”, which might refer to a London tube station, a religious building or a university in the US. ‘Pole Position’ is essentially what will come up when Bing is confident it knows which you’re interested in thanks to “advanced machine learning” – aka, statistics and user data.
The sidebar has been around for a while now, offering queries taken from social input – ie search results related to your Twitter and Facebook account – but now this has been integrated with another old feature, Snapshot. Snapshot offers small rectangles of information related to nouns – people, places, things – so punching in John Donne might give you the poet’s bio (culled from Wikipedia) and some portraits (courtesy of an image search). Familiar if you’ve ever used Google.
Hardly much of an innovation here, but Microsoft are promising that Bing has been “built from the ground up to work across devices and will adjust both to the size of the screen and the context of the user”. This sort of claim is always hard to verify without sitting down with a desk full of different screens, but customers quickly find out for themselves whether its true - one frustrating experience can drive people away from a website for good.
Of course, all this is fairly academic: Google rules search indisputably, and it seem unlikely that Bing will be able to displace it in a like-for-like battle. Even if it offered the same services, people tend to stick with what they know, and the inertia keeping people tied to Google is massive.
However, Microsoft's has its own approach that might just work out in the long run - and it's a method you can glimpse just from the new logo. As mentioned earlier Bing now forms the fourth quadrant of Microsoft's multi-paned logo; it's been given equal standing with Windows, Office and Xbox, and its not just being integrated with these services, its being offered as a platform of equal standing.
"Our approach at Bing has been, for a long time, to not necessarily build our own social network, to not build our own video channel, to not build all these things that we want to work with, we partner," said Microsoft's director of Search, Stefan Weitz, in an interview with The Verge. Instead Microsoft want to offer Bing to other companies, to make it as easy as possible for them to adopt the search engine.
They must be doing something right, because it's Bing that will be powering Siri's web results in iOS 7 (though this might simply be a case of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'). And whilst it's not quite fair to characterise Google as building their own web ecosystem, Google Now certainly works best if users are hooked up to the company's calendar and mail - Microsoft know this and they seem like they're trying to take a different tack. If they can make Bing into the perfect search platform - rather than the perfect search engine - then they might just be in with a chance.