Microsoft plans to roll out a number of updates to Windows 11 over the next few weeks. Some are things we’ve already heard about, like the Generative Erase feature in the Windows Photos app. Others are new, like the ability to use an Android smartphone as a webcam for your PC.

But it’s telling that the company’s blog post announcing the updates puts new Copilot features front-and-center, because Microsoft is really trying to make its AI assistant a thing.

Windows Copilot plugins

There are two big announcements related to Copilot. The first is that plugins are now supported, allowing Copilot to interact with apps like OpenTable, Shopify, Klarna, and Kayak. This will let you do things like reserve a table at a restaurant, book a trip, or buy stuff by chatting with Copilot… although given the habit generative AI has of making things up, I’d suggest thinking of these plugins as a way to start doing those things. It’s probably best to double-check its work before using an AI assistant for anything that involves charging your credit card.

The other new Copilot features involve “skills” that are coming later in March that will let you adjust a bunch of Windows settings without actually opening the Settings app. All you need to do is type a few words in the Copilot text box to toggle battery saver mode, show available storage space or battery levels, empty the recycle bin, or access less frequently-used settings like showing your IP address.

Windows Copilot settings

Another new AI feature is a “silence removal” preview coming to the Clipchamp video editor, which can remove gaps in an audio track when nobody is talking.

Microsoft will also begin offering “personalized layout suggestions” for window snapping, helping you organize a group of apps depending on how you use them.

Not all of the new features are AI-related. For example, Microsoft says it will “soon” add support for using an Android phone as a webcam “on all video conferencing apps.” This could be a pretty useful feature, since most laptops have lousy webcams. Most Android smartphones have cameras that would be at least a modest improvement, and some have cameras that are miles ahead of even most USB webcams.

Microsoft provides more details about this phone-as-webcam system in a separate article that notes that it’s rolling out now to members of the Windows Insider program.

While Google has recently added support for using Pixel smartphones running Android 14 as USB webcams, Microsoft’s implementation has a few key advantages:

  • It works over a wireless connection
  • It works with smartphones running Android 9.0 or later.

To set up the webcam feature, you’ll need to pair your phone with your PC using the Link to Windows app. Once that’s done, you’ll need to toggle a Windows setting to enable using your Android phone as a webcam, and that will prompt you to install a Cross Device Experience Host app from the Microsoft Store.

Once everything is set up, you’ll get a set of controls on the computer that allow you to start using your phone as a webcam during calls, switch between front and rear cameras, pause video, and enable effects, HDR mode, or other settings. You’ll also see your phone’s battery level on your PC.

Other changes rolling out to Windows 11 include:

  • Support for using Windows Ink (for natural handwriting on devices with digital pen support) in more apps and languages
  • Share files with more apps including WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram
  • Accessibility improvements including custom Voice Shortcuts and support for using voice commands across multiple connected displays

You can find more details about features rolling out now and in the coming weeks in Microsoft’s announcement.

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  1. Oh how I long for the days when an operating system was just an operating system. Now they try to be everything.