Microsoft's search engine still ranks a distant second to Google, but the company calls Bing a key part of its reorg strategy.
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Microsoft announced late Monday that it is revamping its Bing search engine with not only new features but also a redesigned logo.
In a blog post, Lawrence Ripsher, Bing general manager of user experiences, said the overhaul demonstrates why Bing is "no longer just a search engine on a web page." He also said Bing's new look "integrates" outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer's "One Microsoft" strategy, which sees the company's various products and services coalescing into a unified user experience, and which is the basis for the company's restructuring plan.
The new features include Page Zero, which is designed to help a user fine-tune a query before he's even submitted a search. Page Zero works like a more robust version of the auto-fill suggestions typical of most search engines. If a user begins to type a celebrity's name, for example, Page Zero displays not only recommended searches, but also a quick glance at the celebrity's biography, as well as other commonly searched-for content. Ripsher said the feature could allow someone typing "Jon Stewart" to more quickly differentiate results about the man from those about "The Daily Show."
"We think the time people will save using Page Zero instead of navigating a search results page will be significant," he wrote.
Whereas Page Zero is potentially useful for clarifying vague queries, Pole Position, another new feature, focuses on searches in which Bing has "a high confidence on a user's intent." When Bing detects an unambiguous query, such as one that asks the weather in a particular city, it will provide the answer in a large space at the top of the page. Links and other results will be listed less prominently below.
Bing will also merge its Snapshot and Sidebar functions into a single panel. Currently, Bing results populate three columns: one with the typical list of links; another with Snapshot, which includes facts and media relevant to the search, as well as tangential content; and a third with Sidebar, which includes related content drawn from the user's social media networks. By combining the second and third columns, Ripsher said Bing will give users "all the supporting context they'll need for any given query."
He said the new Bing "looks as beautiful on a Surface or iPad as [it does] on a PC or phone."
In another blog post, Microsoft senior director Scott Erickson said the new logo is meant to evoke clarity and energy, as well as the Microsoft logo, with which it shares colors, fonts and other design cues.
Bing has also become more than a search engine, as Ripsher said. It not only provides contextually relevant returns on Windows Phone, for instance, but also enables many of the Xbox's interactive functions. It also integrates images and maps into Office, and could one day be the basis for Cortana, Microsoft's rumored competitor to the iPhone's Siri. Earlier this summer, Microsoft also opened Bing as an app development platform. Time will tell if it all helps the "one Microsoft" vision come to fruition, let alone if Microsoft can challenge Google in the search engine business. But Microsoft appears committed to Bing's place in its portfolio of products and services.
Redesigned Bing results soon will begin appearing in U.S. search returns, but in the meantime, Microsoft has established a preview site for anyone who wants to check out the new look.