While you holidayed, Microsoft brought Copilot to mobile devices, again

Redmond's AI assistant bounds onto Android and iOS without Bing branding

First Look While many readers enjoyed holiday downtime, Microsoft was busy bringing its Copilot AI to Android and iOS.

The software giant released Copilot apps for both platforms, with the Android version debuting quietly six days before Christmas and an iOS incarnation emerging just before New Year's Eve.

Both apps offer text-to-text, text-to-image, and search that uses generative AI to produce detailed results.

Users are offered the chance to employ GPT-4, or a lesser language model. The Dall•E text-to-image generator is also available. Some queries require sign-in with a Microsoft account.

The functionality of the apps appears to replicate that found in Microsoft's Edge browser and the Bing Chat service, which was rebranded as Copilot as the tech behemoth refined its AI offerings across 2023.

Microsoft's motive for bringing Copilot to its rivals' mobile platforms is obvious: the Windows maker lacks its own mobile OS, and while its Office apps have done well on iOS and Android it's just not a major mobile player. Nor is Redmond doing brilliantly in search, which is why it bet AI could make Bing a better alternative to Google.

The Register therefore took the two apps for a spin to assess if they're likely to advance Microsoft's progress – and was moderately impressed.

Using a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, your correspondent searched for local weather. After rather more seconds that it takes to produce results when typing into browser's search bar, I was eventually presented with information scraped from Australia's Bureau of Meteorology.

Dall•E on the Ultra offered more or less the same experience offered by the text-to-image service on other platforms: a 1024 x 1024 image with the occasional glitch. I asked the service to draw "A giant dinosaur carrying a cricket bat invading the Sydney Cricket Ground" and it produced images that those familiar with the stadium would not mistake for any other location. In three out of four images it depicted the bat accurately – an impressive feat given the relative obscurity of the location and sport.

It also included plenty of reasons – beyond the presence of a prehistoric creature - to quibble about verisimilitude.

SCG cricket dinosaur

Cricket dinosaur – Click to enlarge

On a 7th-gen iPad the app was perhaps a little snappier than on the Samsung, despite the latter being four years younger than the Apple fondleslab. Text generation produced the kind of glitch any user of a GPT-powered service will find familiar: when asked with a voice prompt to compose a letter to seek exemption from jury duty on the grounds the time away from work would damage a business, the service spun a tale of catering operation run by a sole practitioner. At least it didn't make any grammatical howlers and offered a caveat that customizing the letter to one's particular circumstances is wise.

The big question with AI-powered search and generative AI is whether existing services already do better. I find Leonardo.ai is a far better text-to-image service than Dall•E because it is more flexible and allows user-defined image sizes. I find the output of AI-powered search is irritatingly concise and focuses me on a machine's chosen results rather than presenting me with options. In the confines of a smartphone screen that focus is further narrowed.

I can't therefore imagine the debut of Microsoft's Copilot apps will change the search habits I've learned in over a decade of Android and iOS use.

But the apps do put text-to-text at users' fingertips, which will be handy for many.

Overall, they're solid apps, but don't feel sufficiently compelling to take over from whichever tools you already favor. On the other hand, as text-to-text is a relatively new class of app, Microsoft has a shot at first mover advantage – winning an audience before Apple and Google integrate similar functionality into their OSes. ®

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