A few weeks ago we reported about a leaked and upcoming feature for Windows 10 – the HomeHub; at the time, it wasn’t clear what the HomeHub would offer, except that it would include a shared desktop for the family known as ‘Family Desktop.’
While Google and even Amazon have released hardware products that act as an assistant and can control devices in a smart home or inform you of the present weather; Microsoft has been slacking.
Microsoft’s Cortana is unique with its features, but the lack of an ecosystem where it could exist passively is hindering its reach; people don’t want to talk with their computers, and mobile devices do not come with Cortana as default – unless you are the 1.75%.
What to expect
The HomeHub is meant to be a feature for Windows 10 – it is not a hardware device, but a software feature. The idea is to turn a Windows 10 PC into a shared hub for users in a home.
The communal nature of HomeHub means that your Windows 10 PC won’t simply be your PC, but your family’s PC too. The HomeHub relies on many of the current Windows 10 features such as Windows Hello to do this.
If no user is logged into the Windows 10 PC, HomeHub will provide a ‘Family Desktop’ – the one we talked about before – that users can use to access shared calendars, appointments, lists, etc. 3rd party applications will also be able to integrate with this feature.
Windows Hello will also seamlessly log users in as they use are using the PC, displaying their personal information alongside what is shared among the family; if the user moves away from the PC, Windows Hello would automatically log them out.
The whole thing sounds a lot like how Microsoft’s Surface Hub handles logins in the enterprise environment – the Surface Hub shares many similarities in the way HomeHub plans to integrate with Windows Hello.
There’s a bit more to the HomeHub than the ‘Family Desktop’ – Microsoft also wants to introduce a shared workspace; the shared workspace is meant to resemble a smart fridge wall – a place where the family can passively interact with the PC.
According to WindowsCentral, The HomeHub Welcome Screen is still in the concept stages, with several design ideas being weighed upon internally at Microsoft. However, the folks have shared with us one of the concepts for the Welcome Screen.
As you can see, it does not look anything like the current Modern UI, which is why WindowsCentral suggests that it could be a first look at the upcoming Project NEON design language.
Per the reports, the Welcome Screen will run on top of the ‘Family Desktop’ – like a lock screen – but the full ‘Family Desktop’ will be available, if the user requires.
In the concept provided by WindowsCentral, notice the Cortana logo is not its usual blue, but has an orange outline to it – this is how Cortana intends to differentiate between individual users on the same PC.
On the Welcome Screen, Cortana will always be listening for commands – much like the Amazon Echo or Google Home – but there’s more to it; If a family member is recognized via Windows Hello, Cortana will change its color to represent that.
If Cortana recognizes a family member, it will have access to their personal notebook – it could access their personal information like calendar appointments, etc.
A shared hub for the home that can recognize the family and its members can be useful – what is even more helpful, however, is the ability to control the various smart home devices that are gaining popularity in this connected world.
The HomeHub will also add support for two leading open standards for home automation – OCF (Open Connectivity Foundation) and OpenT2T (Open Translators to Things) – these standards are supported by many of the modern smart home solutions, like the Phillips Hue bulbs.
Microsoft is also building a dedicated app for the connected home, that will automatically recognize and add supported smart devices and be able to configure them.
When to expect
Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet says that Microsoft has a dedicated ‘Family Team’ in Windows and Devices Group, working on these features. It’s clear that Microsoft is serious about this project.
The timing is right, and Cortana is ready to take on the stage of a home – the only trouble is, it’s limited to the PC.
For now, there are no reports of a hardware device being part of this grand picture, but we sure hope there is something in the works.
A dedicated hardware device that could put Cortana in a box like the Google Home or Amazon Echo would give Cortana more reach – dedicated and tuned microphones, after all, are better at listening to the random rumblings of humans.
As for the HomeHub on Windows 10, per the sources of TheVerge, the feature is still in its infancy and concept phase – it’s a long wait until we see it in action, even for the Insiders.