The new search in the Windows 8.1 interface

Each day, the general availability of Windows 8.1 is getting nearer (GA date is 18 th of October, only one year after the release of its ancestor). A new bunch of new experiences are just behind the curtain. We had previously see what are the concepts behind the new Start Menu within these pages. This time, we’ll have a look to the new search paradigms integrated in the new OS from Redmond.


Search it the old fashion way (well, at least the way it used to be last year)

The search function was really one of the top most feature of Windows 8. The searches within the Modern UI apps were bound to a contract available everywhere in the OS. Practically, you had access to a powerful search engine based on a single request, in every single app, on a competitive way. By activating the Charm Search in the Charm Bar, we gained access to a dialog box in which you had the ability to enter a request. You could even compare the results of that request among several applications installed on your PC (among two trading apps, or within two different cooking apps). the search was available from the Start Menu and Inside the applications and the user was supposed to easily search from everywhere, in every context (you search for a town in a map app, you search for a file on your system).



The Windows 8 search contract

That concept was also relevant for the identity of the brands. With all those logos in the search interface, you can quickly have an accurate statement of what you’re searching for, and you can immediately search Inside an app for the quality it inspires. No longer will you have to pass through an external engine (Bing, Google, …) to access to the brand you’re looking for.

Finally, the searches were organized so that the applications most “searched” were lift up to the top of the applications list, making the search feature a perfect companion for your browsing sessions. This is how the feature met the user experience : I often search within those app, this is the way I use my PC, this is my experience. This is pretty much the way the entire OS was designed for, beginning by the custom tiles for the Start Menu.

On top of that, the search paradigms were designed to perfectly fit the overall OS design guidance, speaking about quality, simplicity and authenticity. As the OS  manage the search feature, I don’t need that anymore Inside my application, and then, I gain an extra space to put more content in the layout. (unless the core scenario of the app is to, well, search for something of course (Bing, for instance). On the other side, the result page was Inside the application to respect the craftmanshift of the brand.


The search, integrated to the scenario of the apps…

This is where we stop our little Windows 8 point of view.


Ok, we have heard you

Ok, regarding a lot of different parameters, such as telemetric analysis, or users feedbacks, the boldly concept of the federate search had not be welcomed the way it deserved, I think. Or that functionality was not well explained nor shown. In short, Microsoft decided to completely review the search contract for Windows 8.1. That leads to a new approach based on two major axes, one for the applications, one for the system itself.


System search and dark matter

Indeed, the search function had been boldly reset to adopt a more system-centric profile. Exit the comparison of the search result between two app. And, finally the search is no more really connected to the applications. So , we’ve lost a lot of the good things that made the Windows 8 search so brilliant. You can also forget the concept of the search as a federative element of the touch UI. The search is now much more system-oriented and allows the user to rationalize its search with sorting options. By default, the search will do its job over the entire system. For instance, with the by default sorting option (everywhere), can you search for “News” directly from the Start Menu. The results always returns first the applications that match with this topic (if, obviously, such applications are installed on my PC). On my device, the apps “Metronews” and “Top Gear News”, for example. At first glance, the behavior is quite similar as the Windows 8 one, minus the fact that I can no more do the “News” research directly from a specific app.



Available apps comes first.

Then, if no suitable application can be found on the PC, the search engine exposes requests that can be completed by Bing, and in a simplified and specific app. that app does nothing else than aim to web pages, or system settings. The engine can also auto-complete the queries. For example, if I type “Arnold”, the engine suggests “Arnold Schwarzenegger”.



The search suggests popular requests.

So, let’s launch that query (Arnold Schwarzenegger). With that type of data, you gain access to the brand new service from Bing, called “Hero”; Arnold S, as for Marylin Monroe, leads to an smart search and to a specific app, build on the results of several databases. The result is shown in a much more accurate and appealing page. Most of the results here are shortcuts to internet pages, but the real trick is that the engine used here recognize if the content is available in one of the installed ModernUI app. If true, the tap on that specific item opens the right app. If not, it can even aim to the installation page on the Windows Store.


Finally, a tap on one of the internet shortcut to the content you’re searching for opens Internet Explorer 11, within the ModernUI interface.

With the sorting options “Files” selected, the search is focused on the files on your OS, or on mails related to the query. And the last sorting options are more restrictive for web search purposes (Images or videos).

So, we’ve got here a new system with a little less accessibility, but much more easiness and reliability. The victim of these new paradigms is the former Bing app, which is no more available on the Window Store, because it’s simply useless now. 


Within the applications

“Dear Mr. Rousseau, all that you’ve said is crystal clear, but I remember , it was a 13th of March, you said to us  that it was not great to have a search box  in the app layout. in a ModernUI app. But, how do we search, now?”

This is a good question, and I thank myself to had it loudly spoken. Yes, tempus fugit and guidelines  change. And now, you should know that the search Inside an application can be achieved  without relying on a federate contract.

The rule has been simplified. No matter if the primary scenario of your app is to search or not. And before to see practically how the search works, let me add a few words about the difference between the “search” and the “find” functions. The search is intended for all the application. I mean that, when you’re searching, you do that to find a specific item within the entire application (an article for a trending app, a location for a map app). The find function is radically something else. The find means you’re looking for  something Inside the actual content you’re browsing, as a character string. So, this is mainly a action related to the page you’re viewing, and the best place for such an action, is in the application bar, in the bottom of the layout.

To leverage the search Inside an application, you should embed a permanent search box in the header of your application, in the right side of the screen (because the logotype is often located in the left side, according to the general occidental reading sense). It is not a good point to place that search box in the application bar, because it shortcuts the “find” function, and because the search is a cross-pages function, and is not only related to the pages you’re actually seeing.



The search box in the Store Application

That search bar has guidelines too. Avoid to design it with less than 30 pixels high, and less than 270 pixels long. The search box should contains the  magnifier glyph named Segoe UI  Symbol  E094.  You must always suggest the auto type functionality (you start typing something,  wherever you are in the app, and the characters appear in the search box).

For those who would like to support their Windows 8 app in the Windows 8.1 OS, you will be able to add a search glyph Inside the layout to open the search contract. As well as leveraging the initial contract scenario. But the user will have then to select the app icon within the search charm to operate the search Inside the application (and not Inside the OS, as seen previously).

Then, you still have to properly organize the results with sorting options and filters, and always suggest how large the result is (even if the request returns nothing). You can, even more, as in the Windows Store App for Windows 8.1, suggest in a drop down list, a short list of valuable items within the actual request.


The end.

This is it for the the first glance on that renew of the search function in Windows 8.1. It’s easy statement to say that we hope that the search will be better understood now, and more used. This goes further than the search in the Windows Phone (only Bing) and in the Xbox 360. This is a new way to find the things you’re searching for with a strong fence between app and the OS, for a more responsive interface. In a kind of quick note here, it reminds me the way I used to search for apps with Windows 7. Just by typing something Inside the box above the Start Button.

Coming next, a new article about the new windowing system. Stay tuned.

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