Microsoft today updated Bing with a very interesting new feature that builds on its investments in entity and conversational understanding. In short, you can now ask follow-up questions that reference your previous question.
For example, Microsoft says that after asking “who is the president of the united states” and getting back the answer “Barack Obama” you can then ask “who is his wife” and get “Michelle Obama.”
Best of all, the chain can continue. You can then ask “how tall is she” (5 feet and 11 inches) as well as “who is her brother” (Craig Robinson) afterwards, and Bing will know that you are still talking about Michelle.
This is a feature that is borrowed directly from Cortana. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given that Cortana is largely powered by Bing, so it makes sense that Microsoft would want to pull the other way as well. Since Cortana now handles search on Windows Phone, this feature won’t need to come to Bing for Windows Phone, but Microsoft may want to offer it on Android and iOS.
Google Search on mobile has similar conversational abilities, which were arguably popularized with demos and commercials showing off the Moto X, when you are asking questions via voice. It’s worth noting, however, that Google Search itself does not offer the same functionality on the Web nor on mobile while typing.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft’s search team has beaten Google to the punch, and it certainly won’t be the last. That being said, there’s still no “killer feature” that Bing could offer that Google couldn’t, so Microsoft has to just keep iterating in the hopes that customers will consider it. The company is already promising “a number of additional improvements in the days ahead,” so stay tuned.