Windows 10 Cortana Button Could Replace ESC Key

John Lister's picture

Toshiba has announced that some of its forthcoming laptops will have a dedicated Cortana key. It's designed as an easier way to control the "digital assistant" feature in Windows 10.

Cortana, which is already implemented in Windows Phone devices, is a similar idea to Apple's dedicated virtual assistant, Siri. While Cortana features spoken information and voice control, it also combines online searches with information on user devices or computers to increase relevancy.

Some examples Microsoft gives include taking notes of ideas, delivering personalized news updates, or giving reminders. In some cases, it combines the information, such as when users switch on their trip planner feature. For example, Cortana may provide an update on the day, including schedules such as flight status, traffic updates, and the latest destination weather forecast. (Source:

Listening Mode Has Limitations

Most Windows 10 users will have the choice of launching Cortana either by using an option in the taskbar, or by simply speaking the words "Hey Cortana," if a microphone is used.

One drawback is that this requires computers to be constantly listening in on conversations for users specifically speaking those words. Although Microsoft says it doesn't take any notice of what users say until they've said "Hey Cortana", the setup has understandably concerned users who worry about privacy. Some users have also reported that the system struggles to recognize when they've said the phrase.

Cortana Threatens ESC Key

Toshiba's solution is a dedicated button which will appear in the top left corner of keyboards on its Windows 10. While it hasn't released details of the layout redesign yet, it appears it might relocate or even simply ditch the Escape key. (Source:

Not everyone would find that a good move. While many users rarely have cause to hit the Escape key in their daily computing, others use it frequently for shortcuts such as Ctrl + Shift + Esc to launch the task manager. It's also commonly used as a pause button in PC gaming.

The idea appears to be that having a conveniently located and dedicated Cortana key might get people into the habit of using the feature more regularly. Toshiba's announcement has also sparked discussion about the idea of Microsoft releasing mice with a dedicated Cortana button.

What's Your Opinion?

Have you used Cortana, either on a Windows Phone or in a preview of Windows 10? Do you think such a feature is genuinely useful or just a gimmick? Is it a smart idea to build a dedicated button into keyboards?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I'm a stickler for a certain type of keyboard layout (I prefer the classic IBM model M keyboard with the insert, home, page up, etc in the standard location). That said, removing the ESC key for a Windows 10 feature seems ludicrous. I use the ESC key no less than 10-20 times a day. The print screen, scroll lock, or pause / break keys seem to be more ideal candidates, though I'm sure most laptops don't use those as dedicated keys as it is.

georgegrimes's picture

I don't have a problem with a dedicated Cortana key if Toshiba wants to do that. The absurd part is eliminating the escape key in order to do it. If there is no better way, then forget the Cortana key!

Stuart Berg's picture

Don't forget that Microsoft Outlook users can close any open email by using the "esc" key! That's at least 40 times-a-day that I use it for that function.

spiras's picture

Esc is my get-me-out-of-here button in many situations. For instance, when I'm viewing a video full-screen. I just can't do without it.

Hey Cortana, why don't you just leave Esc alone and pick on some other key??

f58tammy's picture

This is Toshiba's brilliant idea, that I believe will get re-thought. They won't want 1,000's of units that they won't be able to get rid of. Personally I don't have a use for Cortana, that said with further development it is a promising idea.