Lenovo's Cortana-Powered ReachIt Could Supercharge Search

Lenovo has rolled out a pair of new Windows 10 machines -- the slender Yoga 900 and the tabletop-friendly Yoga 900 Home -- that boast a number of eye-catching features. But ignore the 6th-generation Intel chips that power both machines, the Yoga 900's 8 hours of battery life or the refined hinge design on the convertible laptop -- Lenovo's true secret weapon may be the way that it's tapping into Cortana to help you find things faster.

The feature is called Cortana with ReachIt, and it's been developed jointly by Lenovo and Microsoft. First unveiled at Lenovo Tech World earlier this year, the feature taps into Windows 10's Cortana personal assistant to help track down files, photos and other pieces of content you have stored across multiple devices and cloud services.

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You can do searches by voice -- as you would expect, given the Cortana tie-in -- as well as by typing in natural-language search phrases. You can search on any Lenovo PC running Windows 10 with ReachIt installed.

Lenovo showed off ReachIt's capabilities at the Oct. 19 unveiling of the Yoga 900 laptop, with Microsoft corporate vice president Joe Belfiore demonstrating how he could ask Cortana to find photos he had shown to a specific person at a specific location. Location-based searches can be pretty specific: In a demonstration after the Yoga 900 launch, Lenovo's Jon Heim showed me a search for photos taken in Washington D.C., as well as photos shot specifically at the National Zoo. 

Cortana with ReachIt does more than track down photos, though with people shooting and storing more photos than ever before, tracking down digital images is obviously a big part of the feature's appeal. Heim, who's the director of product management for Lenovo's contextual computing group, also demonstrated searches for spreadsheets and email.

ReachIt will be able to pull up these kinds of things because it has ties into a number of different-cloud based services. When the public beta for Cortana with ReachIt arrives by year's end, it will be able to search storage services including Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Box. You'll also be able to search Gmail and Exchange email clients, as well as Google and Exchange calendars.

That calendar tie-in allows ReachIt to perform some of its more interesting tricks. By seeing who attended that meeting you were at last week, you can ask Cortana to show you that spreadsheet you shared with Mark and Anna on Thursday. If your calendar entries include locations, that's another bit of data that ReachIt can use to track down whatever it is you're looking for. 

Lenovo's implementation doesn't require you to tag or assign names to files to help with your searches. Heim showed me how he could pull up files he had been working on while waiting to pick up his daughters at gymnastics class, solely by naming the location and the date.

Some of that sounds similar to the search features Apple recently added to OS X in the El Capitan update. Macs running that version of OS X can conduct natural-language searches such as "Unread emails from Mike" or "Photos from September." But those Spotlight searches are strictly typed affairs -- OS X hasn't enabled Apple's voice-enable Siri assistant to conduct them.

Lenovo's take on search would seem to have a leg up anyway, since Cortana with ReachIt looks at multiple devices and services. If nothing else, though, these approaches to simplify the search process show that hardware makers see improve search as a way of differentiating their laptops.

The version of Cortana with ReachIt on display this week was an alpha version. Look for a beta to arrive before the end of the year. Lenovo is taking sign-ups for the beta at its website.