Microsoft has updated its various Bing apps for Windows 8 in a move designed to make them quicker to use and easier to customize.
The News app now lets you manage the different news categories that appear in the app. You can add or remove categories for world news, technology, politics, business, and entertainment, and sort the order in which they appear. You can also add a particular news source or RSS feed to your featured sources and to the Windows Start screen so that you can more quickly access their stories.
The News app's app bar has also been enhanced. You can now more easily view all of your featured news categories, favorite topics, and even top video clips. Right-clicking with a mouse or swiping up or down on a touch screen displays the app bar in the News app, just like in any Windows 8 or RT app.
The Maps app unfolds a new search tool that can track down local restaurants, hotels, banks, movie theaters, hospitals, and other businesses. Just enter a location or the name or type of the business to see the results. Tapping on a particular item shows you its location and other details on the map.
The Maps app now ties in with the Windows 8 People app. You can choose one of your contacts through the Maps app's new search tool to view that person's location.
The app bar for Maps has also been tweaked to provide quicker access to key options. You can now get to your favorite locations, pin a location to the Start screen, clear the map, and add a pin to a specific spot.
The Finance app now tries to help you manage and plan your financial life via a new Tools section. You'll find a mortgage calculator, a currency converter, a retirement planner, a car payments calculator, a savings calculator, and a "value of money" calculator.
The Finance app's app bar has been beefed up as well. You can quickly access news stories from featured sources, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Reuters. You can also drill down through various icons to see more information. For example, clicking or tapping on the dropdown arrow for the Rates feature shows you options for mortgage rates, home equity rates, car loan rates, and credit card rates.
The improvements in the Travel and Sports apps seem to rest mainly with the app bar.
The Travel app's app bar now features articles from specific travel sources such as Lonely Planet. The icon for Destinations lets you select among different continents, while the icon for flights lets you search for a flight, schedule a flight, or check on the status of a flight.
The app bar in the Sports app also offers quick access to stories from different sources, such as Fox Sports. And clicking or tapping on the icon for a specific sports league lets you drill down to see the top stories, standings, schedule, and other items.
Windows 8 and RT users can grab these latest updates directly from the Windows Store. Clicking or tapping on the store app displays a link to download them collectively or individually.
I think the Bing apps are the best built-in Windows 8 and RT apps that Microsoft designed for its new operating systems. The latest tweaks make them even better.