Windows 10 event: what to expect from today's announcement299
It’s only been a few months since Microsoft officially unveiled some of the features we can expect in Windows 10 to the world, but the software giant is now ready to talk specifics. On Wednesday, Microsoft is holding a special Windows 10 event at its company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. While we got an early look at the Windows 10 user interface in late September, Wednesday’s event will be a chance for the company to detail how Windows 10 will run across PCs, phones, tablets, and even its Xbox One gaming console.
We'll be covering the event on the ground with a Windows 10 live blog, hands-on videos, Microsoft's livestream, and much more. Check in at 9AM PT / 12PM ET on Wednesday, January 21st to watch it all go down.
In the meantime, here’s what to expect from Windows 10.
Read next: Our Windows 10 review.
Windows 10 desktop
Microsoft may have shown off the new Start Menu and some various feature additions for power users back in September, but there’s plenty more the company is working on. Wednesday’s event is billed as a consumer-focused one, so we’re expecting to get a closer look at how Windows 10 will power laptops, desktops, and gaming PCs in 2015 and beyond. Various leaks of Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, have surfaced in recent weeks as part of early Windows 10 builds, and it’s highly likely the company will officially acknowledge the addition. Cortana in Windows 10 will act as the primary search interface, as well as some smart integration in the browser and other applications.
Elsewhere, Microsoft has not yet shown off its new user interface for Windows 10. While some recently leaked builds have hinted at a dark theme that closely matches Windows Phone, we expect Microsoft to show off some of the UI it’s working towards. This will include refreshed icons throughout the desktop, optional dark and light themes, a tweaked taskbar that makes use of accent colors, and some improvements to the style of universal applications.
A single store and cross-platform apps
Speaking of universal applications, Wednesday is Microsoft’s biggest chance to show the world why you would want a single app that can run across a phone, tablet, PC, and TV. Microsoft will detail that story more heavily at its Build developer conference in April, but examples of powerful universal apps will be key to the company’s vision for the future of software. Microsoft will also focus heavily on the single Store experience of Windows 10, which allows end users to buy a single app across phone, tablet, and PC, and for developers to more easily create just one application for one app store.
OneDrive will also feature heavily in Windows 10, and Microsoft is looking to extend its capabilities even further. The software maker may detail its plans to let app developers store settings and sync app data through OneDrive across PCs, phones, and tablets, allowing apps to always stay up-to-date across multiple platforms.
Microsoft will also further detail its "Continuum" interface for 2-in-1 laptops and convertible tablets. We got an early glimpse at a concept of Continuum in September, and the feature should allow laptops to be used easily with a keyboard and trackpad, while converting them or using touch will trigger a finger-friendly mode that adapts naturally. This mode will be particularly interesting for devices like the Surface Pro 3 or Lenovo’s Yoga laptops that can be used in multiple ways, including pen-based input.
Windows 10 mobile
Microsoft is building a single version of Windows that will run across tablets and phones. Codenamed Windows Mobile — the same name Microsoft used for its mobile software before Windows Phone — the combination of Windows RT and Windows Phone will be the most interesting part of Wednesday’s event. Microsoft is dropping the confusing desktop mode it kept with Windows RT and replacing it with a single touch interface that will run on tablets and phones powered by ARM-based processors. It’s likely that Microsoft will choose to name this particular version of Windows 10, and many speculate it could be Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Mobile, or just Windows 10 / Windows. Given the huge differences compared to the regular version of Windows, it’s probably time Microsoft dropped the Windows name for its mobile efforts, but it’s highly unlikely the company will do that. Expect some kind of name, but hopefully not something like "Windows Mobile 2015 for Pocket PC Professional Edition."
In terms of features, Microsoft has largely kept its plans secret here. Windows Phone and Windows RT have both struggled to make any significant impact against Android and iOS, so this could be viewed as Microsoft’s final chance to make mobile work on its own platform. Expect to see tighter integration between the mobile variant of Windows 10 and its desktop counterpart, alongside some new UI changes that align the Live Tile style more closely between phone, tablet, and Xbox. Microsoft’s Windows Phone team likes to ship features that are unique to its platform — think Kid’s Corner, Cortana, or Driving Mode — and it’s highly likely we’ll see one or two big additions here. Given Microsoft’s Office improvements on Android and iOS, the company will be keen to show its work on Windows. Office touch is closely aligned with Windows 10, so we assume that it will be integrated into the mobile version through a Store app, and we should get an even closer look at its features on Wednesday.
Microsoft is also planning to add some of its Lumia Camera features into Windows Phone itself. The default camera app in Windows 10 will include a similar interface to that of the Lumia Camera, and Microsoft will likely show this and other app improvements on Wednesday. Some of the new Windows Phone gestures will also be built into Windows 10.
As Microsoft’s mobile version of Windows 10 is likely to be a radical departure from Windows RT on the tablet side, all eyes will be on how the company manages an upgrade path for existing Surface RT and Surface 2 tablets. Microsoft’s last major mobile shift saw Windows Phone 7 owners stuck on an outdated version of the OS once new hardware with Windows Phone 8 started shipping. That scenario could play out again for Windows RT tablet owners.
Xbox and PC gaming
Microsoft has a rather mixed history of PC gaming. Initiatives like Games for Windows Live failed miserably, and the company has never managed to transform its success with Xbox Live on the console over to traditional PC gaming. With Phil Spencer now in charge of Xbox and gaming at Microsoft, things are starting to look a lot better. Spencer killed off the Kinect bundle, cut the price of the Xbox One, and even helped acquire Minecraft. His efforts on the console side have not gone unnoticed, but it’s time PC gaming got some much-needed love from Microsoft.
That should be the main focus of Spencer’s participation on Wednesday. While Microsoft can’t match the power of Valve’s Steam service, realizing the potential of cross-platform play and bringing Xbox Live to the PC in a way that makes sense could help, alongside an improved Store to access popular titles and indie games. Microsoft has long promised games that let you play on a phone, and then resume on a console or PC. Pitting Xbox One gamers against PC players in the same game could be an option, but Microsoft now has the infrastructure to enable true roaming games across phone, tablet, PC, and console. We're expecting to see some of that on Wednesday. Imagine playing Xbox One games on your Windows PC, or buying a single game that you can play on your PC or Xbox One and the game state syncs alongside achievements and Xbox Live integration. Wednesday could hold lots of possibilities for gamers, but a commitment to PC gaming will be a key part.
Is a VR headset on the way?
Elsewhere, Microsoft still needs to explain its strategy for Xbox One apps and why it matters that the Xbox One runs Windows 10. We will see some details around this, and in particular how DirectX 12 is key to the future of gaming across Windows and Xbox. Microsoft is also holding private sessions with developers on Thursday with topics including the "Windows 10 roadmap for Xbox," so it's safe to assume we'll get a good look at future capabilities enabled by Windows 10.
Microsoft will also be participating in the Game Developers Conference in March and E3 in June, so don’t expect all the details on the company's plans for Xbox One on Wednesday. Microsoft also continues to work on a VR headset, codenamed Project B, and it's possible we might see some hints or an early look at the company's progress with its new Xbox hardware on Wednesday. Microsoft may also detail its plans to bring Xbox Live cross-platform to iOS and Android, but the Windows 10 event timing makes that unlikely.
While it’s possible we might get an early look at an Xbox VR headset, Microsoft will also use its Windows 10 event to showcase some other hardware. We’re expecting the company to unveil its new version of Perceptive Pixel, the large touchscreen displays that are powered by Windows. Microsoft has always pushed the idea of huge interactive displays, and its vision of the future video from nearly two years ago envisioned a future where sensors and giant screens dominate. The next version of Perceptive Pixel could be where Kinect is revived, as Microsoft has been working to integrate the technology into its large displays for a couple of years now. Expect to hear how this combines with Windows 10 with a large touchscreen designed for office workspaces.
We’re not expecting any new Windows Phone hardware, but that doesn’t mean Microsoft won’t get a little creative. The Information is reporting that Microsoft is planning to show a phone-laptop hybrid on Wednesday, and The Verge understands this will be part of the company’s prototype demonstration of future Windows-powered hardware. Microsoft is keen to showcase how Windows can run across a variety of devices, but most of this will be for demonstration purposes. With Microsoft’s focus on the internet of things, it’s likely we’ll see how Windows and Microsoft services can help power tiny devices of the future.
A new Spartan browser
Microsoft is expected to unveil its upcoming Internet Explorer replacement on Wednesday. Codenamed Spartan, the new browser is designed to be a lightweight replacement that includes more modern features and abilities. Spartan will have close Cortana integration, including the ability for the browser address bar to surface information on flights, deliveries, and more. Spartan is also expected to include improved browser extension support, allowing Windows 10’s native browser to finally catch up with Firefox and Chrome. Microsoft has also been experimenting with allowing developers to easily port extensions from Chrome, and we might see some evidence of that work on Wednesday. Spartan is designed to work across Windows 10 on PCs, phones, and tablets, so expect to see a uniform design and features that work across all three.
Microsoft’s naming of its upcoming Internet Explorer replacement could be a key announcement on Wednesday. If the company is ready to name the browser, then we expect the Internet Explorer name to disappear. While a traditional Internet Explorer will be available in Windows 10 for legacy and enterprise reasons, the majority of users will launch Spartan. This gives Microsoft a good opportunity to finally ditch the Internet Explorer name that’s surrounded in hostility and legacy.
Microsoft’s presentation begins Wednesday, January 21st at 12PM ET / 9AM PT. The Verge will be reporting from the event live, and you’ll be able to follow along with us for all the news.