What to expect from Microsoft’s Build 2016 conference

83

Microsoft is back in San Francisco this week for Build 2016. It’s an annual tradition that sees the company lay out its software plans for the rest of the year.

While last year’s Build saw Microsoft unveil its grand plans for Android and iOS apps on Windows 10, we’re not expecting huge news this year. Microsoft shipped Windows 10 last July, and at Build this year it’s going to be focused on attracting developers to that platform with updates it has planned. HoloLens is also starting to ship to developers, so we’re going to hear a lot more about Microsoft’s plans for its augmented reality headset.

Build 2016 starts Wednesday at 11:30AM ET / 8:30AM PT. We'll be in San Francisco covering the event, and you'll be able to follow along with our live blog for up-to-the-second reports. For now, you can catch up on exactly what to expect below.

Build stock 4

Windows 10

Windows 10 has been steadily updated with improvements and fixes since its debut in July, but Microsoft has a lot more planned for the future. While current test versions of Windows 10 haven’t included many new features, we’re hoping to hear about a few new additions at Build. Microsoft has teased "two highly-requested surprises" for its Windows 10 Live Tiles, and many are hoping that this will include interactive Live Tiles that make it easier to respond and interact with notifications within apps.

Outside of UI changes, Microsoft is also focusing heavily on the future of Cortana. We’re hoping to hear more about changes to Cortana in Windows 10, and how the digital assistant will get a lot more powerful across Windows, iOS, and Android.

Elsewhere, Microsoft has already revealed a new Skype app for Windows 10 that will debut shortly, so Build feels like the ideal event to give us an update on other Windows 10 apps that are coming soon. Instagram and Facebook are both expected shortly, and we’re hoping to hear about other high-profile additions. Microsoft has re-engineered its new Windows Apps so they’re no longer fullscreen and they work across PCs, tablets, phones, and even the Xbox One gaming console, but we’re still waiting for developers to really show interest in the platform.

Windows Phone

Windows Phone has had a tough year. While Microsoft launched its Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL devices late last year, sales numbers of all Lumias plummeted 57 percent in the recent quarter. Microsoft isn’t planning to produce a large amount of handsets anymore, so those sales figures will decline even further.

Microsoft Lumia 950 Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

It’s not clear what Microsoft is planning for its mobile future, but Build would be a good time for the company to explain its plans for the rest of the year. Microsoft appears to be focused on cross-platform and app opportunities on iOS and Android, but the ability for its universal apps to run across PC and phone is one of its key selling points for Windows 10. Without a strong mobile footprint, questions remain over the entire Windows 10 universal app strategy. Developers will be keen to hear more about Microsoft’s mobile efforts, so we’re hoping to hear a lot more this week.

Xbox apps

Microsoft has been teasing Windows 10 apps on Xbox for what feels like years. It’s finally ready to talk about new apps and a store for Xbox at Build this week. We’re expecting to hear a lot about how developers will be able to create games and apps that work across Windows 10 on PCs and the Xbox One. It’s a key part of Microsoft’s universal app strategy, and the company has been slowly crafting just how it handles apps and the complicated process of approvals for the upcoming app store.

Microsoft is planning to bring Windows 10 apps to the Xbox One in the summer, so we should get some idea this week of what apps and games will debut in the coming months. Microsoft is also opening up Xbox Live to allow Xbox One owners to play against PC or PS4 players. While the company could wait until E3 to provide more details, we’re hoping we might hear about some additional titles that will support this new cross-network play.

Microsoft HoloLens

HoloLens

HoloLens development kits are shipping out to developers this week, so expect to hear a lot about HoloLens at Build. Microsoft’s annual developer conference is a good opportunity to show off more impressive demos, but it’s getting closer to a shipping product so it’s likely we’ll start seeing real HoloLens apps and games.

Microsoft let developers get a taste of HoloLens last year with a hands-on experience, and it’s likely the company will have a similar setup this time. While we’ve seen what the headset is capable of, it’s time to see what developers can do with it.

Office and the cloud

Microsoft’s Build 2016 keynote will be full of cloud talk. Expect to hear more about advancements in Azure, and how developers can take advantage of Microsoft’s cloud platform for their apps. Developers will be keen to hear about how tools and cloud services are being improved, and it’s likely that Microsoft will spend a large amount of time discussing the merits of its Azure platform.

On the Office side, Microsoft has acquired Sunrise and Wunderlist over the past year. The software giant has promised that Sunrise will start appearing as the calendar interface in Outlook mobile, and we’re waiting to see what the plan is for Wunderlist. Microsoft also recently acquired SwiftKey and Ray Ozzie’s Talko messaging app. While all of these acquisitions have been interesting additions to Microsoft’s cross-platform app strategy, we’re still waiting to hear if Microsoft plans to make them interact with each other in meaningful ways. The majority of these apps fall into the Office side of Microsoft, so could the Office team have something new and exciting to show at Build this year?

Office for iOS stock

A surprise?

Everyone likes surprises. Microsoft’s last big surprise was the unveiling of HoloLens at the Windows 10 event last year. Build could be a little quieter this year, but some Microsoft employees have been teasing big new Windows 10 features. Microsoft’s Rich Turner, a senior PM on Windows, tweeted (and then deleted) that new Windows 10 features are going to make people "freak out" when they see them. Fellow Microsoft employee Scott Hanselman tweeted (and then deleted) that the features would "change everything." We’ll have to wait until Wednesday to see if these appear in the Build keynote or not.


Verge Reviews: Nokia Lumia 950

The best of Verge Video