The last year for Microsoft may have been one of its most historic. In 2013, the company launched Windows 8.1, began shipping its own PC hardware, released the Xbox One, acquired Nokia’s devices and services business, announced a company-wide reorganization and prepared to lose its CEO of 13 years.
Windows Phone 8 was originally released in October 2012 but it’s seen little love since then. Other than small, incremental updates under the “GDR” name, Microsoft has remained quiet about future plans for Windows Phone.
Even as the company released Windows 8.1 for the desktop, it did not comment on plans for Windows Phone. In 2014, it’s widely expected that the company will unveil Windows Phone 8.1 at BUILD in April.
Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to include a number of improvements such as a notification center, a personal assistant similar to that of Siri dubbed “Cortana,” quick settings functionality, on-screen button support, Skype improvements and integration and other UI enhancements. The company recently confirmed that all current Windows Phone 8 handsets will receive the update sometime in 2014.
In terms of hardware, the Nokia acquisition should start to bear fruit as well. The company has a number of handsets in the works and these will likely be released under the Microsoft brand rather than the Nokia brand going forward.
Future handsets might even be merged into the Surface moniker over time but it’s unlikely since the Lumia name has so much klout in the market right now.
Nokia/Microsoft were rumored to be working on a smartwatch in 2013 and since almost everyone seemingly wants a piece of the action it’s a possibility that the company will attempt to release one in late 2014 after the acquisition is completed. Live tiles on a watch? Yes please.
Microsoft has a problem on its hands: Windows 8. While the OS has been available for over a year now, it isn’t gaining as much traction as the company would have liked.
Recently, Paul Thurott reported that “Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public” and that less than 25 million PC’s have upgraded to Windows 8.1. This spells disaster for Microsoft when you look at the considerably slowed adoption rate of Windows 8 compared to the release of Windows 7.
This year, Microsoft’s BUILD conference will be held in April where it’s expected that the company will unveil an update for Windows entitled “Windows 8.1 Update 1.” It isn’t known what’s actually in the update yet but rumors suggest it will only contain minor changes ahead of “Threshold,” which is expected to be released in 2015.
“Threshold” is a major new version of Windows that reportedly be released with the name “Windows 9” and will refine the Modern interface, add the classic start menu, separate the OS into consumer and enterprise versions and begin building a converged platform for Windows Phone and Windows RT.
Threshold/Windows 9 is unlikely to be released in final form in 2014, but we do expect Microsoft to announce the new version and preview some parts at BUILD this year. Since Windows 9 is reported to be released at BUILD in 2015 we’d expect a beta or release candidate version to be made public before then.
2014 may be the year we finally get to see the ‘Surface Mini’ that’s been rumored for some time, as OEMs continue to build smaller tablets to rival the iPad mini and Nexus 7. There aren’t many details known, but we reported late last year that the device was likely to go into mass production by the end of 2013 so it may appear around BUILD, where hardware is traditionally distributed to developers as an incentive to develop for the platform.
On top of this, the company is likely to announce hardware revisions to the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 but it’s unlikely they will be significantly refreshed until 2015. The Surface 2 will also get 4G LTE sometime in Q1-Q2 this year as well, as previously announced.
What we may see is the fruit of Microsoft’s Nokia acquisition. Nokia announced a Windows RT tablet in late 2013, which seemed like an odd move for a company that was busy being acquired. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a Nokia branded tablet again, but Microsoft could release an addition to the Surface family using acquired Nokia hardware.
The Xbox One entered the market in late 2013 so this year will see a number of updates to the console to build out existing features and add new functionality. There are already major updates planned to fix a number of complaints from the console’s launch as well as add features such as the ability to stream games on Twitch.tv.
A number of exclusive games that are expected to launch this year for the Xbox One: Project Spark, Fable Legends, Below, Quantum Break, Cobalt, Sunset Overdrive, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Halo 5, Kinect Sports Rivals, D4, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, Plants vs. Zombies and Titanfall, among others.
Reports suggested in 2012 that Microsoft would release a set-top box titled the “Xbox TV” in 2013 but the device failed to surface. There aren’t many details available on the box, but a report from The Verge in 2012 suggested it would be based on Windows 8 and would support casual gaming titles as well as TV and streaming services.
Perhaps this device could launch in 2014, but it’s hard to say if it will, based on the lack of news about the device over the last year and the TV support that the Xbox One currently has.
Last year, Office 2013 was released to the world missing one giant thing: a Modern UI version of the product. It’s a gaping hole, with tablet users being dragged into desktop mode to use Office products.
Reports suggest we should see the Modern version of Office in 2014. Codenamed “Gemini,” it’s expected to ship in ‘late spring’ 2014 so it’s likely Microsoft will announce either a preview or availability at BUILD in April.
The company has also neglected its Mac Office suite for some time, with the last release being made in October 2010. Reports suggest that Office:Mac is included in the “Gemini” suite and will receive a refresh in late spring 2014 alongside the release of Modern Office for Windows.
iOS and Android versions of Office have long been rumored and even surfaced a few times but were never made available outside of a basic Office365 application. It’s expected the company will announce these products in late fall 2014, according to ZDNet, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard anything about them.
The CEO search and management changes
An emotional Steve Ballmer took to the stage in 2013 to farewell the company he loved after announcing his plan to step down within 12 months. Ballmer was CEO at Microsoft for 13 years and the search to replace him began in 2013. The company has not shared many details about the search but many rumors emerged about those in the running, which included Alan Mulally, Stephen Elop, Satya Nadella and Tony Bates.
Some candidates, such as Alan Mulally, have confirmed they are not in the running but others such as Stephen Elop seem much more likely to get the job (considering that Nokia was conveniently acquired by Microsoft). We’re likely to discover who the next CEO will be in the next few months, but until then it’s simply a guessing game fuelled by snippets of whispers that leak from the boardroom.
In 2013, the company also announced its ambitious plan to unify itself, called “One Microsoft.” It was Steve Ballmer’s last major move as CEO and is intended to break down divisional firewalls and encourage working together for common goals. The intention is to help unify strategy and help the company move faster; it’s in more danger than ever since being late to both the mobile and tablet spaces and has been playing catchup.
These plans should begin to be realized in 2014, though it’s unlikely there will be obvious evidence in the near future. That said, expect products to work better together in the future due to the changes in departmental collaboration, beginning with products like Threshold/’Windows 9′.
A big year ahead
The year ahead will be a big one for Microsoft; it faces more challenges than ever before with continually declining PC shipments and consumers continuing to look elsewhere thanks to Windows 8.
2014 may work to repair many of these issues. The company will be revitalized with a new CEO at the helm, a new management plan in place and a number of strong products under its belt. A lot more will become clear after the announcements at BUILD, but it looks like the company has a big year in store.