Microsoft is hosting an announcement event tomorrow, May 2, where it will be revealing new hardware and software products. Rumors and leaks have been surprisingly scarce leading up to the event, but given the event’s focus on education, all the signs so far point towards one thing: Microsoft is ready to take on the Chromebook.
We’ll be at the event covering all the news as it happens, but in the meantime, we’ve been mulling over what to expect – and what not to – from what’s likely to be Microsoft’s biggest event since the Surface Studio was revealed.
Expect: Competition for the Chromebook
Chromebooks have had massive momentum in the United States, particularly in education. They’re cheap, they’re built well, and they perform good enough for everyday tasks. It was only a matter of time until Microsoft responded.
How exactly the company will respond hardware-wise is a bit less clear. The smallest Surface line – the convertible tablets that aren’t dubbed Pro, Studio, or Book – hasn’t been updated since the Surface 3 came out two years ago. As the cheapest products in the brand, a Surface 4 seems like the most obvious candidate to take on the Chromebook.
And yet, the Surface 3 still cost $630 at launch if you wanted a keyboard. That’s a lot more expensive than most Chromebooks, which typically sell for around $300 or less. It’s possible Microsoft won’t want to dilute the Surface as a premium brand, and may just reveal a new product category altogether. Some reports have suggested Microsoft will reveal a more traditional clamshell laptop that simply flips around like a Lenovo Yoga.
Alternatively, Microsoft might simply reveal new products from hardware partners, but that seems unlikely to be the main focus of the event. Whatever the case, expect its new PC(s) to cost less than $500.
Expect: A lighter (but still-powerful) version of Windows 10
In order to compete with Chromebooks, Microsoft needs to take on Chrome OS as well, and that means ensuring Windows 10 can run smoothly on cheap devices with low horsepower, while still delivering excellent battery life. Leaks the past few months suggest Microsoft will do that with a new version of its OS, dubbed either Windows 10 S or Windows 10 Cloud.
This new flavor of Windows 10 would look just like the one you’re used to, except you can only install apps from the Windows Store. Before you go and worry that this would simply be a repeat of the ill-fated Windows RT – which limited you to only touch-friendly modern apps – there’s a significant difference: Windows 10 Cloud would still be able to run full-fledged Win32 apps.
These apps would simply have to be available from the Windows Store; the OS would block installs from other sources. And if we’re lucky, that might not even be such a hurdle. An early build of the OS allowed you to toggle installation from unknown sources, much like Android does if you want to install something from outside the Play Store.
That could potentially make for a suitable compromise. It would keep most users away from installing power-hungry legacy apps, encourage more developers to list their apps on the Windows Store, and allow Microsoft to regulate ensure their users are installing relatively well-optimized software.
Microsoft has also previously demoed new power optimization features and support for ARM processors (the kind in your smartphone), so expect those to make their way into the OS.
Expect: Big updates to Office
Microsoft Office and education go hand-in-hand, but once again, Google has stolen much of Microsoft’s thunder. A lot of what you used to need pay money for to do with Office, you can do for free with Google Docs. There are free online office apps, but they’ve always played second-fiddle to native paid ones.
If Microsoft is limiting Windows 10 Cloud to the Windows Store and focusing on performance, the company can go two routes: either embrace its online offerings wholeheartedly, or create new versions of Office meant to be run on low-powered laptops. The company does have Universal Windows Platform Office apps, but they are currently only available on phones.
Maybe: Mixed Reality in the classroom
Microsoft has put a lot of effort into its mixed reality offerings, and chances are it wants to integrate these into education. With its recent foray into VR, it’s possible the company will demonstrate how mixed reality can play a role in learning too. A Microsoft version of the Google Cardboard, perhaps?
Don’t Expect: More Windows 10 news
With Microsoft’s huge Build conference for developers is taking place just a week after tomorrow’s event. Information on future versions of Windows 10 beyond Windows 10 Cloud – such as that nifty UI redesign – will probably be saved for Build.
Don’t Expect: New Surface Book, Surface Pro, or Surface Studio
You definitely shouldn’t expect new entries into those Surface product lineups. If we’re lucky, Microsoft could provide a spec bump, but don’t count on it. If any major updates do happen this year, they’re more likely to happen in the fall.
Don’t Expect: A Surface Phone
It’ll happen someday, but probably not this year.
We’ll be reporting the announcements as they happen in New York today, so stay tuned to TNW for more.