Microsoft's next 12 months: A year of innovation ahead

At its Worldwide Partner Conference today, Microsoft's chief operating officer Kevin Turner gave a hint of what's to come from the company over the next twelve months with the slide that you see below. While not a full roadmap in the truest sense, it does offer a sense of what to expect from Microsoft in what the company claims will be its "biggest innovation year ever". 

Windows

In addition to the full release of Windows 8.1, which is expected soon after its release-to-manufacturing next month, the slide promises a range of new 'Windows 8.1 devices'. A major focus with 8.1 will be the launch of smaller Windows tablets, such as the Acer Iconia W3, which we'll be reviewing soon. 

A vast range of new APIs and tools in Windows 8.1, announced at last month's BUILD conference, will enable developers to create more comprehensive and immersive experiences in their third-party apps, while Microsoft is committed to improving and adding to its range of first-party apps, such as its recent Bing Food & Drink and Health & Fitness releases.

Windows Phone

Turner confirmed what we've long suspected in stating that Windows Phone phablets are on the way - just one aspect of the "killer hardware"  that the slide promises. The next big device for the platform will be the Nokia Lumia 1020, which will be revealed tomorrow, featuring a 41-megapixel camera.

But there's plenty more in store for Windows Phone over the next year. There'll be a renewed focus on low-cost devices, which will be critical in capturing share in emerging markets like India, where domestic handset manufacturer Micromax has committed to launch Windows Phone 8 handsets, and China, where Microsoft will soon be opening its own retail stores.

There'll also be improvements to the operating system, with an improved and integrated Skype user experience, along with some rather mysterious "Start screen innovation" also on the way.

Perhaps the most interesting note on the slide pointed to a "common app platform with Windows". While this could simply be referring to the code commonality between Windows 8 and Windows Phone, easily allowing developers to port apps between phones and PCs, it could also hint at app interoperability between the two. Watch this space. 

Windows Server, Windows Azure and Microsoft Dynamics

Unspecified updates are in the works for Windows Intune, along with the upcoming release of SQL Server 14. Microsoft's commitment to helping organisations make sense of Big Data will see the launch of PolyBase, a new data processing engine in SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse, offering a simple way to combine relational and non-relational data. 

On the Microsoft Dynamics front, we'll see the release of new feature packs for Dynamics AX 2012 R2, adding to the range of new Windows 8 apps released this week by Microsoft for its enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. This Fall will see the launch of CRM 2013, while NAV 2013 R2 is also on the way.

These aren't the only improvements for these products - other features and enhancements will be announced later. 

Surface 

Two boxes on the slide sound particularly exciting on the Surface front. "Update to Surface RT" and "Update to Surface Pro" sound an awful lot like the confirmation that we've been waiting for of new versions of Microsoft's tablets - but as for what improvements may be on the cards, your guess is as good as ours. 

The company also promises that a range of new accessories will be released for its tablet range, while new colour options will refresh its selection of existing peripherals. 

Xbox 

Not much was revealed here that we don't already know about, with the launch of the Xbox One, along with new first- and third-party games and accessories being lined up. 

One interesting new feature mentioned, though, is the advent of "music service updates" for the Xbox platform, although whether this simply points to the improved Xbox Music app for Windows 8.1, and the recent launch of Xbox Music on the web, is unclear.

Skype

In addition to enhanced experiences on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone, Microsoft is also promising greater integration into Office 365 and Outlook.com; the company first launched Skype on Outlook.com earlier this year. As shown at the launch of the Xbox One in May, greatly improved Skype integration will feature on the new console, offering a Windows 8-style 'snap view', enabling voice and video calls while playing games or watching video content.

Improvements are also on the way for Skype users in business, with support for "large meetings", and a boost for enterprise calling in the cloud. 

Bing

Bing has got a huge boost in Windows 8.1 with search integration going deeper than ever before, throughout the operating system. At BUILD, where the OS update was launched, and at WPC, Microsoft frequently referred to Search as "the new command line" for the OS, and the company will continue to build on this. Expect further enhancements in the integrated Bing search experience in Windows Phone too.

Bing apps will continue to be a major focus for the company as well, with ongoing improvements to its software suite - including News, Sport, Weather and more - on Windows 8, while Bing on Xbox will also get a boost. Currently, Bing on Xbox only searches for content that you can play on the console - such as music, TV shows and movies - but we could yet see a more comprehensive search experience offering a broader range of options.

New Bing apps for Office will also be offered, while a "next-gen advertising" platform is also promised.

Office

Office apps will soon make their way to the Windows Store, offering an easy way for users to download apps that connect with and enhance the default Office programs, and likely replacing the existing standalone Office Store. For subscribers to Office 365, Microsoft reiterated its commitment to regular improvements, with quarterly updates as part of its new rapid release schedule

"Best in class" Office Web Apps will also be continuously updated, while Yammer integration with SharePoint and Lync will be offered too. 

 

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