Microsoft has had a good 2015. The company introduced a new laptop, the Surface Book, launched a new version of Windows, updated a lot of its software for businesses, and updated its Surface Pro tablet and fitness Band.
But Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is just getting started.
He has big plans for Microsoft, including getting Windows 10 onto over 1 billion devices, expanding its current set of services, and introducing new hardware that will compete with Apple, Google, and Amazon.
Here’s what we expect to see next year.
The key things:
Here are the key things to look out for in 2016.
– The Surface Phone and new Lumia handsets.
– More strategic partnerships and an expansion in Europe.
– The Surface Pro 5.
– Updates to Windows 10 and the Office suite.
– A focus on philanthropy.
– More Apple-like retail stores.
This is it. After a year of buildup, Microsoft promises that the first development kits for its HoloLens holographic computer glasses will show up in the first quarter of 2016.
It’ll still be a while before you can go to your local Best Buy and grab a pair. But it’s a huge step closing to making these funky holograms a reality.
The Surface Phone
Rumors of a Surface Phone have been bubbling up for a while, and we may finally get to see the device in 2016.
The hardware will likely echo the Surface tablets with a metallic, no-nonsense look. The screen will be big, in keeping with other smartphones and Microsoft’s Lumia devices. Reports have suggested that it may be aimed at business users who want the power of Windows 10 on a mobile device.
It’s unclear when we will see the device within 2016.
A push into Europe
Microsoft is looking to expand further into Europe, adding employees to its offices in Ireland and building data centres in the UK and Germany.
The company is currently locked into a conflict with Amazon over the $11 billion (£7.4 billion) online storage and services market in Europe.
Europe will be a key market for Microsoft’s smartphones, too. The continent is one of the only places where sales are rising.
Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has been much more open to partnerships with other companies and, most importantly, its (old) rivals.
Microsoft has struck deals with Apple, Salesforce, Box, Cyanogen, Samsung, and more.
Sayta Nadella has said Microsoft’s new mission is to “empower every person and every organisation” which means the company will continue to partner.
Updates to Microsoft’s enterprise software
Microsoft is currently locked into a war with Amazon, IBM, and others over the highly lucrative software-services and online-services market.
Microsoft currently has, according to Ben Thompson, an industry analyst who runs the Stratechery blog, the best relationships with clients while Amazon has a faster team of software and hardware engineers.
2016 will see the continuation of the “Cloud Wars,” and Microsoft does not want to miss out.
Retail stores throughout the world
Microsoft’s first retail stores — located in New York City and Sydney, Australia — are just the start of things to come.
As Microsoft launches more hardware products, such as the Surface Book, the need to let users get hands-on time increases.
The company is rumored to be looking into a store in London among other locations.
Microsoft made a large number of acquisitions in 2015.
The company bought Sunrise, a popular calendar app for iOS, Wunderlist, a to-do app, Double Labs, a lock-screen app, and N-Trig, a stylus maker, among others.
The company bought many of these companies to enter new markets, including iOS and Android. Satya Nadella’s goal is to empower every person, meaning that Microsoft’s services need to be on every platform.
The Microsoft Surface is long overdue for a refresh.
While the Surface Pro made it to version 4 this year, the original Surface is still languishing as version 3.
The Surface 3 has many of the same benefits as its pricier brother, including a full version of Windows 10, but it’s cheaper and less powerful. Microsoft would be crazy not to release an upgraded Surface 4 in 2015.
The Surface Pro 5
Microsoft has found its beat when it comes to the Surface Pro, iterating on a two-in-one design that combines a PC and tablet into one.
The fifth version of the device will continue the trend of making the laptop/tablet hybrid even more capable, adding more power and making it thinner, just as previous versions have done.
Microsoft is marketing the Surface Pro 4 as the flagship Windows 10 device and so the fifth version has big shoes to fill.
The Surface Book 2
The Surface Book is a laptop first and a tablet second, a departure from the tablet-first mode of the Surface and Surface Pro.
Microsoft took everyone by surprise when it unveiled the Surface Book earlier this year (including its partner PC makers).
The reviews were positive, indicating that Microsoft may have finally cracked making hardware.
The Surface Book 2 will likely be more powerful, thinner, and lighter than the first generation model. It could also be available in more places, such as the UK, where the Surface Book is not.
New Lumia handsets
Microsoft updated the Lumia line in 2015, introducing two new handsets — the 950 and 95oXL — that bring the smartphones into line with Apple, Google, and Samsung in terms of hardware.
The Surface Phone will, according to reports, be focused on business users leaving the Lumia to consumers.
The updated models will be more powerful, include Windows 10, and will, Microsoft hopes, reverse the company’s fortunes in the smartphone industry through software like Continuum.
A new version of Windows 10
Windows 10 is less than five months old and Microsoft is already thinking about the next major update.
Codenamed “Redstone,” a reference to Microsoft’s hit game “Minecraft,” the new Windows 10 update is slated to hit next summer.
Updates will generally expand on the things that have come before in Windows 10, namely Continuum, which makes your phone into a PC. Apple has a similar feature for iOS and OS X, called Continuity, and it will likely move closer to that. You will, with the update, be able to take calls on your PC, for example.
Microsoft Office is still, behind Windows, Microsoft’s most important product. Office 365, the online version, has over 8 million users.
The company recently updated the productivity suite, naming it “Office 2016.” With 2016 coming up, Microsoft will be rolling out the update to everyone, consumer and enterprise alike, according to Microsoft.
Office 365 will also receive updates throughout 2016 in step with offline Office.
New features for Microsoft Edge
Microsoft’s update to Internet Explorer, called Edge, has received lacklustre reviews so far. There are no browser extensions, for example, and the software often crashes.
As more and more people move to Windows 10, Edge will become a centerpiece for the operating system, and it’s an area the company is focusing on in 2016.
Microsoft used to dominate the browser market and Edge is the company’s attempt to do the same thing again.
A new fitness Band
Microsoft’s fitness band, named Band, is one of the few times that the company managed to be on-trend when it came to hardware, as both Apple and Samsung have wearable s.
The first version was bulky and received poor reviews, but Microsoft listened and the second generation honed what made the Band good and cut out what made it bad, iterating on the bulky design and adding more software features.
The Band runs a stripped-down version of Windows 10, making it one of the more unusual products in the Microsoft stable. The year 2016 will likely see hardware and software improvement for it.
Internet of Things
Windows 10 is designed to run on all devices and that includes the “Internet of Things.” (Tiny devices that run inside your fridge, and so on.)
The operating system can run on something as small as a Raspberry Pi or a server stack and Microsoft is openly encouraging developers to experiment on its website.
Microsoft’s stated aim of getting 1 billion Windows 10 users is, in big part, helped along by IoT.
New features for the Xbox One
Microsoft made waves this year with a major update to the Xbox One video-game console that added a version of the Windows 10 operating system at the core.
It’s a sign that the Xbox and PC are getting closer together.
Expect that trend to continue in 2016: Microsoft is expected to add the Windows Store app market to the Xbox One. And Cortana, the digital assistant built right in to Windows 10, is coming to Xbox One, too.
Microsoft Research released its 16 predictions for 2016 and many of them involve the areas Microsoft traditionally excels in: software, security, and innovation.
The company’s research arm, which is largely independent of the actual company, is currently looking at a range of products, especially in science.
A full list of the projects currently being researched is available here, including spatial audio (a 3D audio system), SigmaDolphine (a way for a computer to answer math questions written in natural language), and PinDrop (a next-generation streaming service).
Microsoft recently announced an increased focus on philanthropy as the company looks to use its money, technology, and brand to help out others.
Headed up by Brad Smith, the company’s president, and Mary Snapp, a long-time employee, the efforts are in-line with Apple and others.
“In the year ahead we will continue to ask ourselves what are the challenges mankind faces, how can technology help, and what [are] the contributions of Microsoft,” said Satya Nadella.