Microsoft's 2016: More Hardware, Software and Cloud
It’s hard to believe that 2015 is now behind us, which means that with a new year, it’s time to take a look at what Microsoft is planning for 2016. Everything from updated hardware to Redstone are currently in development and based on the past two years, we can begin to understand how the company plans to lay out the upcoming months.
Starting in January, the company will begin approving applications for HoloLens developer kits, which means we will start to learn a lot more about the devices capabilities and features. With the kits arriving in the first quarter of the year, the last few secrets about the device will be better understood and will help to paint the picture of its true capabilities.
The non-pro Surface is quickly approaching its typical refresh window and should receive a modest update to keep its specs in-line with the competition. Don’t expect too much here as the company will beef up the specs and deliver a better type cover for the smaller device, but they have a good formula for the device. It would make sense if the company would leave out the high-end features, like Windows Hello sensors, to keep the cost down and this would also make the separation of the pro and non-pro devices easier to distinguish.
And then there are the phones, the company has a few low-end offerings on the agenda as well as the highly anticipated ‘Surface’ phone. Details about the mythical device are still scarce and really, the only thing that matters about the Surface phone is how is it going to differentiate itself from the Lumia 950 so that it sells in volume.
The Xbox may also receive an update next year, rumors of an Xbox slim style device picked up late 2015. I have heard from internal sources that the company is considering plans for a lightweight Xbox One that may only be for Windows store games and would compete with the Apple TV, but it’s not clear if these plans have been scrapped. A similar device was rumored around the initial Xbox One launch and those plans were put on hold but this device is said to be from a similar vein. If this device does materialize, it will not launch until the second half of the year and have a much lower price-point than the Xbox One.
The Surface Book and Pro 4 are expected to be upgraded in the second half of the year before the holidays, but it’s too far in advance to know about what enhancements this will include.
Microsoft will release two feature packs next year, under the codename of Redstone, tentatively scheduled for late spring and late fall, with the latter being a smaller release for Windows 10. The updates will include extensions for Edge, improved Cortana experiences, SMS from the desktop if you have a Windows phone, updated File Explorer, improvements to action center and likely a lot more.
It’s not all Windows 10 too, the company is planning to release its next major server update, Windows Server 2016. There will also be continuous updates to its Visual Studio products with potential for more aspects of its technology being open sourced as well.
The company’s future is its cloud platform, so expect to see Microsoft to continue to move aggressively in this department. The company’s high stock price is aligned to the strong performance from this division and its ability to grow revenue. With more companies off-loading on-prem services to the cloud, getting its clients to build around their cloud platform is a critical path to long-term viability of the service as it becomes quite hard to change cloud vendors once you become heavily invested in the ecosystem. Also watch for not-so-subtle clues about how its enterprise software works better when using cloud based services and how to easily integrate the company’s business class software for hybrid and full cloud deployments.
As the company works to claw away market share from Amazon and make sure that Google doesn’t sneak up behind it, look for another strong push to get its partners to sell more cloud services, as the company will also rapidly add new features and adopt more open source stacks like it has done in 2015.
The past year for Microsoft set a new record for number of companies acquired, 20. The company, likely using its elevated stock price as a monetary vehicle to lower the cash-basis for its purchases, bought up everything from security software to communication applications.
Expect this trend to continue into next year as they buy-up eager startups who align to the company’s objectives. One company that everyone has been curious if the company has approached yet is Slack, a communications tool that has become popular in small and midsize operations.
The big surprises of 2015 for the company were the announcement of HoloLens and the Surface Book. Will 2016 pull out any big surprises from the company? That’s hard to say as they have done a good job at keeping their best secrets locked-up inside the development labs the past two years but the one thing on everyone’s mind is the Surface phone.
Considering their lack of wide-scale success in the mobile segment, it will take something big to generate any noise, so it makes sense that they would put all their chips in the Surface phone bucket to make sure it creates a new loyal fan base.