Microsoft in 2013: what to expect
30th Dec 2012 | 12:00
Surface 2, Windows Blue, Windows Phone 8.5, Office 2013 and a new Xbox?
It's been almost impossible to keep up with Microsoft in 2012.
Even after the Windows and Surface and Windows Phone 8 and Xbox Music and Outlook.com launches, the announcements have kept on coming: SkyDrive for Xbox, Halo 4, updates to Skype, the autumn Xbox dashboard update, ramping up Surface production and a quick attack on Google for turning its shipping section into a set of paid ads rather than an actual search.
Microsoft isn't slowing down for the holidays, but what's left for 2013? Quite a lot, including the perennial rumours about a new Xbox - or two or maybe three…
1. Windows Phone 7.8 and 8.5
Despite the on-again, off-again rumours throughout December, the Windows Phone 7.8 update won't come out until early 2013. Windows Phone 7 users get the new Start screen with three sizes of tiles, a version of the Kids Corner child lock, 20 new accent colours and dynamic lock screen wallpaper (with at least the Bing image of the day); Nokia phones also get a ringtone maker, Bluetooth sharing and lenses for the camera that let you remove unwanted objects and make partly animated GIFs.
Windows 8 review
Windows 8 vs Windows 7: 8 ways it's different
50 Windows 8 tips, tricks and secrets
Windows 8 tablets: what you need to know
Making sense of the Windows 8 versions
All our Windows 8 content
But what about Windows Phone 8 users? US users are already getting the minor Portico update that fixes some bugs, prioritises Wi-Fi and lets you easily send a text message to explain why you didn't pick up the phone.
That comes to European users early in 2013, but the big update will be Apollo Plus; we're expecting that to be Windows Phone 8.5, to be announced at Mobile World Congress in February – but unless we're also getting Windows Phone 9 next year, we don't expect to see it until the autumn.
2. Office 2013
We know Office 2013 (which is already finished and available for businesses, as well as on Surface RT) will go on sale in 2013, in January or February. Will we see Office for the iPad in 2013 as well? This is another persistent rumour that doesn't necessarily add up; Office isn't the only advantage of Windows RT but it's a key feature.
If we do see Office for iPad it might only be the OneNote and Lync tools - after all, the Word, Excel and PowerPoint Web Apps were rewritten this year to run on iPad and Android tablets, which could be what Microsoft means when it keeps saying "Office will work across Windows Phone, iOS and Android". And whatever Microsoft has planned might be delayed or cancelled over arguments with Apple over whether they get a cut of Office 365 subscriptions for Exchange and Office licences for Windows and Mac sold through iOS apps.
3. No more Messenger
As expected, Microsoft will retire its Messenger IM service in favour of Skype in the spring (except in China, probably because of concerns that the government often discusses blocking the service). You can already merge your Microsoft and Skype accounts by logging into Skype with your Microsoft account (and you can still send messages to friends on Messenger and Facebook) but at some point that will become the only option.
Given the Facebook and Messenger integration in Windows Phone 7.5 and 8, we expect that will coincide with the full release of Skype for Windows Phone (and possibly even an update to Windows Phone to make it all work together). The good news; there will be special offers to make the move more palatable - maybe free Skype minutes like those on offer with some Office 365 accounts.
4. Xbox 720 and Xbox Loop
Another year, another set of rumours about the new Xbox. After seven years, we definitely expect Microsoft to launch a new Xbox late in 2013 and we really hope it includes the Forteleza Kinect Glasses project we've heard about, which seems to combine Google Glasses-style augmented reality with 3D screens.
The $299 price that's been suggested probably isn't for what we're still calling the Xbox 720 for convenience (although it might be the Xbox8 and the internal codename is Durango) which might be based on ARM or x86 chips, possibly with PowerPC chips to run existing Xbox games.
The cheaper model is rumoured to be a set-top box based on Windows 8 for playing casual games and running the kind of entertainment services (like Netflix and BBC iPlayer) that are already on Xbox 360, in something that doesn't look so out of place in the living room if you're not a Halo fan. Think midway between Xbox and Windows Media Center…
5. Surface 2 and more
The other Xbox rumour is a 7-inch Xbox Surface gaming tablet running a custom version of Windows RT with SmartGlass.
Like the rumoured Surface Book touch Ultrabook, AMD-based Surface Pro 2 and smaller Qualcomm-powered Surface RT 2, this was suggested by tipster and "social experimenter" @MSnerd. CEO Steve Ballmer has said that Microsoft will "obviously" make more hardware "where we see important opportunities to set a new standard" and thanks to the job adverts TechRadar discovered back in August, we know Microsoft is working on a second generation of Surface tablets so we'll see new models. Other rumours say Microsoft is ramping up its own manufacturing and distribution facilities, which you need when you're a "devices and services" company rather than a software developer.
What we're not sure about is the specific hardware Microsoft will use or the exact products we'll see (we're similarly a little sceptical about the often-rumoured Surface Phone).
Microsoft bought giant touchscreen maker Perceptive Pixel this year and CEO Jeff Han is hard at work in Redmond, probably on cheaper versions of the 80" touchscreen system that businesses can use with Windows 8 and Kinect for video conferencing or visualising data – or it could be an all-in-one PC for the home. We expect new Surfaces will come later rather than sooner in the year and run Windows Blue.
6. Windows Blue
If you have a new Surface every year (to compete with the new iPad every year), you need an update to Windows RT to go on it. Full updates to Windows 8 will probably still come every 2-3 years but we expect to see annual updates of Windows RT (and WinRT on Windows 8) that are cheap or even free.
The project codename is Windows Blue, according to rumours, and we expect to see the first release in the autumn with the next Surface models.
7. Something we know nothing about
Given how much better the company has got at keeping secrets, we're expecting at least one big surprise from Microsoft that we haven't heard about yet.
Perhaps the "ground-breaking hardware, software and experiences across computer vision, machine learning, human-computer interaction, image and video processing, networking and graphics" that the team behind Kinect is building to "revolutionize consumer electronic devices" according to a recent job advert. That might be Kinect 2 and Kinect Glasses, or it might be something completely different.