Foley on Microsoft
2014 Predictions: 5 Products Microsoft Will Deliver
- By Mary Jo Foley
Microsoft has officially shared next to nothing about its product roadmaps, beyond some fairly sweeping statements it has made about aligning around the "One Microsoft" mission. That makes trying to predict what's going to happen even more fun and risky for those of us trying to maintain high Sorsed scores. (If you haven't heard about the cool rumor-tracking site Sorsed, formerly known as Tracour.com, it's worth checking out.)
Here are five things on the product front I'm expecting from Microsoft in 2014, in no particular order. If the list feels a bit consumer-heavy, it's because the enterprise-focused Microsoft will be putting lots of effort into growing its smaller consumer business.
1. "Surface Mini" tablet: Microsoft made a major misstep by pooh-poohing the appeal of 8-inch mini tablets back in 2012. Yet after hinting earlier this year that Windows 8 was built to scale across all form-factors, Microsoft didn't end up delivering a small Surface in 2013.
There have been recurring rumors that Microsoft might build some kind of "Xbox Surface." This companion device would most likely run the SmartGlass software, which lets tablets provide supplementary information about Xbox apps and services. There's no word if that's still part of the plan. We do know, however, that Microsoft plans to deliver a 4G/LTE-enabled Surface 2 device in early 2014. Maybe the mini-Surface tablet will be 4G-enabled, as well?
2. Wearable devices: Microsoft could take the wraps off its first new wearable device since the SPOT watch. The new gadget might be a watch, but then it might not. The "Xbox Surface" isn't the only potential new Xbox-branded gadget in the wings. Prior to the One Microsoft reorg in July 2013, the Xbox team was working on developing some new kind of wearable device. After the reorg, the hardware team working on wearables moved to the Devices division; and the software crew moved to the unified Windows team, sources have said. Whatever form Microsoft's first wearable takes, expect some kind of Xbox tie-in.
3. Office with touch: Microsoft should deliver the long-rumored "Gemini" wave of touch-centric Office apps. At last, there will be true touch-centric versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint (along with a second release of touch-first OneNote). The rumored rollout date for these apps is summer 2014. I'm thinking they debut alongside Office 2013 Service Pack 1 or shortly thereafter.
Microsoft should also be ready to deliver a couple of brand-new, touch-centric Office family members: A Reader app and a "digital storytelling" app codenamed "Remix." Reader was allegedly demonstrated during Microsoft's internal company meeting in the fall of 2013.
4. iPad and Android Office: At long last, Microsoft will deliver Office for the iPad and Android-based tablets. Both will likely require Office 365 subscriptions. It's no longer a question of whether Microsoft is planning to offer Office apps for iPads and Android tablets. The real questions are when and how. From what some of us Microsoft watchers have heard and deduced, Microsoft is planning to require an Office 365 subscription -- just as it does with the Office Mobile apps for iPhones and Android phones -- for these non-Windows-tablets. Supposedly, Microsoft will only offer Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for these platforms, not any of the other Office apps -- not even Outlook.
5. Speech recognition: Microsoft's answer to "Siri" and "Google Now," codenamed "Cortana," arrives as part of Windows Phone 8.1 "Blue" before mid-2014. Microsoft has been developing its own voice-controlled personal assistant for the past few years. Cortana, named for the artificially intelligent character in Microsoft's Halo series, will be the first instance. However, I'm hearing Cortana may not show up as an integrated part of Windows on PCs and tablets until 2015. Cortana is more than "just" a voice-command technology. It will use the "Satori" knowledge repository that powers Bing to adapt and learn.
What other Microsoft product predictions for 2014 would you put on the short list?
Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.