Microsoft used the past year to put some of its failures behind it, and paint a clearer picture of its future. That future looks a lot like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and universal apps everywhere, and the software giant has been laying strong foundations towards it in 2016.
While HoloLens was announced in 2015, Microsoft started shipping the head-mounted display to developers earlier this year. Microsoft is pushing its idea of mixed reality with devices like the HoloLens, but the company also revealed recently that it will support virtual reality headsets in Windows 10 in early 2017.
Part of that push will arrive in a new Windows 10 update, but for the past year Microsoft has focused on tweaking Windows 10 with its Anniversary Update. It added features like Windows Ink, Microsoft Edge extensions, a new dark theme, and even bash Linux command line. The bash addition is Microsoft’s latest step to try and tempt developers to build Windows apps, alongside acquiring Xamarin earlier this year.
Microsoft has been struggling to attract developers to its new Windows apps platform, and the company has historically struggled with smartphones. While last year saw the write down of the company’s Nokia phone business acquisition, Microsoft truly reset its mobile plans in 2016. The software maker gutted its smartphone business, and only released a single Lumia device, the Lumia 650. It’s safe to say Lumia is over and done with, and Microsoft has spent most of the year focused on Windows 10 for PCs rather than mobile.
Microsoft also spent a lot of 2016 discussing its artificial intelligence plans. Bots debuted at its Build developer conference, and after a rocky start with Tay they’re now starting to show up regularly in Skype and elsewhere. Bots are the public face of AI, but Microsoft is doing a lot of work behind the scenes to inject intelligence into all of its software and services. Microsoft even acquired LinkedIn this year to further its social network gap and boost its AI and CRM efforts.
Alongside software, services, and the cloud, Microsoft also had a couple of big hardware announcements during 2016. The Xbox One S arrived first as a well-designed Xbox console, alongside Xbox Play Anywhere to play your Xbox One games on Windows 10 PCs. While Microsoft didn’t refresh its Surface Pro or Surface Book devices this year, the company did surprise with the Surface Studio and a focus on creatives. That’s got a lot of people talking about whether Apple has the right focus with its Macs recently, and it has set Microsoft up for a lot of attention to Surface in 2017.
As we look towards 2017, Microsoft still has a lot to prove with its universal apps and its attempt to bring Windows to ARM chips once again. Both of these have been attempted before with little success, and Microsoft will need to convince developers next year. The company hasn’t totally given up on mobile, and next year could see the unveiling of a potential “Surface Phone.” The real focus will be on Microsoft’s AR and VR plans, and whether it can convince third parties to produce headsets that bring its mixed reality dream firmly into reality.