Microsoft and consumers is a sore subject for enthusiasts these days as many believe the Redmond based company has abandoned consumers completely.

Of course, that is not the case – not even close.

Yes – the company’s focus has shifted from being driven by Windows as the primary bread winner to a cloud based products and services model through Azure and all of its related offerings.

In fact, many things consumers use from Microsoft are cloud backed services and depend on Azure for much of their functionality. So in reality, consumer capabilities is very much tied into Microsoft’s ability to deliver Azure services inside and outside of the company.

In other words – the success of Microsoft’s Azure cloud based offerings does impact their consumer products and services.

Anyway, the point of this article is not to convince you that Microsoft’s cloud business is a key to the consumer side of the business but to share what is on the horizon as 2020 begins in the consumer market for the company.

Windows 10

Windows 10 Version 1909 Start Menu and Desktop

The latest official public update for Windows 10 is the November 2019 Update which was of course released in November 2019. Rather than being a full feature upgrade as past feature updates have been, the November 2019 Update was a cumulative update to Windows 10 Version 1903. After applying that update it becomes Windows 10 Version 1909.

Windows 10 (20H1)

The next update to Windows 10 that is expected in 2020 is Windows 10 (20H1). Microsoft has already announced that it will be known as Windows 10 Version 2004. The 20 means the year of release and the 04 means the month of the final build. If history holds to patterns for feature update releases, expect Version 2004 in May 2020. Currently the latest 20H1 (aka Version 2004) build for Windows 10, Build 19041 is in the Windows Insider Slow Ring. Expect incremental builds to focus on stability and bug fixes leading up to its public release. Even if it doesn’t get released until May, the longer this update is in Slow Ring, the more testing and fixes it will receive. That should translate into a fairly smooth hassle-free upgrade for most users.

Windows 10 vNext

After Windows 10 (20H1) in the spring, we should see 20H2 this fall as the second update for Windows 10 in 2020. Normally we would expect to see 20H2 builds in Fast Ring now that 20H1 is down in the Slow Ring for final testing. However, Microsoft has decided to begin 2020 off with a significant change to the profile of Fast Ring builds for Windows 10. Instead of making those Fast Ring builds 20H2 like we are used to seeing in the past, the company has decided to make the Fast Ring a little more bleeding edge by placing releases from the RS_PRERELEASE branch in there for Windows Insiders. This branching happened back in December before the holiday period began with the release of Build 19536 to the Fast Ring. As I explained at that time, I am labeling this branch as Windows 10 vNext (Version Next). According to Microsoft, this is the branch where Windows software engineers push their latest code changes and feature enhancements. Builds for Windows Insiders will therefore see the latest and greatest work being done in Redmond. This means a more unstable testing environment but as an Insider in Fast Ring you should be expecting that as the norm. It also means that as features come into Windows 10 vNext they are not tied to a specific feature update for release. This makes the branch a real testing environment. Once the Windows team is ready to begin final work on a feature update, they will fork that base build off the RS_PRERELEASE branch and likely move it to the Slow Ring for continued testing as a feature complete update. Of course, some of these ideas and thoughts are all mine based on past history and processes used by the Windows 10 engineering team. Everything could change or it could be right on the mark.

Only time will tell but you can bet we will be watching this closely along the way.

Microsoft Edge (Chromium)

Microsoft Edge with Chromium Preview Channels

We are now in January 2020 and just a little more than a year after they announced moving the company’s Edge web browser to the Chromium based rendering engine, the time for general availability is almost here. Microsoft announced at Ignite 2019 that they were targeting January 15th, 2020 as the general availability date for their new browser for Windows 10. That date is likely a moving target because the team also stated they wanted to hit certain quality milestones for release instead of just a date on the calendar.

This is a good move on their part because key areas of the browser are still incomplete including syncing of Favorites, Extensions, and Browsing History. Right now in the Edge Canary (Daily), Edge Developer (Weekly), and Edge Beta (Every 6 weeks) channels, only Favorite sync is toggled on for those testing builds. Since Edge Beta is also the Release Candidate channel, it is looking unlikely that extension and history sync is going to make it to general availability since they haven’t even been tested in Edge Canary and Developer channels. Unfortunately, I think that would be a mistake as these are pretty standard browser features and could impact enthusiasm to move to the new browser from stalwarts like Chrome and Firefox.

Software, Apps, and Services

Office 365 Home

Suffice it to say that Microsoft continues to build out their app ecosystem across Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. The company’s effort to move more functionality out of the operating system and make it app based means more frequent updates to the features  the apps deliver to users. However, one app stands out as being very unbalanced in the mobile ecosystem between Android and iOS – Your Phone. While this app has become very robust over the last several months for Android users, those on iOS still lack many of its key features because of limitations on Apples side since it is more of a closed system compared to Android. This road block needs to be overcome or else Microsoft enthusiasts in that mobile ecosystem are going to continue to miss out on these capabilities. Your Phone is a great app and I enjoy using it on my main desktop and other devices to interact with my phone. I get the frustration from the iOS users are missing out on those enhancements and abilities.

Office 365 for consumers continues to grow with the addition of 3.1 million subscribers over the 12 month period ending in October 2019. Office 365 Home subscribers receive access for up to six users with each having 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage for their use among the other software and services offerings. My favorite feature of Office 365 Home is the ability to share my subscription with family and friends at no additional cost to them or myself. It is such a great deal compared to buying the stand alone version on its own.

Surface Hardware

Surface Hardware Display October 2019
Courtesy of Microsoft

Last year Microsoft iterated on their Surface Pro (Version 7), the Surface Laptop (Version 3), and unveiled the first version of the Surface Pro X – an ARM based device. Of course, they also showed off new accessories like the Surface Earbuds plus updates to peripherals like the Surface Keyboard, Mice, and Pens.

During 2020, those in the know seem to think updates will be made to the Surface Book (Version 3), Surface Hub (Version 2X), Surface Studio (Version 3), Surface Go (Version 2), and maybe even Surface Pro (Version 8).

However, we do know of two devices that Microsoft showed off a year ahead of their release at the October 2019 hardware event in New York City that will be released late this year.

The Surface Neo (Windows 10X) and Surface Duo (Android) mark the company’s return to the mobile market. Although they are not calling them phones in the classic sense of the word, they are most certainly communications devices. The Neo and Duo are also Microsoft’s entry into the world of folding dual screen devices.

Surface Duo
Surface Duo (Courtesy of Microsoft)

Surface Neo
Surface Neo (Courtesy of Microsoft)

Personally, I think they have nailed the concept by having two separate glass screens that are hinged together rather than the foldable plastic screens we have seen with mixed results on some early devices in the folding screen market.

Access to these two devices were very tightly controlled so I did not get the chance to check them out up close but the potential is there in what will no doubt be a competitive market in foldables.

Just like their Surface design impacting OEMs and their various form factors, I expect these will do the same thing for this up and coming market of devices. It should be both an interesting journey for Microsoft and their partners.

Plus – this means a new version of Windows – Windows 10X – and Android on a Microsoft device. I am very excited to see how this moves forward.

Xbox and Gaming

Xbox All Access
Courtesy of Microsoft

The gaming business for Microsoft is still strong as they wind down the Xbox One X era and get ready for the release of the next generation Xbox Series X console this coming holiday season. Over the course of the 12 months ending in October 2019, Xbox Live user numbers went from 57 to 65 million for a total increase of 8 million users to keep that ecosystem robust.

Programs like Xbox All Access, Xbox Game Pass (for console and PC), and some great deals for hardware bundles for the current generation consoles makes for a perfect time to either upgrade an older console or plan to get on the leading edge. First party games being available through Xbox Game Pass on their release date and four generations of backwards compatibility with games and accessories makes the Xbox platform a safe investment to stay connected to the past and future of gaming from Microsoft.

In Closing

While many see the consumer horizon very cloudy at Microsoft, there is plenty happening that is going to benefit consumers in 2020 and beyond.

This year should be very exciting as we watch the development of these new platforms and existing services and features.

What are your thoughts on Microsoft’s consumer future?

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