With Windows 9, new developer tools, and a competitor to Apple's Siri, Microsoft could come out swinging at the Build conference.
iPhones and Android smartphones already boast equivalent features, but also because Cortana allegedly relies on Microsoft's machine learning technology, which company execs have been talking up for months. Given the audience, it's almost inconceivable that Windows Phone 8.1 isn't a major topic at Build. But online rumors claim the OS has been delayed, so it's not clear whether Microsoft will have a finished product to offer developers.
A screenshot from a video that allegedly shows Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now. (Source: UnleashThePhones.com)
3. Nadella could offer a Windows roadmap, including a Windows 9 preview.
As mentioned, Nadella has emphasized cross-platform opportunities -- even those, such as Office for iPads, that could diminish demand for Windows devices. Some pundits claim this strategy represents the beginning of the end for Windows as we know it, with Microsoft turning from client-side software to cloud-based services.
But Nadella, while introducing the iPad apps, emphasized that Windows remains a significant part of Microsoft's strategy. He also acknowledged that customers want more information about the product's direction. Reports have claimed for weeks that Microsoft could preview Windows 9 at Build, which, given Nadella's comments, seems more and more likely.
4. Will Microsoft speak to both the old and new worlds?
As Windows XP's obstinate popularity demonstrates, Microsoft's customer base spans a wide range of needs. Many still rely on desktop-era software and infrastructure and have little interest in jumping wholesale to tablets and cloud platforms. Microsoft's future might rely on Azure, but its present customers aren't all there yet.
In certain ways, Microsoft has handled this pressure gracefully. Its emphasis on interoperable public and private clouds allows companies to straddle offsite and on-premises, new and old, for example. But other struggles remain. Many longtime Windows developers haven't embraced the company's new direction, and many among the new breed of mobile app makers are too invested in iOS and Android to give Windows more than a cursory glance. Rumors indicate Microsoft could use Build to announce it has acquired or invested in Xamarin, a popular app development platform. Such a move could mean Windows developers will be able to use Microsoft's Visual Studio to create apps for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS.
5. Will we see touch-first versions of Office for the Modern UI?
The fact that Microsoft released a touch-first version of Office for iPads before doing so for Windows tablets only reinforces that Windows is no longer a sacred cow. Even so, Nadella stressed while introducing the iPad apps that Microsoft is also working on new Office products for Windows 8.1's Modern UI. How will these apps differ from the iPad versions? Will Microsoft include additional features that could pull some iPad users back to Windows? If Microsoft were to choose any upcoming event as a preview venue, Build would make a lot of sense.
6. Nokia is holding its own event during Build.
Microsoft is still in the process of assimilating Nokia's device business, which means the companies can't really collude any more today than they could before the acquisition. That makes Nokia's sideshow event, which will be held Wednesday evening, somewhat curious. Many expect the company to showcase new hardware running Windows Phone 8.1. But given the company's eyebrow-raising release of the Android-based Nokia X platform at the Mobile World Congress, a surprise could be in the cards.
The invitation to Nokia's San Francisco press conference, which is scheduled alongside Build.
7. What's next for Xbox?
Microsoft will reportedly emphasize Xbox at Build, which makes sense. Along with Windows platforms and Azure, Xbox is one of Microsoft's attractions for developers, making Build the logical event for new gaming news. Many Xbox watchers are hoping Microsoft will open the console to a wider range of developers.
8. Will we see any new Surface hardware?
Microsoft's second-generation Surface devices have been better received than the first round, but as of Microsoft's last earnings disclosure, the product line was still losing money. Last year, several reports claimed Microsoft was working on a smaller Surface tablet to compete with the iPad Mini, as well as a Surface-branded smartwatch. No concrete evidence of either device has emerged, but if Microsoft wants to generate enthusiasm around new hardware, Build is one of its better opportunities.
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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio