8. Windows RT 8.1 revelations
It was actually a Microsoft partner - Qualcomm - that spouted word of Windows RT 8.1 in early June. The chip maker was talking up its support of the future RT update with its Snapdragon 800 processors, no less.
While we won't see the fruits of this partnership blossom until later this year, we're pretty positive Build 2013 holds plenty of promise for both talk on what we can expect from the RT update, how it will help resurrect the operating system and perhaps a glimpse at the devices destined for v. 8.1 and Qualcomm's snappy chips.
9. Go, team RT, go!
Now the timing may not be right, but according to recent reports Microsoft is lowering its Windows RT licensing fees in the hopes of winning new OEMs - and appeasing current ones - to build Windows RT devices.
It may be too seen to see partnerships borne of the supposed price drop, but the possibility for Microsoft and a new Windows RT buddy to talk about, well, a partnership is certainly something to keep an eye out for at Build 2013.
10. Shift from software to hardware?
Word on the street is CEO Steve Ballmer has undertaken a major restructuring at Redmond, aiming to move Microsoft away from its bread-and-butter niche of software and place a stronger lean on devices and services.
AllThingsD reported June 23, just days before Build, that Ballmer will likely reveal restructuring plans to a broad group of senior company executives by July 1. The report indicated the planning stages have been very hush-hush, with a limited number at the company in on Ballmers intentions. It does appear related to "solidifying Microsoft into the 'devices and services company'" previously reported on.
Might we hear more about a consolidated Microsoft at Build? The chances seem high, if only we receive hints as to what's down the road.
Microsoft will still develop software, we're sure, but we anticipate Ballmer speaking to some shifts at this year's developers conference as it basically directly impacts the gathered crowd. The executive everyone loves to hate addressed changes to the company's direction last year, and we could see the message carrying over into Build 2013.
11. Cheap device time
As with all good developer conferences, Microsoft will place the brunt of attention on the software side, but we wouldn't be surprised if there's some talk - either out in the open or behind closed doors - about how Windows Phone can win the cheaper phone wars.
When we sat down with Microsoft's Greg Sullivan at CTIA in mid-May, he immediately swung into talk of how a $129 Windows Phone 8 device - the Lumia 521 on T-Mobile, specifically - could kick the butts of similarly priced Android handsets.
The hardware is there, but if Microsoft truly wants to build out a wide product range, it's going to need to sell why lower and mid-tier handsets are just as important as high-end phones. If it can get devs and the watching public and press on board with that message, feature phones may have a new king.
12. Welcome, Windows 8.1
We've heard plenty about this Windows 8 update, known until recently as Windows Blue, and Microsoft even spilled the beans on the update in a late May blog post by Head of Windows Program Management Antoine Leblond.
W8.1 will "add new features and functionality that advance the touch experience and mobile computing's potential," all the while tipping its hat to customer feedback. Look for more backgrounds, a lock screen slideshow, aggregated search and a new Internet Explorer.
- Check out the top 12 enhancements coming to Windows 8.1
Microsoft will officially release the update "later this year," providing "more options to businesses, and give consumers more options to work and play," and Build will be our first chance to see first hand what the Softies have done with the Windows 8 refresh. In fact, regular Joes will be able to play around with it themselves starting June 26, the first day of Build.
This isn't simply an operating system update: We'll see more for apps (more on that below), a likely Windows Phone 8 update, and some new stuff for Windows server.
Blue a.k.a Windows 8.1 a.k.a the free Windows 8 update could spell feast or famine for Microsoft's new take on the OS, so we'll keep a close eye on how well it functions and how well it's received, which may be a given if Microsoft's Start tip brings back a little of the old Start button's magic.
Expect more spills from Microsoft in the weeks leading up to Build 2013 - the folks at Redmond seem rather inclined to chat about Windows 8.1 these days. Not that we're complaining.
13. Splitting up and coming together - apps, that is
Microsoft has promised to bring an app overhaul to some of its Windows 8 apps as part of this whole Blue revamp, including ways to run apps side-by-side on devices home to smaller-sized screens. The hope is to do so without a massive internal work over, which if Microsoft can achieve would make for more expedient delivery to awaiting Windows 8 customers.
Microsoft revealed in its late May blog post that its Music app has undergone a complete redesign, while new editing features are heading to the Photo app. The Redmond squad said to expect more on built-in app updates, plus the introduction of all new apps, as time goes on.
A revamp of first-party apps is certainly something Microsoft fans want to see, and we imagine Build 2013 is the next mark on the horizon for Microsoft to make some major app announcements. Plus, we'd really like to know what these redesigns actually look like!
Perhaps most exciting of all, from a functional level, are more Snap Views, or the ability to split your screen among different applications.
Users will not only be able to resize their apps to any dimensions they want, they can share the screen between two apps, and have up to three apps on each screen in use (if using multiple, connected displays). Finally, Microsoft has promised to let users have multiple windows of the same application "snapped together - such as two Internet Explorer windows." Now this we gotta see.
14. Smaller Windows 8 devices
There's a space up until recently Microsoft hadn't extended its Windows 8 reach, but that all changed in early June.
That area is of course smaller devices, namely ones developed by the company's OEM partners and sized in the 7- to 8-inch range.
Acer was the first out of the gate with the Iconia W3, the first official 8-inch Windows 8 tablet announced during Computex. It's arriving starting in June, and we expect a handful more to break cover by the time summer's over.
Microsoft itself has spelled out that larger devices aren't the only size range it's interested in.
"As part of [new device offerings], we are also working closely with OEMs on a new suite of small touch devices powered by Windows," former Microsoft CFO Peter Klein said during the company's April earnings call.
A May 15 DigiTimes report indicated Microsoft plans to launch an 8-inch Surface in June, followed by a 10.x-inch version as early as the third quarter of the year. Citing "supply chain makers," the sometimes spurious site noted the 8-inch Surface will feature Samsung-built touch panels and Nvidia processors.
At a larger glance, with the advent of Intel's power-saving Haswell chips, the stage is set for a number of new devices - laptops, tablets, desktop - to make a grand debut. Why leave Windows 8/Windows RT out of the mix?
Will we see more OEM-made 7- to 8-inch device burrow out of Build? We certainly think those, along with a smaller Surface, are certainly possible.
15. Windows Phone Store strategy 101
Let's be frank: Windows Phone lacks hard in the app department. At last count, the Windows Phone Store counted 145,000 apps - compare that to the bajillion-plus in the iOS and Android app stores, and Windows Phone is doing a fine job of holding up the rear.
Granted, the Store's app count is growing, and the Microsoft team is "talking to a lot of folks" about various apps, something the company told us in a March interview, all the while staying focused on developing a "vibrant, differentiated third ecosystem."
The big question for Microsoft is how to get that message to developers while simultaneously courting the big name apps that are embarrassingly hard to come by on the platform.
We were told during CTIA 2013 that there will be app platform discussion for Windows Phone 8 during Build by Senior Marketing Manager Greg Sullivan, with a focus on the "here and now" of the platform and not what's down the road.
Leblond also said we'll see an "improved Windows Store" better designed to push up top free apps, new releases and personalized picks with Windows 8.1. The re-grand opening on the Windows Store looks like it could fall between June 26 - June 28.
Yes, Windows Phone 8 is a new platform, and every week the company seems to add at least one high-profile app (recently it was a full-fledged YouTube app) but if Microsoft wants its mobile OS to be around for the long term, it's got to figure out its app situation quick. News that Windows Phone is growing faster than Android (albeit by a veerrryyy miniscule amount), is a nice feather to stick in its cap in front of devs.
Build 2013 seems like the place for Microsoft to lay all its apps on the line.
16. Xbox One ties us all together
Microsoft has promised a multi-part introduction to the new Xbox, including some going-ons at E3 2013 and yet more at Gamescom 2013. Even though the Xbox One is out of the bag, there's still plenty of mystery shrouding it, including if/how it will work with systems like Windows Phone.
Now, we were informed by Microsoft on June 24 that the reveal event and E3 were the big coming out parties for the Xbox One, with more information due later on. Build won't be the new console's stomping grounds like it has been in recent weeks, but that's not to say it won't be completely absent from this year's conference.
Developers are no doubt clamoring to learn more about the console and how it fits into the larger Microsoft ecosystem.
Word in mid-May surfaced that Microsoft's updated Xbox 360 dashboard ties into the Xbox One, and could help gamers transition to the new console. The new UI is said to have markings of Windows 8.1, as well. The public beta of the new dashboard may come in late June or early July - right around the time of Build.
There's an amazing amount of potential in this device that's not just a gaming console, but a completely different way to be entertained and connected. Build should build on the announcements of May 21 and E3, however slightly, no pun intended.