January 21 is fast approaching, and with it, the unveiling of the consumer features of the point-zero release of Windows 10. We know Cortana is going mainstream with this release, unmooring from Windows Phone and sailing into the world of the PC. We also know that the Start menu is back and here to stay, and the whole UI of the OS is getting a facelift, shedding the Vista and lingering XP icons. Flat is the word which comes to mind when I gaze upon the new icons already peppering the existing builds of the OS.
But what else should we be expecting? It’s now common knowledge in the tech circles that Microsoft will be replacing Internet Explorer with a new browser, which carrier a Halo inspired codename; Spartan. It’s also known that the UI’s facelift includes a new, black, theme, though the name is unknown. The Continuum UX will also likely be unveiled – this is what convertible devices such as the Surface will use to transition between UIs when switching from tablet and docked modes.
Oh, and how can I forget? The kernel version will jump from 6.3 to 10, but no major impacts are expected on existing applications.
Alright, let’s move on to my hypotheticals.
What I expect to be unveiled on January 21:
Cortana, everywhere. In the browser, file explorer, the task bar and probably on the lockscreen too. On supporting SoCs, there will also be an ‘always listening’ function to invoke her without touching anything.
Live Lockscreen support. It’s on the phone, though it’s pretty limited so far, so expect it to make a splashdown on the PC side as well.
Native NFC wallet support. Windows Phone 8 has supported NFC payments from day one, but it wasn’t until late 2014 before anyone in the US could use it, via an app called SoftCard, and only some users can access it, after inserting a special SIM card. I’m sure Windows 10 will remove the third-party app requirement and just have its own wallet app function like Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Even on mobile PCs with NFC chips.
Improved performance. DirectX12 is coming, but there is much room for performance enhancements remaining elsewhere. Coming from Windows 8.1, I noticed boot time increased insanely on my high end PC. The near instant boot times should make a return in the January 21 build, or shortly after. I also expect that support for ARM coprocessors may appear in the OS as well, and I think we will be seeing greater usage of DirectCompute.
OS level facial recognition. I think Microsoft may have grown tired of sluggish OEM implementations of this, and may just grab the horns themselves to fix this.
Voice recognition. With Lumia Denim, you have to train Cortana so she isn’t overly friendly with random people who might be near your phone. “Hey, Cortana” support on the PC could lead to voice authentication as well, perhaps not right away though. 10.1?
Kinect support. I think it’s reasonable that Microsoft may bring OS level support to the Kinect. It may function similarly to the Xbox One, but as far as gaming support goes, I feel this is an area that will be exclusive to high end hardware, if it appears at all outside of Modern apps.
Windows Mobile Dev Preview. Yes, I believe there is a slim chance that Microsoft may drop the curtain on it, but only on the tablet side. x86 though, as I imagine existing RT devices won’t get a build pushed out to them until the phone side is also unveiled. I am convinced that Microsoft will not, I repeat, not unveil the next phone OS until March, during MWC in Barcelona. Hell, they may even hold onto the tablet SKU until MWC as well. Keep in mind that Microsoft and the former Nokia mobile devices unit had a very heavy presence at or during MWC in 2013 and 2014 as well.
I will not speculate any further, however, it’s possible that the upcoming build may leak before the event. At least expect more screen shots to appear in the wild leading up to the event. Keep in mind that not everything Microsoft announces will necessarily be in the January build of the Windows 10 Preview, as they have taken what was going to be Windows 8.2 and upscaled it to a major OS release.
On a personal note, January 21 also happens to be my birthday, so the unveil will be a nice gift. Thank you, Microsoft.