Under the banner of Windows 10, Microsoft is on the verge of deploying a single operating system that spans – and indeed draws together – the company’s PC, tablet, mobile, and gaming hardware platforms. Set to launch in latter half of 2015, Windows 10 will be made freely available to Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 users, while the OS’ core kernel will be pushed to Xbox One users, whose devices currently rely on a modified version of Windows 8.
Seen holistically, Windows 10 is not simply about a new operating system, or mere deployment of a single software platform. Windows 10 represents the ambition to create a bona fide ecosystem, to extent further the company’s prowess in advanced user-interface control, and to cast Microsoft devices in a much more favorable light, vis-à-vis the application-development and media-delivery communities.
On the gaming front, Microsoft is baking an Xbox application into fixed and mobile Windows 10 devices, and in so doing, elevating a strategy that it first began to explore – however timidly – with Xbox Smartglass. In bringing full-blown game streaming to Windows devices, Microsoft has settled on an implementation that sits somewhere between Sony’s PlayStation Now, and Sony’s Remote Play. The new Xbox app is decidedly cross-platform – Remote Play is primarily a method to allow dedicated, mobile consoles like the PS Vita to operate a PS4 – but limits game streaming to other Windows-running devices. By contrast, while PlayStation Now is on the verge of leaving the Sony nest, and leaping onto Samsung Smart TVs – without the need for an accompanying PlayStation console – Microsoft’s app extends gaming across a tablet and PC landscape that retains an Xbox at its center. As such, Microsoft’s strategy does not revolve around extending reach out-of-footprint. This is a strategy intending to unify console and PC gaming under a Microsoft banner, and to add value to owning an ever-wider complement of Microsoft-flavored hardware, in all of its forms. (Please refer to Piers Harding-Roll’s commentary on the full implications of Windows 10 for gaming)
On the user-interface front, Windows 10 will usher Cortana onto computers, will allow synchronized notifications across Windows devices, and will bring augmented reality – via the HoloLens wearable – to the platform. While Cortana’s natural language processing remains a closed, Microsoft-controlled affair, notification synchronization and HoloLens both have the potential to enable new, 3rd party media experiences. Synchronization is likely most germane to content discovery. In much that same way that Netflix has enabled Android Wear smartwatches to receive video recommendations, Windows 10 allows media companies to reach viewers, and push content discovery experiences, across any device they may own – be it a PC, console, tablet, smartphone, or even Microsoft’s much anticipated, but as-of-yet-unannounced, smartwatch.
HoloLens, more speculatively, will permit discovery and consumption experiences that as of the present remain difficult to envisage in-full. Microsoft has nonetheless played its hand well – by incorporating HoloLens APIs directly into the Windows 10 platform, Microsoft is throwing a bone to the developer community, and is allowing this community to define where the HoloLens concept can, and conceivably should be, taken. Whether it be enabling content discovery, or augmenting the media consumption experience with interactive overlays and supplemental information, HoloLens – as a concept – has the potential to offer an incredibly promising, if very much future, platform to the media space.
Ultimately, in placing consoles, smartphones, tablets, and PCs atop a single software platform, Microsoft is proposing an ecosystem whose device breadth – where key, media-centric hardware is concerned – is unrivaled. iOS remains a smartphone and tablet proposition, while Google’ Android – sweeping aside what will become a wide ensemble of non-media, IoT-centric hardware and appliances – will continue to play in the phone, tablet, smartwatch, and OTT set-top space. The breadth of the Windows 10 ecosystem will have direct and likely rapid consequences for online media delivery.
Microsoft’s mobile software platform has historically struggled to garner attention from providers of media. While major online video services have eventually found their way to the platform, there is little question that Windows Phone 8.x development, and subsequent application roll-out, often lags far behind iOS and Android deployment. Through the mechanism of the free upgrade program, Windows 10 will reach a scale that should change developers’ calculus and incentive structure. It is difficult to overstate the value of authoring a single application, and being able to reach, with little incremental development, so wide a complement of media-centric devices.What remains to be seen is how Windows 10 will tie into Microsoft’s smart home and HomeOS strategy. At present, Microsoft’s HomeOS operating system is meant to run on a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 PC, and serve as a hub for a range of Z-wave compliant sensors, meters, switches, and lighting elements in the home. Given that HomeOS remains run by Microsoft Research, is entirely experimental, and represents an independent operating system that is decoupled from Windows, Microsoft may look to collapse Windows 10 and HomeOS, and turn the still-separate platform into a set of standard APIs that developers familiar with the Windows environment can access, and put to use, with ease.