Although Microsoft has released a number of new Windows builds to members of its insider program since the August release of the Anniversary Update, so far these haven't contained much by way of substantial new features. The contents of the next major update to Windows 10 have remained largely unknown.
That changed today. At its NYC event, Microsoft revealed some—though the company stresses, not all—of what we should expect to see when the update is released next year. And as with the Anniversary Update, the "Creator's Update" will focus on various key areas such as productivity and gaming.
"3D" is a big deal in the Creator's Update, and Microsoft demonstrated the operating system's capability to quickly scan, modify, and print objects with 3D printers. The stated goal was to make "3D creation" as simple as the process is for taking a 2D picture or video. On stage, MS presenter Heather Alekson used HP's X3 Windows Phone to perform a quick walk-around scan of a sand castle, which then appeared on the phone as a textured 3D model.
Also introduced was an update to Microsoft's venerable pack-in Paint application: it's now "Paint 3D." The application was shown transforming a set of pictures into a "3D memory," which involved importing the scanned sand castle model and then manipulating photos of the presenter's family around in it. The big tie-in, though, was with Minecraft—Microsoft showed off the ability to export creations from Minecraft into an online studio at Remix3D, where they can be modified in Paint 3D or printed on a 3D printer. Paint 3D also allows the creation of custom emoji and direct exporting of 3D-rotating images to Facebook.
The push for 3D isn't limited to Paint—Microsoft demonstrated the use of similar 3D flare in Powerpoint. Specifically, the Remix3D community is available as an import source in Microsoft Office applications, enabling users to add 3D models and animations to presentations and other documents (just in case your Powerpoint presentations weren't big enough already).
Continuing the "creativity" theme, Microsoft's Taj Reid showed off the Edge browser's augmented reality integration by donning a HoloLens and manipulating more objects from Remix3D on stage. Far more interesting, though, was Microsoft's tease of a new set of virtual reality accessories and a 3D "space" similar to what's available in other existing 3D headsets. The main thing Microsoft appeared interested in demonstrating was integration with user-created 3D objects, though the company also demonstrated a 3D "holo-tour" of Rome from within the headset.
The headsets will be manufactured by a spread of OEMs: the slide showed logos from HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer. They will all include "inside-out" tracking, which means no need for any external sensors. These offerings will start at $299 in contrast to the much more expensive HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. There were no additional details on the available feature sets or what the upper end of the price spectrum will be.
After a brief gaming demonstration, MS Windows specialist Allison O'Mahoney took the stage to discuss how Microsoft is prioritizing "people" in the Creator's Update. O'Mahoney explained that Microsoft thought important contacts were being buried in the complexity of apps; Microsoft is therefore changing how sharing and other person-to-person interactions work. Rather than trying to find a "share" link within applications and then finding a contact to share with, the process is turned sort of on its head. Important contacts gain a spot on the taskbar, and you can drag documents to them to immediately share. Sharing also gains a more prominent place in all Microsoft applications.
Additionally, Windows gains a new popup panel (situated above the contact list in the task bar) that contains Skype, Mail, and other communications apps. This feature lets you see all of a contact's messages across multiple mediums in a single place. Additionally, contacts can now send "shoulder taps," which cause small animated emojis to appear above their icon in the task bar.
Rumored Windows 10 features that Microsoft didn't show off on stage today include the Office Hub, which should provide tighter integration between Windows 10 and Office 365, with Office now gaining a panel (similar to the one that pen-based apps received in the Anniversary Update) that provides direct access to apps and recent documents. We also saw nothing of Working Sets, another productivity feature that is supposed to allow groups of related documents and files to be handled as a unit; they can be pinned to the Start menu or task bar.
The VR and AR headset support glimpsed was tantalizing but raised more questions than it answered. We don't know if any of the alternate VR interfaces for Windows will make it onto competing VR headsets, like the HTC Vive, or if there will be any compatibility crossover with SteamVR or Oculus Home. Microsoft and Valve have a fractious relationship—in 2012, Valve CEO and founder Gabe Newell described Windows 8 as a "catastrophe" that threatened to do major harm to the PC market. Microsoft's development of the Windows Store means that it is in direct competition with Valve and its Steam store, putting the two companies in direct competition with one another, in spite of their interdependence.
This week, Microsoft is releasing Insider builds of the Creator's Update for testers to start using. The final version will be available this spring, at no cost, on all Windows 10 devices.