(Pocket-lint) - By all counts Microsoft had a huge 2013: it launched the Xbox One, Windows Phone gained ground in the market, the executive level had a "One Microsoft" reorginisation, and Windows 8.1 was released for the Windows 8 naysayers.
However, 2014 truly is shaping up to be Microsoft's year. Here are our predictions for what to expect. Please bear in mind that these are predictions based on everything we’ve seen and heard within the industry in 2013 - so don’t be surprised if Microsoft changes its course drastically or scraps some of its plans along the way.
The CEO search ends
It came as a shock for the tech industry when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement in August. He is giving the company until August 2014 to find a replacement, and until then is continuing his role.
In December, Microsoft announced that it would name its next CEO choice in early 2014. No potential candidates were named, only that its list consisted of roughly 20 people.
“We identified over 100 possible candidates, talked with several dozen and then focused our energy intensely on a group of about 20 individuals, all extremely impressive in their own right," John Thompson, the man charged with leading the search for the company's new CEO, said. "As you would expect, as this group has narrowed, we’ve done deeper research and investigation, including with the full board.”
Several candidates to replace Ballmer have been named in the media, including Ford's Allan Mulally, Nokia's Stephen Elop, vice-president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group Satya Nadella, and Skype leader Tony Bates. It was anticipated that Microsoft would come to a decision before 2013's close, but we now know that won't be the case.
A new leader for Microsoft could bring big changes to how the company operates. Microsoft has had only two CEOs in its history: Bill Gates, who now serves as chairman, and Steve Ballmer who took over the reins in 2000. Any one of the candidates to become Microsoft CEO could bring fresh ideas to the company.
Deal with Nokia's hardware business finalises
Microsoft's move to acquire Nokia's device business was approved by all necessary regulators at the end of 2013. Now the deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014.
Announced in September, Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's mobile device unit will give the Redmond-based company complete access to the team behind Lumia smartphones and Nokia's treasure-trove of mobile patents. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who is also on the list to be the CEO of Microsoft, will join Microsoft to head up the devices division.
A deal between Microsoft and Nokia has long been a dream of the technology industry, with Nokia being the biggest hardware manufacturer pushing Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. Neither company has revealed how the Lumia line will fall into Microsoft's current range of devices - such as the Surface tablet - but have said manufacturers like HTC will still be able to access Windows Phone for their devices.
During a conference call in September, still CEO Ballmer suggested Microsoft and Nokia could put their heads together while under the same roof to simplify things like device names. That could be just one of the benefits from the buyout.
"We can probably do better for a consumer name than the 'Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 1020', and yet, because of where both companies are, and the independent nature of the businesses, we haven't been able to shorten that name," said Ballmer.
Windows Phone updates
Beyond new hardware from Microsoft/Nokia, the company is said to be releasing Windows Phone 8.1. The software is currently in beta testing by Microsoft, The Verge reported, to be shown off in April 2014. As Windows 8.1 did for the desktop, Windows Phone 8.1 is said to bring some major changes to please users.
The update will reportedly have a notification centre that swipes down from the top. It will also boast quick settings and a notification history, which makes it sound very close to offerings currently found on Android and iOS.
A digital personal assistant (like Google Now on Android and Siri on iOS) is also said to be found within Windows Phone 8.1. The name "Cortana" has been thrown around, and it will sport conversational interaction, as well as the ability to learn location context and data and remind you of stuff.
Separate volume controls, Bing Smart Search results, a separate built-in music hub, separate apps for Xbox Music and Xbox Video, and new social apps like Twitter and Facebook to expand upon the People Hub are also said to be found within the software.
With the release of new software typically comes new hardware. We know Elop will lead the troops at Microsoft to crank out Lumia devices. Will other manufacturers like Samsung and HTC, which have been relying on Android a lot lately, follow suite?
Windows 8.1 was released in late 2013 as a free update to Windows 8. However, Microsoft will spend much of 2014 working on the next version - conveniently named Windows 8.2.
The new software most notably will bring the Start menu back to Windows for the first time since Windows 7, according to reports. The Start menu allows users to organise folders, search and turn off and restart their machine. Essentially, it would negate the need for users to access Windows 8's Metro interface.
Additionally, Windows 8.2 is said to bring the ability to run Metro app windows on the desktop, treating them like traditional apps. Third-party software has supported this, but it is now said to come baked in the Windows 8.2 software.
Mary Jo Foley from ZDNet claimed in early December that Microsoft was working on a single unified application store that will work across all of its platforms, mobile, PC and Xbox One, with Windows 8.2.
With the acquisition of Nokia's device business set to be completed in early 2014, this seems an obvious step for a company that is rapidly moving out of just software development in multiple areas.
Windows 8.2 will therefore be made up with three separate updates, one for each system, and ZDNet claims that there are plans to release them in spring 2015 - there's no need to get too excited yet.
It's been reported for quite a while now that Microsoft has plans to launch a 7-inch Surface tablet. Microsoft has kept a tight lock on specifications and overall design.
One of the sources is reported as saying that Microsoft wasn't considering plans for a 7-inch tablet as part of its initial strategy, but has changed that stance thanks to the success of similarly sized alternatives, such as the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini - which is 7.9-inch, rather than 7-inches exactly, creating almost a new category yet again.
A new version of the Xbox One?
Hit or miss trade publication Digitimes reported Microsoft is preparing to introduce a new version of the Xbox One in the first quarter of 2014. We suggest you take the rumour with a grain of salt.
It could be that the case design of the Xbox One is being reduced in size from its present large state. Or there is the possibility the new Xbox One is simply a marketing or bundle with the big launch of Titanfall in early March, if a new Xbox One is really the case.
Selling Xbox and killing Bing?
In a surprising report, Bloomberg said that if Elop became Microsoft's CEO, he would make radical decisions. Namely, he would contemplate selling off the Xbox division of Microsoft and put the focus back on software like Windows and Microsoft Office. Additionally, he would consider killing Bing outright.
Of course, it's not clear if Elop will become the CEO at Microsoft (we're not sure if his comments helped his case). Following Bloomberg's report, Ballmer said he doesn't want his successor to kill off the search engine or video game business. Elop could ultimately change his mind.
Read:Xbox One review
Microsoft Build Developer Conference
Microsoft has pinned its Build 2014 developer conference from 2 to 4 April. It will be hosted in San Francisco, and developers will be able to register beginning 12pm ET on 14 January.
While it has plenty of sessions for developers, our main interest in the Build conference surrounds product announcements. Last year, Microsoft introduced Windows 8.1 and improvements to Bing during the event. With Microsoft rumoured to be introducing a slew of software and devices, the Build conference would be where the announcements would occur.