//build/ 2013

It’s almost that time of the year again for Microsoft to host their annual developer conference, aptly called //build/ (www.buildwindows.com). Windows Phone Central will of course be on location this week, with the show starting on Wednesday and running through Friday.

The event is being held at the Moscone Center in sunny San Francisco versus last year’s well-attended but rainy version on Microsoft’s Redmond campus. It will feature developers from Windows, .NET, Windows Phone, Azure and related “back end” technologies, all learning what's new with Microsoft.

What makes //build/ fun is it’s a chance for Microsoft to tell developers what to expect in the next year, including new tools, new technologies and a few big announcements as well. So what are we expecting?

Windows Phone - No Blue in sight

Windows Phone 8.1 Blue

Unfortunately, we are not expecting any significant Windows Phone news. We know some of you have been anticipating some ‘Blue’ info aka Windows Phone 8.1, but that is still in development phase and not due to the end of the year. Microsoft has reversed itself on “announce now, ship later” and instead has gone the same route as Apple and Google: "announce now, ship now (or soon thereafter)".

That’s not to say we don’t expect any news. As you may remember during our previous //build/ or MIX coverage, more often than not little nuggets of information do slip into the many tech sessions that are hosted over the three-day event. Sometimes a slide slides in that should not be in the presentation, sometimes you just ask the right people the right question and get a surprising response.

But with Windows Phone head Joe Belfiore not being there and the schedule not fully announced yet, any big news will be held later for a future Windows Phone Summit, much like last year when Microsoft had us all fly to San Francisco for a two-hour tour of the then imminent Windows Phone 8 OS. Such an event will probably happen again, but we’re not expecting anything before October.

One thing we will try to do is eke out some information regarding GDR2 and GDR3. Those are both forthcoming “minor” OS updates to Windows Phone, with the former expected in the coming weeks and the latter later this fall. In fact, the Nokia Lumia 925 already ships with GDR2 and we’re hearing a mid-July release for that update to carriers for the rest of us.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 Blue

Let’s be clear: If //build/ this year has one big focus, it will be Windows 8 and the upcoming Windows 8.1 Blue update. It’s a well-known secret that many sessions will focus on this big desktop OS update, including new options for developers and the opening up of the ecosystem for more creativity by devs.

Indeed, we expect that during the big keynote speech, where CEO Steve Ballmer often hosts, Microsoft will announce a public “preview build” of Windows 8.1 and we bet it will even go live at that time. That’s because 8.1 is expected by the end of summer for general release, leaving only 6-8 weeks for finalization.

Windows 8.1 is expected to bring a lot of refinements to the OS, including some new features for users, small Tile sizes, better resolution support (for higher resolution devices and small-screened ones).

You can read more about the 8.1 update and new features here.

Xbox One

Xbox One

In case you just came out from a cave, Microsoft has not once but twice now revealed their next generation gaming (and home entertainment) console called Xbox One. The first was the true reveal at a special Microsoft event, the second was more about the games at the recent E3.

So what will happen at //build/? That’s a great question because one area there is still some mystery about is independent developers and publishing. Currently, the system as understood won’t allow indie developers to self-publish (unlike the Sony PlayStation 4) but Microsoft did say they will have “an independent creator program”. That’s one area we expect some clarification on as many consider that yet another mistake by Microsoft in regards to policy.

Another area for the conference is the continuing development of the Kinect sensor (One and Two), including adapting it for various other technologies (Windows 8, Windows 8.1) and what developers can look forward to in the coming months as that SDK gets updated for the new hardware and software.

That 3 screens, cloud thing

Three Screens and the Cloud

Last we checked, Microsoft still has a vision for computing which falls under their “Three screens and the cloud” concept. That idea has your computer, Xbox and Windows Phone (plus we can tablets too) all running similar services, allowing a seamless experience.

While we’re not quite there yet in mid-2013, you do have to admit we are better off than a few years ago. But how will Microsoft continue to merge these somewhat disparate ecosystems together? What does that actually even mean in terms of actual development? And where will SkyDrive/Azure services go next?

We expect to have some answers to some of those questions by the end of //build/

So make sure you tune in to Windows Phone Central this week as myself (Daniel Rubino) and Sam Sabri tackle the juggernaut that is Microsoft and its massive developer community.

Follow us on Twitter: @wpcentral, @daniel_rubino and @samsabri; or Instagram: @wpcentral, @Daniel_rubino, @Samsabri

For all of our Microsoft //build/ 2013 coverage, book mark this page: www.wpcentral.com/build-2013