Microsoft today previewed its first major Windows 11 update, which will bring taskbar improvements and long-awaited Android app integration. Also coming to the desktop OS are redesigned Notepad and Media Player apps and new ways to share windows. Windows head Panos Panay briefly teased the changes in a blog post that describes the evolving PC landscape and reveals some early successes for Windows 11.
We don’t know many specifics about the update yet, but Panay says the taskbar will be improved to include a mute and unmute feature so you don’t have to search around for the one hiding in your video app. The Windows 11 update, which will arrive sometime next month, will also return the weather widget to the taskbar, make window sharing easier, and debut two redesigned apps: Notepad and Media Player.
This app duo was previewed late last year and will receive UI enhancements to better match the Fluent Design language seen throughout Windows 11. Expect transparent tabs, rounded corners, pops of color, and support for dark mode. The Windows Media Player will replace the Groove Music app with a “full-featured” music library and support for both audio and video, while the Notepad app gets a smarter find/replace tool and multi-level undo.
The headline feature arriving in the form of a “public preview” is Android app integration. Instead of using Google’s Play Store as one might guess, it will run through the Amazon Appstore. The feature was first tested in October and lets you search through a selection of Android apps directly from the Microsoft Store before directing you to Amazon’s Appstore for installation. Android apps can be used in split-screen mode with other Windows apps and support keyboard shortcuts and touchpad gestures. We don’t yet know how many Android apps will be available when the feature rolls out; we’ve reached out to Microsoft for specifics.
Panay spent the majority of the blog post going over the success of Windows 11 and the ways PC demand and use are changing. He points to three recurring trends: hybrid work and learning, shifts in entertainment habits and distribution models, and evolving consumer habits for everyday tasks. These claims are backed by some staggering statistics: Microsoft is seeing a 6x increase in people using video and collab apps like Teams, Zoom, Slack, and WebEx; streaming services are enjoying a 70% increase in usage while gaming minutes grew by 35%; and twice as many people are using their PC to shop online.
As for Windows, Panay says Microsoft is seeing “strong demand” for the OS and claims the upgrade offer is being taken at twice the rate as when Windows 10 was released. The new OS supposedly has the “highest product satisfaction of any version of Windows” though Panay didn’t specify what that entails. Concrete evidence of Windows 11's success includes 3x more traffic going to the Microsoft Store and people spending 40% more time on their Windows 11 PC than on Windows 10 (although the pandemic-fueled trends above are surely playing a role). One rather surprising statistic is that “nearly half” of Windows 11 users are giving the Snap Layouts a try.
“Product quality was a huge focus for the team, and we took a deliberate and phased approach to how we rolled out the upgrade. Today, we’re excited to share that the upgrade offer to Windows 11 is beginning to enter its final phase of availability putting us ahead of our initial plan of mid-2022,” Panay wrote.
Hardware sales are also soaring with PC shipment passing 340 million last year, up 27% compared with 2019. Windows is now on 1.4 billion monthly active devices, and Microsoft says its customer insights research found a nearly 50% increase in folks using their PC for creativity, gaming, or work.
If Microsoft wants to continue this success, it will need to ensure a smooth rollout of this forthcoming update. Given the troubles it had with Windows 10 (see this disaster), you might consider waiting until potential bugs are ironed out.