Windows 10 has undergone plenty of changes in the six years since first launching, but the core look and feel has remained the same. Whether you’re picking up a brand new device or one that hasn’t been updated for a few years (the last version Microsoft officially supports is from May 2018), the experience will be largely the same.
However, that looks set to change in 2021. The 21H1 update is likely to be the minor refresh we’ve grown accustomed to from Microsoft, but big changes are expected later in the year. Here’s everything you need to know about the 21H2 update, internally codenamed ‘Sun Valley’.
Windows 10 21H2 update release date
We don’t have any concrete release information at this stage, although the timing of previous Windows 10 feature updates gives a good idea of when we can expect it. The late 2019 update arrived on 12 November, while a year later it was brought forward to 20 October.
All signs point to a similar release window for the Sun Valley update. Indeed, a Windows Central article suggests it will be promoted as the ‘October 2021 update’.
As is usually the case, members of the Windows Insider Program will likely get access to early builds ahead of time. In the same January 2021 article as above, Zac Bowden says this could be as soon as “the next few weeks”, so look out for that soon if you’re already signed up. If not, just head to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Programme and click ‘Get Started’ – it’s open to everyone with a Windows 10 device.
A near-final version of the 21H2 update is is then expected to be available to Insiders in June 2021.
Will my Windows PC get the 21H2 update?
It’s highly likely, provided your PC or laptop is able to download the 20H2 update, the most recent feature update Microsoft has released. The 21H1 update is still expected between now and Sun Valley, we’d be surprised if any devices running version 20H2 will stop being supported.
As is usually the case, you may have to install the previous feature update before Sun Valley becomes available to download in Settings.
You may also have to be patient. Microsoft is known to throttle up availability of feature update in order to manage demand, so it might be weeks or even months after the official release date that your PC is eligible.
Indeed, it wasn’t until February 2021 that the May 2020 update was officially cleared for all compatible devices.
Windows 10 21H2 update new features
Since October 2020, we’ve had an idea that the 21H2 update could be Windows 10’s biggest yet. Plenty of features were rumoured at the time, and lots more have been rumoured since. Here’s everything we know so far:
New design language
The Sun Valley update’s expected design overhaul is undoubtedly the most eye-catching news we’ve heard so far. Microsoft looks set to revamp Windows 10’s user interface to be more keeping with its new ‘Fluent UI’ design language, with rounded corners and a simpler design.
This will include system apps like File Explorer and Settings, as well as ‘File’ and ‘Copy’ dialog boxes. We’re expecting most of Microsoft’s apps to adopt a similar design, with Windows Central highlighting ‘Alarms & Clock’ in particular. The Start Menu, which was updated in late 2020 to automatically adjust to the device theme, will benefit from these refinements too.
According to Windows Latest, Microsoft is also considering a design where the Start Menu and right-click option window would be ‘floating’, with a visible gap between them and the taskbar. A mockup from the author Mayank Parmar shows how this might work:
Image: Windows Latest
Elsewhere, there will also be a brand new Action Center. It will adopt an almost identical design to Windows 10X, Microsoft’s new Windows spin-off designed for dual-screen devices. The big improvement here is a new Quick Settings menu, which will remove much of the clutter from the taskbar. There’s also a dedicated music control UI and separate notification area, all of which is visible from a single click.
Image: Windows Central
To complement this, Microsoft is also expected to introduce a new dashboard-style feature, which will provide an overview of information related to your account. This may include calendar events, recent documents, to-dos or other relevant news.
New personalisation options
It doesn’t look like the visual changes will end there. According to Windows Latest, Microsoft is working on adding new personalisation settings in the 21H2 update. These will include support for ‘Windows Spotlight’, where Bing’s daily wallpaper can be set as your desktop background. It also includes the ability to learn more about each photo, as is shown below:
Image: Windows Latest
The same article also suggests that personalisations to the on-screen keyboard will also be introduced in the 21H2 update. This will allow you to change the colour of the keys and borders, as well as the size and transparency of each key. Both features are now live in a preview build of Windows 10, although late 2021 looks most likely for a full rollout.
New battery usage chart
According to the tweet below, it looks like Microsoft will be adding a new Battery Usage menu within the Settings app. It’s expected to include information on the most power-hungry apps, as well as tools to reduce battery drain in the future.
Here are some dope new battery usage graphs coming to Windows next year. Really happy to see this after getting used to such features on Android and iOS. pic.twitter.com/0io22kjrt2
— Albacore (@thebookisclosed)
December 14, 2020
With the feature not expected to arrive in the 21H1 update, all signs point to it coming in Sun Valley. However, this the first leak we’ve seen from the @thebookisclosed on Twitter, so we can’t be sure it will make its way into the final build.
Plenty of new features have been added to Microsoft’s Edge browser recently, and Sun Valley will see individual tab included within Windows 10’s Snap Assist multitasking tool. This should make it much easier to use two or more browser tabs at the same time.
Image: Windows Central
The updates to Snap Assist are also expected to include remembering which two apps are snapped when connecting/disconnecting from an external display. Currently, these would be reset anytime the number of screens connected changes.
According to Windows Latest, Microsoft will also now allow to have separate virtual desktops for each display in use. This should allow users to separate personal and professional tabs, especially if using the same device for both. Author Mayank Parmar says the company is currently testing the feature, which would be available via a toggle in Settings.
The same article also suggests the so-called ‘Aero Shake’ feature will become optional. Currently, quickly dragging an open window from side to side will minimise all open apps. It can be a useful way to quickly access the desktop, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Improved voice and Pen functionality
Windows 10 can be controlled with your voice or a stylus, but neither are the most intuitive experiences. That looks set to change in the Sun Valley update, with a cleaner voice control UI and dedicated context menu that appears when you use a compatible pen with a Windows 10 devices.
Gestures in tablet mode
Windows 10 has never felt quite optimised for tablets, but the introduction of gestures could help improve the touch experience. According to Windows Central, these will mimic the existing trackpad gestures, with a four or five finger swipe down minimising an app.
Ability to uninstall system apps
Windows 10 always comes with a wide range of system apps, but many can’t be uninstalled. That looks set to change, with Zac Bowden at Windows Central suggesting the number of apps that can be uninstalled is will ‘grow significantly’. It’s not clear which these will include, though.
We’re yet to hear anything official from Microsoft regarding the Sun Valley update. However, Chief Product Officer Panos Panay did say he was “so pumped” about “the next generation of Windows”. We’d expect senior members of staff to be enthusiastic about upcoming releases, but should we be excited about the prospect of Sun Valley?
The 21H2 update is expected in late 2021, although we’re still expecting the 21H1 update this Spring.