With the October 2020 update now available for almost all eligible devices, attention has shifted to the next 'feature' update. Here's what to expect from the 21H1 update.  

Windows 10 21H1 update release date

The name all but confirms that the 21H1 update will arrive at some point in the first half of 2021, but we now have more specific release date rumours. 

A Windows Latest article from January unearthed a new line of Chromium code, which appears to suggest a June 2021 release:

Windows 10 Chromium code
Image: Windows Latest

It's since been updated to remove mention of June 2021, but it's unlikely to have been referring to any other 'Windows Release'. However, a subsequent Windows Latest article from April says Microsoft has now officially named it the 'May 2021 update'. This suggest it will arrive slightly earlier than initially though. 

Early builds of the update are already available to members of the Windows Insider Program, so you can technically get the Windows 10 21H1 update now. However, be warned, bugs and other issues are likely.

Windows 10 21H1 device compatibility

The vast majority of Windows 10 devices that were eligible for the 20H2 (October 2020) update will still be compatible with the next feature update. Support may vary between companies though, so it's worth checking with the manufacturer of your device if you're unsure. 

Checking if the October 2020 update (20H2) is available for your device (it may have been downloaded automatically) is a good indicator that the 21H1 update will also arrive in due course.

Windows 10 21H1 feature news

Despite the next Windows 10 feature update not being expected for many months, we already have plenty of insight into what it might bring. 

The short answer? Not much. In fact, a Windows blog post from February 2021 revealed all the changes you can expect:

  • Multi-camera support for Windows Hello - when both front and rear cameras are present on a Windows 10 device, Windows Hello will now allow you to set the latter as the default.
  • Windows Defender Application Guard improvements - WDAG, as it's also known, is a feature which lets administrators run apps in an isolated container for improved security. Microsoft says these performance enhancements will include faster opening of documents.
  • Windows Management Instrumentation Group Policy Service - You might not be surprised to learn that Microsoft abbreviates this to WMI GPSVC. It consists of a set of extensions which lets you monitor the performance of particular components. Microsoft says improvements here will help support remote working scenarios more effectively.

Microsoft has also said that the update will install more quickly than usual feature updates, taking a similar amount of time to monthly security patches. There will also be the usual bug fixes, with Windows Latest reporting on a preview build which irons out long-standing issues with the File Explorer and improves its performance.

There is another new feature coming to Windows 10, but it won't be exclusive to devices with the 21H1 update installed. The 'news and interests' tab, first announced by Microsoft in a January 2021 blog post, will arrive on Windows 10 alongside the 21H1. It represents the most high-profile visual change in the next feature update, although users running versions 2004 and 20H2 will also be able to access the widget at an unspecified later date. 

Windows 10 news and interests widget
Image: Microsoft

As the name and official screenshot above suggests, 'news and interests' offers a quick overview of key headlines and weather information relevant to you. Housed within a dynamic grid, this can be customised according to your location and favourite publications/stocks/teams. The widget permanently sits on the taskbar, aiming to provide quick access to headline information without interrupting your workflow.

Here's an official Microsoft video detailing how it works:

According to The Verge, the feature has begun rolling out, with many devices expected to see the 'News and interests' widget before the 21H1 update drops. 

Another feature on its way is new File Explorer icons, although they might also not be arriving at the same time as the 21H1 update. The likes of Documents, Photos and Recycle Bin are all getting a refresh to be more in keeping with Microsoft's 'Fluent Design' user experience:

Windows 10 File Explorer new icons
Image: Microsoft

These changes were announced in an official blog post previewing an Insider Preview Build of Windows, building on icon updates already introduced for Notepad app, Windows Security and Narrator. It's not clear when the new File Explorer icons will be rolled out to everyone. 

An earlier How-To Geek article suggested that a few other minor changes would arrive in the 21H1 update, but that's since been updated to say they'll be delayed until later in the year. These will now be among the more minor features coming in Windows 10's 20H2 Sun Valley update:

  • System-wide DNS over HTTPS - DNS generally improves privacy and provides greater security by encrypting DNS lookups, which happen each and every time you launch a website. Currently, this is only available in browsers like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox
  • DNS options moved from Control Panel to Settings - The continued phasing out of Control Panel will see these options moved to the regular Settings menu
  • Startup app notifications - Each time you start up your PC (from off), you'll receive a notification telling you which apps are set to launch each time you boot. You can disable this by heading to Settings > Apps > Startup, while there will still be options here to turn off any apps you don't want to automatically launch
  • New emoji picker - Now with updated emoji design, searchable GIF library and integration with clipboard history (this will still also be available via the Windows Key + V shortcut)
  • Windows Dictation rebranded to Windows Voice Typing - This is said to be "optimised for use with touch keyboards", and will offer automatic punctuation and a more reliable typing experience
  • New icons - The Settings app, Windows Security, Snip & Sketch and Sticky Notes are all set for updated icons
  • Storage health notifications - If your device has an NVMe SSD, Windows 10 will now be able to notify you when it thinks they "may be at risk of failure"
  • Disk Management options in Settings - Previously only accessible via a separate utility, Disk Management will now also be available under System > Storage > Manage Disks and Volumes
  • Linux improvements - Developers will be pleased to hear that Linux software on Windows 10 will now have full GPU support. The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) will also be easier to install and update, while Linux files will now be accessible from within File Explorer
  • Improved graphics settings for multiple GPUs - If you have more than one graphics card on your PC, Windows 10 will allow you to set a default high-performance GPU. You'll also be able to set which graphics card will be used for specific applications

The Spring update is typically when we see most of the new features, with the Autumn update reserved for bug fixes and performance updates. That schedule looks set to be flipped this year, with a major redesign expected in the 21H2 update, codenamed 'Sun Valley'. We'll have more details as we approach its potential October release.