2021 was a huge year for Windows.

After previously denying it would ever be needed, Microsoft announced and then released Windows 11, introducing the first wholesale changes for six years. These include a brand-new aesthetic, redesigned taskbar & Start menu and updated stock apps. You also get new multitasking features, a dedicated Widgets pane and native Android app support.

However, the new OS hasn’t been universally well received. Some features still haven’t arrived, despite being announced back in June 2021. Many people have also complained about missing taskbar functionality, as well as Microsoft’s incessant promotion of Teams and its Edge web browser.

Some of these things will be addressed in Windows 11’s first major update, scheduled for release later this year. Here’s everything we know about the 22H2 update so far.

When will Windows 11’s 2022 feature update be released?

Shortly after Windows 11 was announced, Microsoft revealed that the new OS would only be getting feature updates once a year. This brought it in line with macOS, with just one major update throughout 2022.

Microsoft typically reserved most of Windows 10's new features for later in the year, so it was no surprise to see the update branded as '22H2'. That suggests a release sometime between July and December 2022, but it looks like arriving sooner rather than later.

In early May, the Verge's Tom Warren tweeted the following:

Once finalized, a release to the public will be imminent. Windows Latest suggests that could be completed as soon as 24 May, with the 22H2 update reaching RTM (release to manufacturing) status. Mayank Parmar believes a final release could still be delayed until September or October, but goes on to say "it could happen a bit early this time".

As was the case with Windows 10, expect Microsoft to gradually throttle up availability in order to manage demand. Unlike the initial rollout of Windows 11, there probably won’t be a way for all compatible devices to get the update immediately.

How to get Windows 11 feature updates early

Since launching in 2014, the Windows Insider Program has allowed users to test new Windows features ahead of time. Microsoft has regularly released early Windows 11 builds here since June 2021, so it’s the place to be if you want to try out the 22H2 update before anyone else.

The Insider Program is split into three channels:

  • Dev Channel – This is where updates arrive first, but they’re also most likely to be unstable and buggy. Most people shouldn’t sign up to the Dev Channel on their main PC
  • Beta Channel – Microsoft recommends most people opt for the Beta Channel. This still allows you to get updates relatively early, but without some of the stability issues of Dev Channel builds
  • Release Preview Channel – This is where updates arrive just before they’re made widely available. Stability shouldn’t be an issue here, but general availability may be just days away, so it’s primarily for last-minute feedback

Whichever channel you choose, it’s easy to get started. Just head to insider.windows.com and sign in with the same Microsoft account you use on your Windows 11 device. Then open Settings > Windows Update > Windows Insider Program and click ‘Get started’. Follow the instructions here, making sure you link the relevant account and restart to apply changes.

Once that’s complete, any future updates will appear alongside your other regular software updates in Settings. However, it's worth noting that the Dev Channel is more experimental than it used to be and possibly less stable as a result. Some of the features which debut here will never make their way into the final version of Windows 11.

But moving to the Beta/Release Preview channels or opting out completely is simple. Just head to Settings > Windows Update > Windows Insider Program once more. Then, just click the drop-down next to 'Choose your Insider settings' or 'Leave the insider program' and follow the instructions.

Windows 11 change Insider Program settings

Will all existing Windows 11 hardware be compatible with the 22H2 update?

Almost certainly, yes. Microsoft controversially updated the hardware requirements for Windows 11, excluding plenty of older hardware. Security was cited as the main reason, with features such as TPM (Trusted Platform Module) 2.0, Secure Boot and virtualization-based security all applied as standard.

It would be very surprising to see more devices culled for an annual feature update, unless serious hardware vulnerabilities are discovered. However, if you’ve downloaded Windows 11 on a device that’s not officially supported by Microsoft, the situation is less clear. Current availability of security updates is a good guide, but there’s no guarantee the 22H2 update will arrive in a timely manner.

What new features will the Windows 11 22H2 update bring?

Various upcoming Windows 11 features have been mooted, but it’s not clear which will make their way into the 22H2 feature update.

The main source of information is Microsoft itself, which has teased new features at various points in recent months. We can be most confident about the announcements at its Hybrid Work event in April 2022, which include File Explorer tabs, folders in the Start menu and new accessibility features.

Back in February 2022, the company began testing more new features with members of the Windows Insider Program. These include new touch gestures and the return of drag-and-drop support to the taskbar (after it was removed with the introduction of Windows 11). Both are expected to arrive in the 22H2 update.

Indeed, a Windows Central article from same month suggests all of the following will be arriving in the update:

  • App folders in Start menu
  • Resizable pinned area in Start menu
  • System Tray updates
  • Focus Assist integration with Notification Center
  • New "spotlight" wallpaper feature
  • New Voice Access accessibility feature
  • New gestures and animations for touch users
  • New minimised Taskbar interface for tablets
  • New Task Manager app
  • Better OneDrive integration with File Explorer

Microsoft is also clearly keen to make Windows 11 work better on tablets. New gestures will supposedly let you swipe up from the bottom of the display to quickly access the Start menu or Quick Settings. This will likely work in tandem with the option to hide the taskbar when using as a tablet, a feature that's disabled in a separate Insider build.

Another feature first uncovered there is wallpaper stickers. This will allow you to customise your desktop background with a variety of stickers that are usually only available in messaging apps. It will be available within Settings, and can persist even when changing the main wallpaper design. A separate Sticker Editor app will allow you move, resize and add new stickers to the desktop.

A screenshot from Windows Latest gives you an idea how it'll work:

Windows 11 stickers
Image: Microsoft/Windows Latest

The same Windows Central article mentioned above highlights two further taskbar features expected in the 22H2 update. A more attractive UI for overflow apps has been shown off in a tweet from Albacore, while the return of drag-and-drop functionality has been one of Windows 11's most requested features. 

Indeed, a September 2021 Windows Latest article suggested drag-and-drop functionality would make a return at some point. The company says it’s listening to user feedback, so the negative reaction to its removal will surely have made an impression.

A subsequent article from the same source suggests new features will also be coming to File Explorer itself too. These include the return of folder previews, allowing you to see what's in a folder before clicking it.

You can already pin folders to the Quick Access tab, but Microsoft is extending this support to also include files. This will be possible whether the file is stored locally or in the cloud via OneDrive, SharePoint or Teams - this will be automatically updated across all your devices.

If you use Outlook, author Mayank Parmar says you'll also now be able to attach OneDrive files to emails within File Explorer. Currently, this only supports locally stored files. Talking of OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage will now be directly integrated into the app and accessible at all times.

Windows 11 File Explorer OneDrive integration
Image: Microsoft/Windows Latest

Other new features highlighted in the Windows Central article include a new acrylic/blur design for the title bar of apps which haven't yet been updated with Windows 11's design language - this should make the UI look and feel more consistent. Multitasking also looks set to get even better, with a 'Snap Bar' introducing a third way to put two or more apps together. However, we don't know exactly what this will look like.

On the subject of multitasking, Windows Latest suggests a feature known as 'Snap groups' will soon be added to Windows 11. This will offer a similar experience to Windows 10, where you pull apps to the front of the desktop and 'snap' them to either the left or right side of your screen. This will supposedly form part of a new visual identity for multitasking, with Task View being redesigned and now including the desktop wallpaper.

Something which both sites have mentioned recently is support for third-party providers within the Widgets tool. This was a new feature introduced in Windows 11, but it’s currently limited to Microsoft’s stock apps. Adding third-party support would make it much more attractive to many users.

Windows 11 Widgets
Widgets in Windows 11 could see a big upgrade in 2022. Image: Microsoft

A Windows Latest article from January 2022 appears to confirm that third-party widget support is on the way. It claims to have found an official support document stating as much, but doesn't link out to it. These widgets will supposedly be web-based (rather than Win32 or UWP), but users won't be limited to the Microsoft Store when it comes to installing them.

A subsequent article from the same source highlights two more features expected in the 22H2 update. A Smart Clipboard will build on the existing Clipboard history feature, although it'll be accessible via a different keyboard history. It will work in tandem with new Smart Actions functionality, but details are relatively vague at this stage.

Author Mayank Parmar, this apparently means you'll be able to copy and paste rich content (including images, videos and audio) into apps such as Outlook, something which isn't possible currently. The article goes on to say that the Clipboard will also now have themes to choose from, with customisation options available within Settings.

In early March 2022, Microsoft released a preview build to members of the Windows Insider Program's Dev Channel. Judging by the about page when installed, these changes will arrive in the 22H2 update if well received.

Among the most noticeable is a new dialog box when selecting "Open with" on a file. The current iteration is identical to Windows 10, but the new version will make it more consistent with Windows 11's design language:

Windows 11 open with menu
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is also improving Windows 11's accessibility, with new voice commands for enter, backspace, space and tab keys. This should make voice typing feel more intuitive. A less significant feature is the ability to link your Android phone while setting up a Windows 11 devices, rather than heading into the Your Phone app later.

For people who pay for Microsoft 365, there'll also be the option to manage your subscription within Settings. This is where you can add payment information and see when you'll next be charged, rather than having to go via the website.

Windows 11 Microsoft 365 settings
Image: Microsoft

Elsewhere, Smart App Control (SAC) is a new feature which can automatically block apps that Windows 11 believes are untrusted or potentially dangerous. However, this can be turned off at any time in settings if you find it intrusive.

The ability to pin more apps or pages to the Start menu and some slight changes to context menus are unlikely to have a big effect. The same can be said of the option to trade Windows 11’s rounded corners for the traditional straight design, as per GizPie.

According to that website, the following pages will also be updated within Settings: Touch, Themes, Taskbar, Touch keyboard, Installed apps, Advanced apps, Default apps, Microsoft account, Language and region, Date and time, Mouse pointer and touch, Ethernet and Wi-Fi, VPN and Find my devices.

It's worth noting that Microsoft will be releasing a Windows 11 update in February 2022. This will add new stock apps, taskbar improvements and a public preview of native Android app support, independently of the feature update later in the year.

We’ll update this article once more is known about the 22H2 update.

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