Microsoft unveiled their latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system at the annual Build 2014 conference held in San Francisco. The much awaited update was leaked extensively in the past few weeks, detailing most of the features it will bring at the table, and surprisingly, most of them were spot on.
If you didn’t manage to follow the conference, and want to know what the new OS has to offer, and whether it’s good enough to compete against iOS and Android, here’s a list of new features.
1. Move Over Siri, Cortana is Here
Microsoft has joined the personal assistant war with a one of its own. Apple has Siri, Android has Google Now, and now Microsoft has joined the league with Cortana, a voice assistant powered by Bing. It can help users set up reminders, alarms, make calls, perform various tasks, and much more. It can also be used to search the web.
As far as the availability is concerned, the feature will roll out first in the US with the Windows Phone 8.1 roll out, followed by UK and China. It’s kind of disappointing that Microsoft is doing a restricted roll out, but let’s see what happens once Windows Phone 8.1 reaches all devices.
2. Finally a Notification Center
This is one of the much need feature which was missing from Windows Phone operating system. It’s known as Action Center which displays notifications from various apps, including messaging, calls, and other apps, as well as access to connectivity settings. You can easily enable WiFi, flight mode, Bluetooth and other connectivity settings.
It’s present in both Android and iOS from a long time, and a main feature which was missing from Windows Phone. Previously, there was no notification center in Windows Phone, and new notifications we displayed as a number on the tiles in the Start screen. So, this feature will be welcomed by many Windows Phone fans out in the wild.
3. Better Start and Lock Screen Customizations
Thanks to the new Windows Phone 8.1 APIs, users now have a lot more control over the theme and the start screen. Users can now apply custom backgrounds to the start screen tiles, and some of those were even demonstrated during the event as well. It’s a small yet a handy feature added to the Windows Phone 8.1 OS.
Users also have the ability to display the tiles in three column look, along with the theme customization.
It’s not just the Start Screen, users also get the ability to customize the lock screen on the device, by applying various themes.
4. Improved Browser — Internet Explorer 11
The new Windows Phone 8.1 comes with a new Internet Explorer 11, which comes with some new features and improvements, including a new reading view, WebGL and YouTube’s HTML5 video player support, password manager, synchronization across different devices, and InPrivate browsing.
InPrivate browsing is more like the incognito mode, which let users to browse the web without leaving any trail. When enabled, browsing data, including cookies, history, temporary internet files, etc will not be stored by the browser.
5. Faster Typing
Windows Phone 8.1 comes with an improved keyboard known as Word Flow, which what we call in simple words as swype-supported keyboard. The more you use it, the more it learns about your typing, improving the predictions it offers to the user. Additionally, it comes with support for 16 different languages, which is a plus.
6. WiFi and Other Performance Improvements
Microsoft introduced a bunch of improvements in the latest Windows Phone 8.1, including WiFi Sense, Data Sense, improved battery saver mode, storage sense and more. Data Sense is already available in Windows Phone 8, but it has been refined in the new update.
WiFi Sense lets you automatically sign in to free WiFi hotspots while Data Sense gives you a clear picture of how much data you’ve consumed — WiFi and Mobile separately, which is pretty handy. On the other hand, Storage Sense shows you how much storage your device has, phone and SD card, as well as the ability to transfer apps to the memory card to free up device storage.
7. Universal Apps and Refreshed App Store
The new update brings an improved app store with a redesign as well as universal apps. For those of you who don’t know, the support for universal apps makes sure the apps can run on any device, whether it’s a smartphone, desktop PC, tablet or even an Xbox. This will definitely come as a good news for developers and users alike. You’ll be able to adjust the interface for the three different screen sizes.
8. Release Date
Well, there’s no exact release date available, but it was announced during the event that it will reach existing Windows Phone devices, and users will be able to update without a hassle.
As for Nokia, they announced it will reach all Lumia devices in the coming weeks, although they also failed to give an exact availability date. They did announce some new handsets running Windows Phone 8.1 at the event, which will start shipping in May.
There you go folks! some of the most exciting features in the Windows Phone 8.1 update. There are a lot of other useful features and enhancements introduced, including improved calendar, deeper skype integration and much more. We’ll be able to give a proper review once it starts hitting the devices.
Hammad is a full time writer who worked for many popular websites in the past. He loves to write about smartphones and gadgets. When he is not writing, he can be found playing Clash of Clans on his iPhone or looking for a good place to eat.