At the BUILD 2014 conference in San Francisco, Microsoft has announced its latest mobile OS update, the Windows Phone 8.1. The company’s latest OS will be pre-installed on new devices that could hit as soon as the end of April, and the update will hit existing models in the “coming months.” We are here detailing some of the key features of Windows Phone 8.1
Windows Phone Start screen is even more customizable. The third column was introduced last year, on devices with 5-inch or larger screen to enable more stuff to show up on the screen. So with Windows Phone 8.1, this feature is enabled on all screen size. The Start background can now be customized with your favorite picture or one of the default options available. This will make many of the tiles on your Start screen clearly visible and you can see the background you selected as you scroll up and down.
The Lock screen is the very first thing to be noticed when your grab your phone, and the Windows Phone 8.1 brings a new app that lets you set “Lock Screen Themes” which show all kinds of different visuals and animations.
This is the most interesting and rumored feature of Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft’s personal digital assistant is inspired by the popular character from Halo and a deeply personal digital assistant to Master Chief. It is powered by Bing and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behavior and checking in with you before she assumes you’re interested in something. She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day, and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you.
In Windows Phone 8.1, you get to Cortana by either a Live Tile on your Start screen or by pressing the search button on your device. This will take you to Cortana Home. To interact with Cortana, you can either speak or type. if you’re in a meeting, just type and Cortana won’t talk out loud. But if you ask her a spoken question, she’ll answer verbally and even carry on a natural conversation.
When you interact with Cortana for the very first time, she will start learning things about you, like your name, how to pronounce it, and ask for some personal interests. Once she is familiar with you, Cortana’s home populates with information that is curated for you. You can find flight information that she’s found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and even traffic information once she learns your commute routine, such as from work and home.
Cortana stores all the information curated for you in its Notebook. This information enables Cortana to be proactive and helpful throughout the day. For example, she’ll let you know if my upcoming flight is on time and, if you choose, will even pop-up to recommend what time you should leave for the airport based on traffic. Cortana can also manage your phone when you don’t want to be disturbed by setting quiet hours where she will silence any notifications, in-coming calls, and texts. Cortana understands the “inner circle” of people-closest-to-you, and she can let them break through at any time during quiet hours. It will also lets you setup people reminders, like your buddy owes you $20 the next time you talk to him.
Since Cortana is powered by Bing, the Bing.com will give you access to the things Cortana tracks for you, like weather, stocks, news, and flights. It will also interact with third party apps installed on your phone. You can ask Cortana to help you make a video call in Skype, watch a TV show in Hulu Plus, look up a news feed on Facebook or send a tweet using the Twitter app. Cortana will launch shortly in the US first as a “beta,” and then will launch in the US, the UK and China in the second half of 2014 with other countries to follow afterwards into 2015.
The new Action Center will enable you to see notifications from any app, pinned or not. This will give you a customizable way to quickly access the settings you care about most, like Wi-Fi, Flight Mode, Bluetooth and Rotation Lock.
Word Flow Keyboard
The keyboard here is smarter. It learns your writing style and even knows the names of people in your contacts for faster typing. This Keyboard also lets you glide your fingers over the keys to type quickly.
The new Skype app for Windows Phone 8.1 is integrated with the Phone dialer, so if you’re on a call you can quickly and easily upgrade your ordinary phone call to a Skype video call at the tap of a button. This new app will alsi work seamlessly with Cortana so you can use Cortana to setup your calls within Skype.
The new Calendar gets a new week view which was very much in demand. Other features inlcude panning right to get to the next day or week or month. It looks a lot like Outlook on your Windows PC as such the weather is integrated at the top.
Music, Video, Podcasts
These are now split out as separate apps and all of which can be updated via the Store. In Music, you can edit your playlists and manage your cloud collection easily and effectively. Video makes it possible to buy or rent videos from Xbox Music, and Podcasts now lets you subscribe to any RSS feed and provides a Bing-powered podcast search for every country where Windows Phone is available. Apart from this, the phone volume control has been improved by including separate sliders for your ringer/notifications and for your apps and media.
People Hub, Email and Accounts
The People Hub has higher-fidelity feeds for your social network content and it connects directly to 3rd-party social networking apps so that you can have easy access to all the full functionality of the 3rd party apps once they are installed. Email now supports S/MIME secure email. The support for account types is also broadened with now including iCloud.
Photos & Camera
The Photos experience now jumps directly to your most recent photos and shows as collections automatically organized, in a view grouped by date and location. Online photo albums are now supported via app-extensibility, so 3rd parties can plug in their services. In the Camera, the UI has been updated and includes “burst mode” photography that lets you capture exactly the perfect moment, just like on Windows 8.1.
This lets you track how much data usage has been done in a given month and will give you a breakdown of usage by app so you can see which app is using the most of your data. As you near your data limit, Data Sense will more aggressively offload data to Wi-Fi and limit cellular usage. The Windows Phone 8.1 also has a new “high savings” mode that cranks up the compression of images as you browse the web so you can browse even farther using less data than WP8.
This will automatically connect you to free public hotspots it finds to help you save cellular data. And, if you’d like, you can opt-in to automatically and securely enable your friends and contacts to auto-connect to your home Wi-Fi, so they can use the internet connection at your house without hassling you for the password and typing it in manually. If you turn off Wi-Fi in Wi-Fi Sense, you can have Cortana automatically turn it back on when you reach one of your favorite places as identified in Cortana.
Storage Sense helps you get the most out of the memory and storage on your phone. It will help you manage content you have on an SD memory card if your device supports those. You can also move content – like apps, music, photos – between the storage built in to your device and an SD memory card.
Battery Saver gives you a clear breakdown of how apps are using your battery so you can make more informed usage decisions. With “automatic mode” enabled, it can extend your battery life.
Windows and Windows Phone syncing
Windows Phone 8.1 furthers the integration between phone and PC. The Microsoft Account will allow your Windows and Windows Phone to work together. If you change your theme color, that change will sync across all your Windows devices. If you buy an in-app purchase in some of the newer apps written for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1, the purchase works on your phone and your PC. Other settings like your home Wi-Fi password will also sync.
Now you can connect your Windows Phone to a compatible PC using a USB cable and you can run an application on the PC to show the phone screen. Some of the forthcoming new phones will also support wireless Miracast display to compatible TVs and other devices.
Internet Explorer 11
Internet Explorer 11 for Windows Phone, you will be able to see all the open tabs you have on all your Windows devices and all your Favorites too. The new Internet Explorer will give you InPrivate browsing, password caching, and a reading mode.
Windows Phone Store
The Windows Phone Store too has been revamped and apps are given more visibility. The more famous apps are given bigger tiles for more prominence, while there are now different sections like Featured Apps, Personalized Recommendations to help you discover new apps. There is also a new quick links section, which essentially has a lot of pre-determined lists to again help you discover apps. These lists include Top Paid, Newest and so on so forth.