Last year, Microsoft refreshed Windows 8 on PCs and tablets with the launch of Windows 8.1. It added a bunch of new features, including the return of the Start button. Widows Phone users were left without an update though with Microsoft only promising that one was on its way. At Microsoft's annual developer conference taking place this week, the company announced that Windows Phone 8.1 is finally here.
With Windows 8.1, Microsoft is introducing numerous updates and features to its mobile platform, including the previously rumored digital assistant Cortana. Much like Apple's Siri, Cortana will use a search engine and natural speech recognition to assist users with everyday queries. As you might expect, Cortana does use Bing, but it's also powered by software that will learn from users as they continue to use it. Here's Microsoft's take on it:
Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, 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. Cortana will launch shortly here in the U.S. first as a “beta,” and then will launch in the US, the U.K. and China in the second half of 2014 with other countries to follow afterwards into 2015.
Moving on, the Start screen is even more customizable in Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft already made it so that users with devices sporting 5-inch or larger screens can have three columns on their Start Screen. They can now also use a custom image as the background that's then broken into all the tiles that Windows Phone users have to come to know. Here's an example:
Just like the Start screen, the Lock screen has seen improvement as well. In Windows Phone 8.1, users will be able to select from a "wide range of interesting “Lock Screen Themes” which show all kinds of different visuals and animations."
As for general improvements, Windows Phone 8.1 has added what it calls the Action Center. In short, it's a notification center that will let you receive notifications from any and all apps even if they aren't pinned. It also added a new Word Flow keyboard that uses the swipe typing method seen in pretty much every other mobile device these days. Microsoft claims their keyboard is the fastest though and can even back it up with a kid being able to break the world record for typing really fast via Word Flow keyboards.
Windows Phone 8.1 also features deep integration with Windows 8.1. For example, you can change the theme in Windows 8.1 and that theme will automatically be applied to your Windows Phone 8.1 device. Apps purchased on Windows 8.1 will also be downloaded automatically to your Windows Phone 8.1 device.
There are a number of other smaller improvements and additions made to Windows Phone 8.1. To see them all, you'll want to check out the below 15 minute demo:
Windows Phone 8.1 will begin to roll out to existing Windows Phone 8 users in the coming months. It will also come preinstalled on new Windows Phone hardware, like the Nokia 930.
Image via Windows Phone/YouTube