Microsoft Unleashes New Features in Major Windows Phone 8.1 Update
At Microsoft's recent 'Build 2014' conference, the technology giant showed off some of the new features that will be present in its latest Windows Phone 8.1 update, which has been interestingly codenamed 'Blue'.
Amongst the upgrades will be a newly introduced Action Center menu, integrated support for customized backgrounds and lock screens, and perhaps most impressive of all - the introduction of Cortana, a new Bing-powered personal assistant for smartphones that is set to compete with Apple's Siri and Google Now.
The update will be released on April 8th and is expect to be shipped on new devices starting in late April to early May of this year in the US. Below, we'll provide a brief overview of the most notable features that will be unveiled in the upcoming update:
- Cortana the Personal Assistant
Cortana is going to be released in the beta stage during this 8.1 update, but the artificially intelligent personal assistant will be completely replacing the system search function within the Windows Phone OS, giving users much more control over how their phone answers queries and suggests content.
Cortana will be able to answer a wide range of questions on topics of all kinds and respond to a large library of preset commands. She can also provide assistance in weather tracking, finding restaurants and other hospitality venues (through Yelp's directory data), providing voice prompt reminders for all of your appointments/scheduled events, and much more.
A "Notebook" menu lets you specify the type of activity and input you want Cortana to track, and these preferences are then used to personalize your Windows Phone search experience. If you've ever used Google Now then you'll probably find the Notebook similar to Google's "Magic Wand" feature.
- Setting Quiet Hours
You can set the phone to silence messages and phone calls from all or some of your contacts during the “quiet hours” you've specified. Cortana can also be kept from interrupting you during work or sleep time using the "quiet hours" feature.
- The Action Center Menu
The newly integrated Action Center is a useful menu that drops down from the top of your phone's screen and allows for streamlined modification of settings and easy access to important notifications. The Action Center is comparable to the similar dropdown menu used in the Android operating system. At the top you can quickly turn on/off Bluetooth, WiFi, and airplane mode, whereas the bottom half of the menu is dedicated to notifications for unread emails, text messages, and missed calls.
- Aesthetic Upgrades
The lock screen can now be fully customized to show a single background picture or a slideshow of photos taken from a specified folder. You also have the option of allowing Windows to automatically choose random photos for your lock screen background. The 'lock screen apps' menu lets you choose which apps you'd like to run in the background and receive notifications from, even when the phone screen is locked. A background theme can also be added to the app tiles to make them look like pieces to a puzzle.
- WiFi Sense App
A newly introduced WiFi Sense App makes it possible for your phone to automatically accept terms of agreement at public WiFi hotspots like Starbucks and McDonalds. So you'll no longer have to open your browser and click those annoying checkboxes found on network authentication pages.
This update is expected to be supplanted in spring of 2015 by another one that is being codenamed 'Threshold' a.k.a Windows Phone 8.2, or Windows Phone 9 (the official title is yet to be decided on). Although this update is currently about one year away, news of some of the features has already leaked, including rumors of a 'Word Flow' app that will be similar to the Swype feature available in Android.