As expected, Microsoft has made official the long-awaited update to its mobile platform by announcing Windows Phone 8.1.
The update brings about much needed improvements and features to the mobile operating system. Part of what is coming to Windows Phone devices with the 8.1 update is:
Action Centre/Notification Centre
Well, Windows Phone fans can finally stop fiddling with the settings application every time they want to turn Wi-Fi on or off as this and others like rotation lock will be easily accessible from the Action centre. You’ll be able to access notifications from your installed applications unlike previously when disappearance of that toast notification meant that your only saving grace was that number on the live tile else you’d make that long journey to the app drawer.
This is the Siri or Google Now of the Windows Phone world. Microsoft will want you to believe it is something else (and indeed it is!) but basically that is it. It is your friendly voice assistant that should be more context aware as you use it and unlike the likes of Siri, will allow third party apps to be integrated.
Cortana will however not be available for use by everyone immediately as it just launched in Beta and will only be available just in the United States until such a time that the Windows Phone team feels that it is stable enough to be shared with the rest of the world. Apple’s Siri also debuted in Beta and stayed in that state for over a year though it was available to everyone.
Custom start screen backgrounds
Windows Phone 8.1 comes with the ability to give the start screen some bit of colour on the live tiles. Basically a user is able to select a live tiles background image that will become the colour of the live tiles. This goes only as far as the live tiles since the main background colour remains unaffected and is either black or white depending on what you choose.
You will also have the ability to choose what you want the number of columns on the start screen to be, and the sizes of the tiles. This now allows users even on smaller screens have more tiles on the screen.
Internet Explorer 11
The updated browser brings in InPrivate browsing mode, reader mode and the ability to have tabs sync across your other IE installs on different machines. One of the pains of Internet Explorer on Windows Phone is inability to upload and download files, now atleast uploading is possible while at the same time support of HTML5 video player on Youtube, this effectively makes it work like the Youtube app. IE 11 is also able to save passwords and remember them across websites while tabs are individually now visible on the multi-task window.
The ability to swipe as you enter text. Glide your fingers across the keyboard as you type Swype Keyboard (on Android) style and you’ll be able to pick out the correct words much faster. One of the highlights of the keynote, Wordflow keyboard as Joe Belfiore called it enables the user type so fast and announced that the keyboard thwough the swype-like moves has hit the Guinness World Record that was previously held by the Galaxy S4.
Independent volume controls
Instead of having the setting for the ringer volume dictate everything, you’ll now be able to separate call ringer volume from the rest i.e media and apps. So you can decide to have your fancy Lumia 1520 play music at a certain level while your caller tone is set at maximum level. Unfortunately, the ringer volume is still tied to the notifications so that annoying whistling notification tone will still be heard a few metres away when all you wanted was just to increase the volume of the ringer tone. Not bad for starters.
Built for enterprise
Another thing that was quite pronounced at the keynote speeches was the Windows Phone as a Business phone extending this from the desktop. Features announced include support for VPN (Virtual Private Networks) for secure business environment, S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) that allows you to sign and encrypt email, and Certificate Management.
As an update Microsoft was non-commital with specifics and just mentioned that it will be available in the next few months. This also brings three columns in devices as low as 4 inches in width. Developers get to get the update notifications within this month starting from the 10th of April. Windows Phone 8 will be available in the new devices starting in May with the devices like Lumia 630.
Nokia has already stated that its entire Lumia smartphone lineup will be getting the update and like other updates before, will be availed using the codename Cyan. We have previously had the Amber and Black updates that have been used to bring the features provided by Microsoft with each of the three updates that Windows Phone 8 had. The Cyan update is expected to bring some more goodies to the top tier Lumias (930 and 1520) with Miracast support and 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound Capture using Nokia Rich Recording already confirmed.
Unfortunately, the 8.1 update leaves out the file manager so it will be a while before we get anywhere close to having a “Windows Explorer” sort of thing on Windows Phone.