Microsoft Shows Off Windows Phone 8.1 at Build 2014

Posted by at 9:13 am on April 2, 2014

Belfiore Windows PhoneMicrosoft revealed its long-awaited and often leaked Windows Phone 8.1 update at the Build 2014 conference on Wednesday. Windows Phone 8.1 is a sweeping refocusing of the Windows Phone vision, adding some much-needed features to the mobile operating system—including the grand unveiling of Cortana, Microsoft’s new digital assistant ( more about her here.

Microsoft exec Joe Belfiore took the stage to show off the improvements, declaring that “We believe Windows Phone is the world’s most personal smartphone.”

Windows Phone 8.1 adds a long-awaited notification center—dubbed “Action Center”—which gathers your new messages in a central location and provides quick access to four basic phone functions, such as turning on Wi-Fi, GPS, or Airplane mode. Those quick-access tools are customizable and can be swapped around as needed. If you have a dual-SIM phone, info about each is available in the Action Center.

The Action Center should be a massive improvement to Windows Phone’s usability. Live Tiles are nice and all, but it’s even nicer to have all your new notifications in one convenient spot, and nobody likes mucking around in their phone settings any more than they absolutely have to.

Developers will also be able to create custom lock-screen experiences that users can choose to use. The Windows Phone 8.1 update also adds new Start screen personalization options, including the ability to add more tiles to the screen or use a custom image as your phone’s background image.

Microsoft also revealed that the similarly long-awaited Windows Phone Enterprise Feature Pack—which adds business-friendly tools like S/MIME support, enhanced MDM policies, and application-triggered VPN support (or application-specific blocking—is coming with Windows Phone 8.1.

Windows Phone 8.1 also upgrades the browser to Internet Explorer 11, complete with Reading View, InPrivate tabs, and so on. The Windows Phone store also received a revamp, with featured apps and the ability to sweep left-to-right for quick navigation. Windows Phone’s calendar received a similar tweak for moving from day-to-day.

Windows Phone 8.1 will use what it knows about you and your contacts to make typing more context-aware and faster to guess or auto-correct.

Belfiore also walked through a new “Wi-Fi Sense” tool, which you can configure to automatically connect to free Wi-Fi hotspots. The tool can automatically agree to a hotspot’s terms of service for you if you’d like, or even provide the hotspot with your name and personal information if it’s required (and you agree to it). Seems pretty darned nifty! Windows Phone 8.1 boasts additional helpful tools such as Battery Sense, Belfiore said.

The Windows Phone keyboard was also enhanced with Swype-like fast typing capabilities.

Look for Windows Phone 8.1 to start rolling out to current Windows Phone 8 users “in the next few months,” or in new phones by the end of April or early May.

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