Windows Phone 8.1, otherwise codenamed Blue is on the horizon. The substantial update for the mobile division of Microsoft hasn’t technically been announced for an official release, but we all know that it’s coming and it’s coming real soon. The word on the street is that Microsoft will officially announce it at their Build conference in April, with a Developer Preview version of the OS available for download immediately after.
That means that folks that downloaded the Preview for Developers app on their Windows Phone will have early access to this massive overhaul, much like the early trial that they had with Update 3 (GDR3), before it went live on individual carriers and devices.
Yes, for outsiders, one can say that Windows Phone 8.1 is Microsoft playing catchup, adding highly-desired features that the OS has been lacking, while iOS and Android have been boasting them for quite some time. This is true without a doubt, but also a great step for the third highest selling mobile operating system. Microsoft hasn’t had an easy road trying to cut out a piece of the mobile operating pie, with Apple and Android owning a rather large share of the market, leaving Windows Phone with roughly 5% of the US market to take control of.
Still, that’s great news and a sign of growth. Microsoft recently passed BlackBerry as the third most popular mobile operating system in the US and while the US numbers are moving up slowly, there’s still some significant growth in other areas of the world.
This simply means that Microsoft is here to stay a while and that Windows Phone 8.1 stands as a major step in their unification process, which should be bringing together their Windows desktop operating system, Windows Phone operating system and X-Box One division, plus their features and services like OneDrive, Office, Skype and Outlook.
So, I’ve decided to highlight my five favorite new features to help better prepare you for the updated OS. Below is just a small personal list, with some minor information. Feel free to head over to WP Central to get the full Windows Phone 8.1 rundown. Those guys cover it in much more detail than I.
This has been a feature that has been long awaited for Windows Phone fans. This new center will come in the form of a pull down menu that will display notifications for various apps, while also allowing quick settings to things like WiFi, Bluetooth and locations. This might be one of the biggest steps in the right direction for Microsoft as they attempt to shorten the gap between them, iOS and Android.
Here’s a video of it in action:
App Store Fine Tuning
Some might not consider this a big deal, but the OS overhaul also brings along some fine-tuned updates to how one can install/update/remove applications on their Windows Phone. Now, users will be able to manually check for app updates, plus they can change their settings to automatically update an app whenever a new version is available. This is a big one, especially for those looking to keep their apps running the latest firmware. Also, single sign in will be featured too, which means signing in once and staying synced across lots and lots of apps.
Who doesn’t love live tiles? Windows Phone is arguably known for its live tiles that are constantly refreshing and adding information to better inform the user without having to go through the trouble of opening an app. Now, live tiles will be able to be swiped to the left to mark as read/clear notifications. This is one of those little, yet awesome fine-tuned tweaks that I can’t wait to try out. Same goes for swiping down to close apps or holding the back button to suspend apps.
This is probably the most talked about feature of Windows Phone 8.1. Cortana is a new personal voice assistant that is supposedly going to rival Apple‘s Siri. Apparently she’ll be able to do just about anything, with the help of Foursquare mapping technology and Microsoft‘s Bing search engine. I’m not one for voice calls/texts, but I can definitely see how this feature may come in handy for most.
Custom Start Backgrounds
Again, not the biggest feature in the world, but just another way to show off a little customization on your Windows Phone. The idea of being able to choose your own background or select from pre-made ones makes this a quick, but awesome feature that should spice up your start screen in a big way. I personally enjoy the ability to change the live tile colors and the lock screen, but being able to take it one step further is never and bad thing and something that will grab the eye of most viewers.
There are so many more great features that will be loaded with Windows Phone 8.1 that I just don’t have the time to cover in detail. Swipe keyboard, deeper Facebook and social hub integration, tweaked camera and Internet Explorer settings and so on. The list goes on forever and is definitely going to give Microsoft a refresher for the year and into the next eventual OS launch.
I personally love my Nokia Lumia Icon and cannot wait to kick it up to Windows Phone 8.1 to only better my mobile experience. I still strongly believe that Windows Phone is the quickest and cleanest operating system out there when compared to the overly cluttered Android and the too simple and unchangeable Apple, but that’s not to say that the OS is perfect. It’s definitely missing some key features and apps and 8.1 will hopefully help bridge that gap and widen the awareness of one truly unique mobile experience.
Feel free to sound off in the comments below with your most-anticipated features.