Microsoft’s keynote address at the Build 2014 conference saw the unveiling of the Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update operating system versions. Windows Phone 8.1 will be arriving in new smartphones as early as late-April and early-May, and rolling out to compatible phones ‘in the coming months’. The Windows 8.1 Update will be available for free for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 users on 8 April via Windows Update.
The announcements were made by Joe Belfiore VP Windows Phone program management and design, and Terry Myerson EVP operating systems, along with other Microsoft executives.
Windows Phone 8.1
Notably, right at the beginning of the event, Belfiore announced two new hardware partners for the Windows Phone platform – Micromax and Prestigio (Cyprus-based manufacturer) – whose handsets were briefly showcased.
Belfiore went on to unveil Windows Phone 8.1, a disclosure that unfortunately did not feature too many surprises – with numerous leaks over the past few months already having given us a fair idea of the new features. In fact, we may have seen more credible leaked features over the past few months, than the number of features Microsoft chose to unveil on Wednesday.
The Windows Phone 8.1
Also demonstrated, was a bevy of lock screen personalisation features, coupled with APIs for developers to create widgets and themes for it – from aesthetic to functional. WP8.1 users will also have the ability to change the background for the Start screen. The update lets users to decide whether they want the additional, third resizable Live Tiles column on their Start screen.
After the numerous leaks, it already feels like we know her already. We’re talking about Cortana, the voice-based virtual assistant that Microsoft showcased at the event. Introducing it, Belfiore said, “Cortana is the first truly personal digital assistant who learns about me and the things that matter to me most, and knows about the whole Internet.”
The Cortana voice-based virtual assistant follows in Siri and Google Now’s footsteps, and completely replaces search in Windows Phone 8.1. Apart from being summoned by the search function, Cortana also gets her own dedicated Live Tile. It will be released in beta mode.
Said to be powered by Bing, Cortana offers the regular range of voice-activated features – such as making calls and notes, sending messages, setting up alarms and calendar entries, performing searches, and all the regular stuff a voice-based virtual assistant should do. Microsoft stresses the ability of Cortana to understand natural language voice commands, and Belfiore gave a few examples.
Notably however, it features third-party app support that allows it to interact with other apps, voice-activating features that developers can integrate into their creations. Microsoft said it has been working with various Cortana-support partners, and revealed a few names in the course of the demos, such as Facebook and Hulu.
Cortana has also been designed to learn more about the user’s interests and preferences by asking questions. It integrates these lessons, and delivers suggestions such as which contact to add to your Inner Circle of friends, which restaurant to stop at depending on your location, or giving reminders about sports and entertainment events.