Microsoft launched its highly-anticipated Windows Phone 8.1 update at
its keynote address at the Build 2014 conference on Wednesday. The event
also saw the unveiling of the Windows 8.1 Update operating system
version, alongside three new devices, Nokia Lumia 930, Lumia 630 and
Lumia 635, which will be the platform lead devices for Windows Phone 8.1
Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, VP Windows Phone program
management and design, introduced a bevy of enhanced features in the
Windows Phone 8.1 that the Redmond giant hopes will bring more personal
and smarter experience for consumers.
Microsoft has announced that
Windows Phone 8.1 will start rolling out to Windows Phone 8 users in
coming months. The Redmond giant also confirmed that the entire Nokia
Lumia range will get OTA (over-the-air) update called Lumia Cyan, which
will include Windows Phone 8.1 features and the new Lumia features into
We've broken down the eight biggest new features in
the Windows Phone 8.1 including the ones that made it into the
highlights - Cortana, Action Centre, Word Flow and more personalised
1. Greater Start Screen personalisation
in an attempt to offer more customisable options to Windows Phone
users, has added 'Start background' feature that allows users to add an
image to the tiles on the Start screen of the device.
will add an image of the user's choice to multiple tiles on the Start
screen. Earlier, the Live Tiles on the Start screen on Windows Phone 8
were limited to solid colours.
In 2013, Microsoft added the third
Live Tile column on the Start screen of the Nokia Lumia 1520, and then
left it to manufacturer adoption. However, with the Windows Phone 8.1,
the company has now added an extra column of Live Tiles on all screen
sizes, with users able to choose whether to turn this feature on.
2. Cortana: Finally arrives to take on Apple's Siri and Google's Google Now
of the highlight features of Windows Phone 8.1 is Cortana, which is
Microsoft's voice-based virtual assistant. The Redmond giant's Cortana
is based on a popular AI character in Microsoft's blockbuster video game
Cortana is powered by Bing and is similar to
Apple's Siri or Google Now, completely replacing the search feature in
WP8.1. Microsoft's Joe Belfiore claimed that the new digital assistant
from Microsoft will get better with time as a user spends more time with
it by asking questions to Cortana, filling up details in its Notebook
Cortana can be launched by pressing the Live Tile placed
on the Start screen or by pressing the Search button on the Windows
Phone device. Belfiore said that Cortana can interact verbally or by
typing, and stressed its ability to understand natural language voice
commands. It can also interact with third party apps, though developers
will have to build Cortana-compatibility into their apps.
has announced that Cortana will be available first in the US as a
'beta' and later will released in the UK and China in the second half of
2014, while in other countries Cortana might reach by 2015.
3. Action Centre for notifications
has finally launched one of the most awaited features on Windows Phone
platform, the Action Centre. The Windows Phone 8.1 update brings the
Action Centre to all Windows Phone-based devices which will show
notifications for calls, messages, emails, apps and others. It will also
offer quick settings access to Flight Mode, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and
Rotation Lock options. Notably, the quick access options are
The Action Centre for Windows Phone 8.1 can be accessed by a simple drop down swipe gesture like seen in Android and iOS.
4. Word Flow Keyboard
big addition in the Windows Phone 8.1 has been the introduction of the
Word Flow Keyboard, which is a Swype keyboard-like feature for Windows
Phone users. The Word Flow Keyboard allows users to glide over the
display and type words.
Microsoft claims that the Word Flow
Keyboard is one of the 'most intuitive smartphone keyboards' and learns
from users writing style. Belfiore noted that the Word Flow Keyboard
supports 16 languages, though has not named the languages supported.
even claimed that, thanks to Word Flow Keyboard, a kid was able break
the Guinness World Record for fastest writing on a smartphone earlier
held by Swype keyboard on a Samsung Galaxy S4.
5. Skype Integration
has also upgraded the Skype integration in Windows Phone devices with
its latest Windows Phone 8.1. Now, the new Skype app for Windows Phone
8.1 comes with dialler integration that allows a user to switch a
regular call to a Skype video call with a click of a button. Further,
Skype has also been designed to work with Cortana, as users can setup
Skype calls via the new voice-based virtual assistant.
6. Upgraded imaging experience
takes the Windows Phone photography experience to the next level with
the revamped Camera Roll, which gives quick access to clicked images,
image tweaking tools and sharing capabilities.
The Smart Shots,
Cinemagraphs, and Refocus photos options are directly accessible now
from Camera Roll. Microsoft has also added the burst mode features to
its Windows Phone 8.1 for clicking continuous images.
Studio has been also added to the Camera Roll, which can use five new
filters. The Nokia Storyteller has also received a slight addition with
new video slideshow option that allows sharing via Facebook and Twitter.
7. New Sense feature for Windows Phone users
Microsoft has introduced the new Sense apps that include Data Sense, Wi-Fi Sense and Storage Sense.
Sense gives a detailed track of data usage on a Windows Phone, which
could be braked down according to time- a month, a week etc. Data Sense
includes a 'high savings' mode that the company claims will compress the
images browsed on the Web, so a user can search more without with less
Another Sense app is Wi-Fi Sense, which automatically
connects to a nearby Wi-Fi hotspot (when detected) to conserve cellular
Notably, when Wi-Fi is turned off in Wi-Fi Sense; Cortana
can automatically turn it on, when a favourite location with hotspot is
Storage Sense can help users manage content stored on
the microSD card and inbuilt storage by moving apps, music, images and
videos between inbuilt storage and microSD card.
Microsoft has also improved its Battery Sense feature, giving a
breakdown of apps' battery consumption, and also includes an 'automatic
mode' in the Battery Saver option that can help extend battery life.
8. Slew of new delights
Apart from the major highlights of the Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft has also added a number of minor tweaks to its OS.
multiple leaks, the onscreen keys are official with Windows Phone 8.1.
The onscreen keys for Search, Start and Back will now appear at the
bottom of the display and this will mean that future Windows Phone
8.1-based devices will not feature the three capacitive buttons at the
bottom of the front panel.
Microsoft has also introduced the new
Lock Screen, which now comes with multiple Lock Screen themes featuring
different visuals and animations - APIs are also available for
developers to create their own themes and widgets.
app has received a redesign and now shows a week view, along with a
weather widget which has been integrated into the Calendar app. It will
show at the top.
Various apps such as Music, Video and Podcasts
have received improvements and are now split apps, all capable of update
vie the Store.
The Internet Explorer 11 for Windows Phone 8.1 was
also introduced. The new IE11 comes with new features such as InPrivate
browsing, password caching, and a super-handy reading mode.