Finally, Microsoft’s highly anticipated Windows Phone 8.1 is here. Though not a complete overhaul, the new update brings some significant changes. Here are the top five features of the Windows Phone 8.1 that you should look forward to.
Cortana was real after all. Microsoft’s long-time rumoured rival for Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s S Voice and Android’s Google Now is finally here. Powered by Bing, Cortana can be launched right from a Live Tile and appears as a floating ring in your chosen theme colour.
It will let you manage basic phone functions such as phone calls, messages, etc and also allow you to set calendar appointments, reminders, perform searches, play music etc. It will also remind you in people-based circumstances as well, which is one of its strong USPs. So when you ask Cortana to remind you to tell your roommate to pick up the milk, next time you speak to him or her, it’ll alert you when you get a call from them or when you talk to them on chat or email.
Cortana can also track your online searches and keep a note of any new calendar entries through your emails. It will show you alerts for flight changes and other data related to your travel, if you have received emails regarding them. Microsoft says it will allow third-party apps to access Cortana and showed this off with a way to get to a Facebook profile right through Cortana. Cortana will launch in beta in the US, with the UK, China and possibly India being in the next batch of countries to get it.
Word Flow keyboard
Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8.1 also introduces a new keyboard that it calls “Word Flow”. The swipe-based Word Flow would remind you of Android’s popular Swype keyboard. One has to swipe through letters to quickly type a word. Once you lift your finger, it creates a space and then you can continue swiping to generate the next word. Many tech enthusiasts believe that this would further spruce up the already-solid Microsoft keyboard.
Microsoft claims that the Word Flow keyboard has already set the Guinness World Record for the fastest typing on a mobile phone.
Microsoft hasn’t ignored its Sense apps either. One may have heard of the data Sense app that tracks a user’s data consumption. Now, Windows Phone 8.1 adds a new Wi-Fi Sense feature. It allows users to hop between free hotspots without needing to re-enter login credentials, such as e-mail or phone number. It stores this information and automatically enters it when a hotspot asks for it.
It would also allow your friends to connect to your personal network, without you having to share the password. WiFi Sense reportedly helps you share your own home Wi-Fi connection with your friends. It also makes it possible to setup WiFi Sense to provide a limited access to your home Wi-Fi to your friends, without the need to give them your password. It’s not yet clear how this works or whether you would need to have the same OS running on both ends for such sharing.
Universal Windows Apps
Microsoft has announced that universal apps are coming to the Windows ecosystem with Windows Phone 8.1. This means developers will be able to write an app using common code and make it work across phones, tablets, PCs and even the Xbox One. Developers will also be able to build customized apps for each platform, and reuse the code for other platforms too. Lack of apps being one of the crucial issues Microsoft has been facing, this seems just the right move. This also means, users can purchase an app once and run it across all other platforms.
New Start Screen and Action Center
Microsoft has also tweaked the Start Screen. Firstly, Microsoft allows users to add a personalized touch with the ability to add a photo across all the tiles. Moreover, the additional row that was seen in only in large screen phablets will now be made available to all phones, irrespective of their display sizes.
And finally, one of the most awaited features i.e. a notification area has been added. Called Action Center, it is the hub for all alerts about missed calls, text messages, pop-ups from third-party apps and more. It also brings access to quick settings for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Airplane mode and more, something we’ve also been in Android. Users can also tailor which apps are allowed to vibrate the phone and set custom alerts on a per-app basis.
So these were the major highlights of Windows Phone 8.1, but we are sure to find many more refinements once we actually get to use the OS properly. So which one is your favourite?
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