Later tonight, Microsoft is set to unveil Windows Phone 8.1 at the BUILD conference. Though Microsoft has tried its best to keep things under wraps, numerous leaks and the release of the SDK have given us a glimpse at what we can expect from the forthcoming mobile operating system. With only a few hours to the conference, let’s recap on some of these features.
Let’s start with what is easily the most anticipated features set to arrive on WP 8.1 — Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now. Microsoft clearly wanted to keep personal assistant under wraps, which explains why it was not a part of the released SDK. But a video leaked last month cleared all the mystery surrounding Cortana.
In terms of functionality Cortana is quite similar to its rivals, but what sets it apart is the ability to store personal data in what is called a Notebook. This system will allow Cortana to save and access information such as location data, behaviors, personal information, reminders, and contact information. Though it sounds a bit scary, the personal assistant does ask you before storing a particular type of information in the Notebook.
This is another big addition to the operating system, which is sure to be welcomed by users. Unlike Android or iOS, Microsoft didn’t have a notification menu or a control center for users to easily access different functions like switching on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Airplane mode. That is until now.
Users will now be able to swipe down from the top of the screen to open the Action Center, which has the aforementioned buttons as well as all the latest notifications. Another leaked video (below) gives a short demo of how the Action Center works.
The first thing you will notice on new Windows Phone 8.1 smartphones is the absence of any physical buttons. Microsoft’s hardware partners will opt for on-screen buttons instead. Users will also have to get used to a new way of multi-tasking, so essentially when you hit the back button, the apps will go to the background and in the multi-tasking menu, you will have to swipe down to terminate the apps
REVAMPED WINDOWS PHONE STORE
The WP 8.1 update will also bring a revamped Windows Phone Store, with an added functionality for automatic app updates. A set of leaked screenshots also show different sections on the store which feature the most popular apps and the ability to view the app download history for a device.
BACKGROUND IMAGE SUPPORT
Adding to the list of customizations is the ability to set wallpapers on the homescreen. The Live Tiles which fill up the homescreen will be transparent so they will simply be superimposed on the background image. In case, you are not a fan of transparent tiles, you will be able to toggle the transparency off in settings.
Other new features include the ability for users to choose which apps need to be installed on the SD card and which should remain on the phone’s internal memory and a Swype-like keyboard. You will also be able to choose which SMS app you want to use as default and finally a new “Battery Power Sense” feature, which essentially lets you keep a track the device’s battery usage. In addition to monitoring the usage, you will also be set which apps or services should be shut down when the power level drops below 20 percent. Windows Phone 8.1 will also enable device makers to have dual-SIM support.