Microsoft announced the current generation of Microsoft’s Windows Phone mobile operating system – Windows Phone 8.1 – succeeding Windows Phone 8 at  Microsoft’s Build Conference in San Francisco, California, on April 2, 2014. The new version brings a lot of new features and improvements to the OS to make it more competitive with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. The long-awaited Windows Phone update brings Cortana, a personal voice assistant to rival Siri and Google Now, a new lockscreen, the Action Center notification drawer and many more new features to the latest OS version.

WindowsPhone 8.1

Windows Phone 8 have had an attractive user interface, but it lacked some crucial features like notification centre and virtual assistant like Siri and Google Now. Now the current version of Microsoft’s mobile OS brings large number of features to the OS, including a notification centre called Action Center, a virtual voice assistant called Cortana, new lockscreen, new Live Tiles, new security features, gesture tyting and more. Here is the full list of key features that Windows Phone 8.1 adds to the OS:

Cortana – Windows Phone’s personal smartphone assistant

The first major and most talked feature added to Windows Phone 8.1 is Cortana. Cortana is powered by Bing, and Windows Phone’s own virtual personal assistant. Like Siri, Cortana is a female voice assistant  and you can talk to her to search the Web using Bing search, make calls, send messages, add notes, set reminders, get directions and more. She gets to know you by learning your interests over time and keeps you closer to the people and things you care about most, by keeping track of all that matters.

Cortana_windows phone 8.1Cortana is a mix of Siri and Google Now. You can talk to Cortana and ask it to set alarms etc just the way they can do on iPhone with Siri. At the same time, Cortana will also read emails, give you reminders, notifications and messages, this is similar to Google Now. Unlike Siri and Google Now, Cortana will be accessible by third-party apps like Facebook and Hulu. Bing and Foursquare are going to be feeding Cortana with information for places and events, but more online services will follow soon.

This Feature will be initially available in beta only in the US first with the UK and China second and other countries will follow later on.

Fun Fact: Cortana is named after the Cortana from the Halo Xbox/Windows game series, where Cortana is a virtual assistant helping the game protagonist defeat the bad guys.

Action Center – Notifications and Settings

Action-Centre on wp 8.1

Windows Phone 8.1 finally gets a dedicated notification center called Action Center. Action center is similar to the notification centres in iOS and Android. User can pull down the Action Center pannel by swiping down from the top of the phone’s screen. Action Center gives you quick access to common settings and your notifications. It will have four buttons – Wi-Fi, Bluetooh, Airplane mode and internet sharing – for quick actions and will show notification from various apps such as email, text messages, missed calls and even notifications from Cortana. It will also show battery and network information. It’s also easy to get to the full settings menu, thanks to a small button at the top of the Action Center.

Updated lock screen and custom tile backgrounds

Now your Windows Phone lock screen shows the time and date, notifications, and upcoming calendar events. There is an option to set up custom backgrounds for the Start screen tiles. You will now be able to select whether to have a third live tile column on the Start screen. Previously, this was set only by the phone manufacturer.

Home screen improvements

Microsoft is added a new option for home screen management. Windows Phone 8.1 supports an extra column of tiles, users can put more tiles on the home screen. You can now also set a home screen wallpaper or a background wallpaper. If a wallpaper has been set, the tiles will be transparent. Some apps where the developer sets the live tile color, such as Office or Pandora, won’t show the wallpaper.

Web – Internet Explorer 11

Windows Phone 8.1 adds a mobile version of Internet Explorer 11 as the default web browser, which includes support for WebGL, normal mapping and password manager. You can also upload files through IE 11.

There’s also an InPrivate mode enabling incognito browsing. It doesn’t make you invisible on the web, but rather disable history storing and cookie information is deleted once an incognito tab is closed.

A new YouTube web player is also included, with support for HTML5 videos and closed captions.

Word Flow keyboard/Swype-like keyboard

Word Flow keyboard

Windows Phone 8.1 now includes gesture typing. It works similarly to Swype and Swiftkey, a Swype-like input method allowing you to quickly input words by draging your fingers from letter to letter to type.

On-screen keys

Windows Phone 8.1 now features on-screen software keys – Search, Start and Back – replacing the capacitive “back, “Windows”, and “search” buttons. The new on-screen buttons can be hidden by swiping them to the side of the screen.

Quiet hours

You can now set any period of the day when you want only a certain group of people to be able to reach you. This feature is called Quiet hours and is accessible from the Settings.

Wi-Fi Sense Apps

It allows you to find and connect to free open Wi-Fi networks automatically. It helps you connect to networks faster by automatically accepting terms of agreement on free public Wi-Fi

Additional features added to Windows Phone 8.1-

  • WP 8.1 comes with VPN support for secure browsing and several security-related features for enterprise users.
  • S/MIME support, so you can read encrypted emails.
  • A new version of Skype for more comprehensive integration.
  • A redesigned calendar app.
  • Windows Phone 8.1 adds support for closing apps by swiping down on them in the multitasking view, which is similar to how multitasking operates on iOS.
  • Windows 8.1’s universal Bing SmartSearch is now included in Windows Phone 8.1.
  • Better App store

Windows Phone 8.1 will be available to existing Windows Phone 8 smartphone users in the coming months. Windows Phone 8.1 will be pre-installed on new devices that could hit as soon as the end of April or in early May. Microsoft will be updating all Lumia devices that are running Windows Phone 8 to the next version.

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