Microsoft has finally caught up with market leaders Android and iOS in the mobile OS race with the new Windows Phone 8.1 update. Even though a few features are still missing (a built-in file manager, for example), the Microsoft platform is now better equipped to take on the two most popular mobile operating systems.
Want to know what’s new in Microsoft’s mobile OS? Click on to check out 10 new features of Windows Phone 8.1…
Revamped app store
The Windows app store has undergone a major revamp, with new apps working across all key platforms – PCs, smartphones and tablets. Microsoft is also working on eventually making the same apps compatible with the Xbox One gaming console, which can also act as a media streaming device.Despite being compatible across various platforms, these apps will have designs specific to each type of device, said Microsoft. These cross-platform apps will be denoted by a ‘Universal App’ icon.
Developers can choose to make separate apps for each platform as well. The layout of the Store app has been changed.
Just like Android gadgets, Windows Phone 8.1 handsets will now feature on-screen keys. With the three on-screen keys (Back, Home and Search) of WP platform, big-screen devices can be made more compact and easier to hold.
Windows Phone platform has finally received a notification menu, named Action Center. Much like Android, you just need to swipe downward from the top of the screen to open Action Center, which has one-touch shortcuts for settings like Wi-Fi, Flight Mode, Bluetooth and Rotation Lock.Action Center will also notify users about missed calls, unread emails and messages, and updates from various apps.
The highlighting feature of Windows Phone 8.1 is Cortana, Microsoft’s digital voice assistant.Named after the Artificial Intelligence character from the Halo game, Cortana is powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine and notifies users of phone calls, emails and messages; lets them set appointments and reminders, perform searches and operate the music player etc hands-free. It is also able to track users’ online searches as well as new calendar entries and also access third-party apps.
The feature will be rolled out in the US initially as a beta product and will hit the UK and China later this year. It will be launched in other markets, including India, in 2015.
Word Flow Keyboard
Microsoft’s take on popular keyboard app Swype, Word Flow is the new default keyboard of the Windows Phone 8.1 platform. Users will be able to input words by simply swiping on the letters on the word, so that typing on a touchscreen becomes faster.
Custom Live Tile background
Users will now be able to set a background of their choice for Windows Phone’s home screen tiles. Similar to wallpapers in Android and iOS, the wallpapers will be set as the background for tiles that have been pinned to the start screen of the device.Microsoft says this feature will “make many of the tiles on your Start screen become clear so you can see the background you selected as you scroll up and down.” Users can choose from the images that come preloaded in the phone or a picture from the phone’s photo gallery.
Lock screen themes
Just like tile backgrounds, users can pick the lock screen style in Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft showed two themes – one with diagonal pattern and other with circular design. Each theme shows time, date, notifications and upcoming calendar appointments in different ways.At present, Microsoft will not share the APIs of the custom theme feature with third-party developers, but will open up in coming months.
Internet Explorer 11
Windows Phone 8.1 marks the debut of Internet Explorer (IE) 11, the stock web browser. IE11 is optimized for reading on the web and can keep track of tabs open on users’ desktops, so that they can carry on reading the same website across different devices.Passwords will also be synced across different platforms (smartphone, tablet and desktop) that a user has logged into. The InPrivate browsing mode will not store history and delete cookies once a tab is closed.
Improved Sense functions
Microsoft has upgraded the Sense functions to make them more effective in optimizing the user experience.Data Sense now allows users to see how much data has been downloaded over a certain period, detailing consumption by each app. When the feature is turned on, the phone will automatically compress images on web pages, so that the page loads without too much data consumption.
Wi-Fi Sense will now automatically search for open Wi-Fi networks, so that the phone does not consume too much mobile data. It will even allow you to share the Wi-Fi network of your house with others without revealing the password.
Apart from these major changes, Windows Phone 8.1 brings several smaller tweaks.Skype will be integrated into the Phone Dialler app; Music, Video and Podcast apps are now listed separately; and better security for enterprise data security as well as VPN support.
The mobile OS also bring better battery and storage management to the tablet with this update.