Back in April at Microsoft’s Build conference, Microsoft showed off a range of new features for their future platforms, including Windows Phone 8.1, as well as promising a much faster output of new features moving forward. Well, it looks like Microsoft were true to their word, for the most part, as here is the Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1.
Whilst Microsoft aren’t sharing the full list of features, they have shared a collection of features, all of which are very decent moving forward for the platform, and will certainly continue to show Microsoft’s true dedication to the platform.
UPDATES TO CORTANA
First up are some updates to Microsoft’s Cortana service … no it’s not on Windows 8 or Xbox yet, but on Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, it will bring the platform to new countries and a range of new features added in as well.
The countries in question;
Beta: UK and China
Opt-in Alpha: China, India and Australia
Of course simply announcing new language support isn’t as simple as recognising new words as Joe Belfiore discussed about each language updated.
“The huge Chinese market has a bunch of different expectations and needs than the US or other countries—so while Cortana (nicknamed “Xiao Na”) generally works the same way in China as the US and the rest of the world, China did get some “special features”. As you’d expect, in her notebook, she displays what she is tracking for you, so you can see and control it. You can set reminders and quiet hours with her. She understands the whole internet so she readily helps you find anything you need. But our team in Microsoft China developed a number of additional features specifically for China. She has an alternative form which has a different visual appearance, animations, and sounds. She supports Chinese (Mandarin) in voice, text, and speech. She also has specialized suggestions tuned specifically for people living in China, like air quality information in weather cards, information about driving restrictions, and the ability to track local TV shows and celebrities. She can look up English words in the Bing Dictionary for people looking to brush up on their English”.
For the UK;
For the UK, Cortana has been tailored to support UK spellings and pronunciations and Bing-provided local data on sports teams (for the EPL), the London Stock Exchange, commuter conditions, and more. The voice and accent is, of course, local, and Cortana’s personality in the UK has also been tweaked to be more locally relevant.
Microsoft have also announced that for US users, they will also see some major improvements making the service generally more natural to use.
Cortana will also now be able to work with Bluetooth devices with a new hot-word “Call Cortana”, working similar to “OK Google” or the newly announced “Hey Siri” command from iOS 8.
This is a pretty big new feature coming to the Windows Phone Start Screen, Live Folders.
Of course work arounds for folders on Windows Phone are available, but the implementation definitely reveals that they are work arounds and not official, well no more, folders will be an integrated thing in Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1.
Why are they called ‘Live Folders’ you ask, well simply because live tiles of apps appear in the tile of the folders, meaning updates remain visible because you group apps in a folder! Creating a Live Folder is exactly as you’d expect, just drag a tile over another tile and then name the folder. Open the folder to change the folder name and arrange and size the tiles however you want.
XBOX MUSIC IS FASTER WITH MORE FEATURES
It’s no lie that Xbox Music on Windows Phone 8.1 has been far from a smooth ride. Ever since we tried out the Preview for Developers version of the original Windows Phone 8.1 the first thing we noticed that we hated, other than Games now appearing in App List, was Xbox Music now sucked! But, Microsoft are hoping to finally address the problems people have had with the 8.1 version and with the 8.1 Update 1 version of Xbox Music, Microsoft think they’ve done it!
The Xbox Music app has been updated to deliver much better performance in areas like app load and list scrolling. It’s also brought back features that were missing in the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers, such as background sync of your collection, swipe to change track etc. Also in the coming month, there will be a “quickplay” of recent playback activities, and support for Kids Corner.
STORE LIVE TILES
A feature we were expecting in Windows Phone 8.1 from the Start … see what we did there, was the Store icon having a Live Tile. On Windows 8, the Store icon has been live since the original version of Windows 8, so it only makes sense that Windows Phone 8.1 finally gets a Live Store icon.
SMS MERGE & FORWARDING
The ability to select multiple SMS messages for deletion and forwarding is now possible.
With Apps Corner, you can specify which apps are displayed in a special “sandboxed” mode (like a protected Start screen) that restricts which apps are used. This feature is for businesses so they can allow access to select apps in cases where a full MDM solution isn’t required. Apps Corner can also be used to boot straight to an app. An example of where this scenario would come in handy might be with employees at a distribution center using Windows Phone devices that go straight into an inventory app they use to scan products in the warehouse when they turn on their phone. Apps Corner can also be used to setup retail demos. Retailers can export the profile of Apps Corner on one device and import it on to other devices. And developers can get data on usage from inside Apps Corner too.
ENHANCED PRIVACY AND SECURITY
Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 also sees major improvements to how your data and identity is handled and protected on public networks. For example, we have added the ability for you to send and receive data through a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots giving you another layer of protection. If you’re on your home wireless, creating a VPN provides anonymity to help shield your device from being identified by other devices on the network.
WHEN WILL THE UPDATE ARRIVE
If you’re already on the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers then this update should be rolling out next week. The Windows Phone 8.1 Update will roll out to consumers with devices running Windows Phone 8.1 in the coming months.