Microsoft started its Build 2014 developer conference with a marathon three-hour press conference last night, and the first third was dedicated to the exciting new Windows Phone 8.1 update. Introduced with enthusiasm by VP of Operating Systems Joe Belfiore, we were treated to a long look at the new version of Windows Phone.
The overall look of Windows Phone remains the same as before. Microsoft has added a few new visual features though. The first is the option to download themes for the lock screen, giving it a whole new style. Secondly, any wallpaper set on your lock screen can now be seen through transparent Live Tiles on the home screen.
Belfiore spent the most time talking about Windows Phone 8.1′s new virtual personal assistant, named Cortana. It’s Microsoft’s Siri and Google Now challenger, and she is built into every part of the OS. Like Siri, you use natural language to communicate with Cortana, and she can do everything from make calls and answer messages, to checking Facebook to see what a specific friend is doing.
She even comes equipped with a notebook, in which she will store notes on things which are important to you, and use the information in future searches and questions. She’s powered by Bing, and will perform internet searches, check the weather, and many other features.
Windows Phone 8.1 also has a pull down notification drawer called the Action Center, a Swype-like keyboard called Shape Writing, Internet Explorer 11, a Wi-Fi helper app, and deeper integration of Skype.
According to Microsoft, Windows Phone 8.1 will be heading to all existing Windows Phone 8 devices as an update in the next few months. Sadly, Cortana will not be included in international builds straight away.