Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore just took the stage during the BUILD developers conference in San Francisco, where he is discussing the Windows Phone 8.1 update and new partners, including Micromax and Prestigio
Belfiore first went over some of the changes in the UI, including a new Action Center, which is used to show notifications and quickly access settings like the Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, your battery percentage mode and more. Notifications populate from all apps, and Belfiore said APIs will be available to developers who can choose what sorts of information is provided.
New Lock Screen and Home Screen
Additionally, the lock screen is now much more customizable and more interactive than before. There are different themes that are available, and developers can totally customize them anyhow they want – and then publish them for users to install.
The Home Screen can also now be customized with the size and number of tiles that are presented. Instead of only relying on colored themes, too, you can now set a custom background using a photo, and the tiles pop up over that. “When a phone knows you, you have a better experience with it, ” Belfiore said.
Windows Phone 8.1 also features Cortana, Microsoft’s new digital assistant for mobile. Cortana is completely powered by Bing, so it has complete access to the Internet, but also is capable of learning about you. Cortana can be accessed from a live tile on the home screen, or directly from the search button on a phone. “She” can be used to place phone calls, search for music, make a calendar appointment, set an alarm and more.
Cortana can also tap into third party apps, like Facebook, Flixster, Hulu Plus, with others to come. Inside the software, there’s also a notebook where you can control certain aspects of the voice assistant by providing quiet hours, people you care about, your daily routine, stocks you care about, travel data, specific news headlines you want to read about and more. An Inner Circle part of Cortana lets you include the people you contact most, or who is allowed to contact you during specific “quiet hours” that you might set. Like Google Now, Cortana is capable of scanning through emails to find info on flight data and other things. If you type in a manual search into Cortana, results will populate with local content as well – something Windows Phone hasn’t yet offered.
Cortana will launch as a beta in the U.S., and then Microsoft will expand to the U.K. and China before deploying in other markets.
Microsoft also announced that Windows Phone 8.1 supports enterprise VPN and S/MIME for signing messages direct from your Windows Phone device. You can choose to encrypt or sign a message from the device, or send it without S/MIME, depending on the scenario. IT departments can also configure the phones so that employees can’t save local files – if they don’t have access – and can even be blocked from using specific apps. You can also manually log in or log out of a corporate account right from your device, which will either add or remove all of the apps approved by your IT department.
Skype Integrated into the Phone
Now, when you’re on a phone call, you can tap a new Skype button in the Windows Phone dialer to jump right into a video call. Microsoft said other video services will also be supported depending on the carrier, but that’s a pretty awesome new option.
Microsoft said it made improvements to its already awesome Wordflow keyboard. It takes advantage of the Swype-style keyboard found on Android, by letting you drag your fingers from one letter to another to create words. It appeared to work really well during a quick Microsoft demo. The company said that it was able to use its new keyboard to beat a Guinness Book World Record for fastest typing on a phone, too.
Other New Features
Windows Phone 8.1 starts rolling out to consumers as an update in the next few months, Microsoft said, noting that it will vary by device and operator. Windows Phone 8.1 will also launch on new phones starting in late April or early May.