Windows Phone 8.1 has brought a bunch of new features to Microsoft’s Windows Phone that are getting them a lot of attention across the web. From huge functional changes like the “Action Center” (a notification center similar to iOS and Android) to creative aethstetic changes like the new background image that, instead of being behind your tiles on the home screen, takes over certain tiles’ background and adds a parallax effect as you scroll. Microsoft even has added their own virtual personal assistant called Cortana (named after the AI woman from the popular Halo series of games for the Xbox) to compete with Siri, Google Now, S Voice, etc.

There’s a decent amount that’s been changed, but I’ve put together the things that are the most significant in my opinion. Let’s get started.

Windows Phone 8.1 New Features

Lock Screen

  • Double Tap to Wake – Simply double tap your device’s screen while off to wake it from sleep.

Homescreen

  • Start Screen Backgrounds – Choose an image to place on the Start screen, but, uniquely, it’s shown only through specific tiles and has a parallax effect.
  • Windows Theme Sync – The theme on your phone will sync with any of your other Windows devices.
  • Start Screen Backup – Your Windows Phone’s Start screen is backed up to OneDrive so if you switch to a new Windows Phone it’ll ask you if you want to use the same Start screen configuration as your last device.
  • More Columns – Device’s under 5″ can now toggle to show more tiles on their screen which will introduce a third column for them to add tiles to (devices over 5″ automatically have the third column added and it cannot be removed).

Status Bar

  • Notification Center – Pulling down the status bar now gives you a notification center that has all of your apps notifications in one place. Seriously needed. You can also control how you are notified by each app in Settings.
  • Quick Actions – At the top of the “Action Center” (aka Notification Center), you can set 5 different quick actions that, unlike Android or iOS, some don’t turn on and off the feature you select, but take you to the section in Settings for that particular action (i.e. tapping the Wifi icon takes you to the Wifi Settings page instead of turning Wifi on and off). These actions can be customized to show a few different actions.

Keyboard

  • Word Flow – You can now swipe across the keys (like with Android) to create words. I, for one, use that a lot on Android, so nice to see it here.

Cortana (Virtual Assistant)

  • Notebook – Cortana has a set of customizable options called a Notebook that you can adjust to choose what she notifies you about (whether you want weather reports in the morning, traffic before you go to work, etc.).
  • Nicknames – You can set nicknames for contacts to have Cortana use those instead of full contact names to identify people (i.e. Wife, Son, Girlfriend, etc. and then you can say, “Text my wife” instead of “text Susan Miller”).
  • Reminders – Just like Google Now, you can set reminders for when you go to a specific place, etc. You can also set one for the next time you speak to someone (whether that is via call, email, or text).
  • Chit Chat – You can say things to Cortana like you would with Siri to get a chuckle (i.e. Tell me a joke, where is Master Chief, I love you, etc.).
  • Universal Search – Searching through Cortana will also include results on your device.

Additional App Changes

  • Internet Explorer 11 – IE has been updated to 11 and has a faster load time for pages, slicker UI, etc.
  • Podcasts  – Windows Phone has it’s own Podcast app now to store and listen to… podcasts.
  • Xbox Music and Video – The Music and Video Hub have been separated into Xbox Music and Xbox Video.
  • Storage Sense – You can install apps to your SD card to free up storage on the device’s internal storage.
  • Wifi Sense – Will automatically connect to open Wifi networks and even get past the splash screen for you to allow you to use the Wifi quickly and seamlessly instead of using data (will kill the battery I think, but great for people who want to cut down on their data plans).
  • Project My Screen – New feature allows you to mirror your device’s screen on supported TVs, monitors, and projectors (either over Wifi or USB).
  • Universal Apps – Microsoft has finally made changes so apps that are created on one Windows platform (i.e. Windows 8.1) can easily be transitioned to other ones (i.e. Windows Phone 8.1).
  • Store Revamped – The Windows Phone Store is revamped to make finding apps easier. The Spotlight section recommends apps based on your interests. Apps also auto-update now.
  • Social Network Integration – Developers can now plug their social apps directly into the People Hub, Calendar, and Live Tiles to allow for more integration.
  • Battery Management – You can now see what apps are draining your battery.
  • Calendar – Calendar has been redesigned to look like the Outlook calendar (complete with weather forecasts on each day).
  • Volume Control – You can not control the volume of notifications/media/etc. separately instead of just one volume control for all.
  • Camera Burst Mode – Camera now has burst mode with auto-deletion to try and help catch the best shot.
  • Dual SIM Support – Dual SIM devices are now supported (once any are released).
  • Enterprise Options – New VPN and Secure Wifi options now in Workplace in settings.

Anyone excited for Windows Phone 8.1 to come out in summer or has anyone installed the developer preview and loving it?

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  • Jalen Council

    What happens when the real update comes out? Please respond I want to update but I don’t know what the outcome will be!

    • This isn’t some hack or anything it’s from Microsoft so its safe to assume it would just tell you there was an update and you’d update to the public version (usually the developer previews have a lower version number and the public ones have higher numbers so they should be viewed as an update by the system like normal).
      Hope that helps!