Build 2014: Microsoft announces Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1 announcementMicrosoft’s Build 2014 developer conference kicked off today and the company wasted no time introducing Windows Phone 8.1 at its first event keynote.

Highlights of Windows Phone 8.1 include:

  • New lockscreens
    • New lockscreen designs developed with famed French Windows Phone developer Rudy Huyn
  • Start screen
    • Setting for a denser layout with smaller tiles
    • Background images
  • New action center at the top of the screen with access to often used toggles (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc)
  • Cortana personal digital assistant for Windows Phone
    • Powered by Bing
    • Replaces search function
    • Can be extended with third party apps
    • Cortana notebook manages a personalization profile that includes interests, closest friends, quiet hours and more to tailor information it provides
    • Supports voice commands and natural speech
    • Can launch various apps using voice commands (eg, Skype, call so-and-so or Hulu, add Deadbeat to my queue)
    • Launches as a beta as Microsoft works on improving the service as people start to use it
    • Launches in U.S. only initially
  • Enhanced corporate and business support
    • Enterprise VPN
    • S/MIME support
    • MDM support
  • Improved Windows Phone store including quick links and personalized recommendations
  • Improved Calendar with swipe navigation and new views like Week View
  • Wi-Fi Sense app to manage Wi-Fi connectivity by automatically connecting to favourite hotspots and ability to have friends connect to your Wi-Fi network automatically and without sharing your password
  • Improved Wordflow keyboard – Now holds Guiness record for fastest typing on a keyboard
  • Improved interoperability with Windows

Windows Phone 8.1 will rollout as an update to existing devices “in the next few months.” It will launch on new smartphones as early as late April or early May.

Following MWC’s hardware partner announcement, Microsoft also announced two new hardware partners: MicroMax and Prestigio.