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At Microsoft’s annual Build conference, the tech giant announced Windows Phone 8.1 with a new personal assistant named after the Halo franchise’s Cortana and a Windows 8.1 Update with a lot of minor changes to improve the experience for mouse and keyboard users. The Windows Phone 8.1 update will be rolling out “in the coming months,” while the Windows 8.1 update will roll out universally via the Windows Store on April 8th for free.

Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now, is the main new feature to be coming to Windows Phone devices with the update to 8.1, but at first she will only be in Beta and in the US. She keeps a notebook of information relevant to you by checking your email for upcoming flights, tracking the traffic for your commute to work, or finding news and weather relevant to you. If at anytime you feel like she’s getting too personal, you can see exactly what she knows about you in her notebook and delete it.

Other new features include support for a third column of live tiles on any size device, the ability to add a background image behind transparent live tiles, new lock screen themes, an Action Center to rival iOS’s Command Center and Android’s Quick Settings, a Word Flow keyboard similar to Swype, as well as minor updates to nearly all the baked-in apps and new phone information apps called Data Sense, WiFi Sense, Storage Sense, and Battery Saver.

As for Windows 8.1, the desktop and tablet operating system will be receiving a significant upgrade that caters more to desktop users than tablet users. Modern apps can now be pinned to the desktop’s taskbar and the taskbar will appear even on modern apps by moving your mouse to the bottom of the screen.

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While in the modern interface, a right click will now make a desktop-style menu appear, and moving your mouse to the top of the screen will allow you to see the familiar minimize and exit buttons. Some devices now automatically boot to the desktop, a power button and search button appear on the Start Screen, and IE11 has been updated to better display on screens of any size.

What do you think of these updates?

Source: Windows Phone Blog, Windows Experience Blog | Image Credit: Flickr/Brian

  1. Sam C Pearson III
    December 15, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    please take off cortana.

  2. Ptrix
    April 6, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Knowing Microsoft's general history, i can't say that i'd be terribly enthused to use Cortana, given that in the Halo lore , Cortana is an AI construct whose design leads it/her to become rampant in about 7 years...

    • Justin D
      April 6, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      LOL good point, but hey, Master Chief does end up saving her in the end ;) besides, who owns a smartphone for more than 7 years :P

  3. anon
    April 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    That's nice having Cortana but I'd prefer having her only for MY phone. Perhaps making it too mainstream is not such a good idea...just saying.
    Miley for his kids...what an irresponsible dad.(OOS comment)

  4. pankaj
    April 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Is cortana available only for wp8.1. Or 8 too??

    • Justin D
      April 6, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      Just Windows Phone 8.1 for now... but I really hope it comes to Win8 soon!

  5. Kiran
    April 6, 2014 at 7:31 am

    it'l be nice if all the icons in the desktop was also metro mod.......

  6. Tim
    April 5, 2014 at 7:42 am

    When I started using Windows (win95) I loved the fact that it could be easily customised, much more easily than linux. This is the main problem I have with Win8 that they have locked down the appearance and the functionality. These updates don't really address this because the most visible complaint that the public has been making is the lack of a traditional start menu and context menu so that is what MS have provided. Personally I would just like to change the appearance and features in the awful Charms Bar but there seems to be little to nothing, even from third parties to address this.

    • Justin D
      May 9, 2014 at 12:56 am

      That's why I love Android, for the customization of it. But you're right, a customizable desktop OS is becoming rarer and rarer, and Linux-based OSes are generally too niche for the average consumer. *sigh*

  7. Alex D
    April 5, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Why doesn't Befiore do more PR speaks? He actually knows how to sell a product really well. This actually got my excited for 8.1 and Windows Phone. They're not bad, but Microsoft has been a PR nightmare over the last couple years.

    • Justin D
      May 9, 2014 at 12:55 am

      True that. Their iPad-bashing commercials probably haven't helped either. :P

  8. AriesWarlock
    April 4, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I guess Os-tan is never happening, eh.

  9. Avirus
    April 4, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Big news! Excited for these announced. Loving MS new direction.

    • Justin D
      May 9, 2014 at 12:54 am

      Agreed! Cortana actually looks pretty cool. First time being excited for a Windows-related update in a long while. :)

  10. Keefe K
    April 4, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    As a Windows Phone user, I'm excited about Cortana, but also being able to install apps to my SD card as well. WP8 is finally starting to catch up to iOS and Android feature-wise, and if they continue, I believe Apple and Google will have better competition. I'm also hoping that this attracts more users to the Windows Phone, so that the user-base will continue growing, and then we can get more developers on board, and posting apps.

    • Justin D
      May 9, 2014 at 12:54 am

      Yeah, I generally feel the same. WP8 is slowly catching up! Thanks for sharing. :)

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