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Windows Phone 8.1 Update - Features to Expect


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When is Windows Phone 8.1 coming?

Microsoft is tipped to launch Windows Phone 8.1 imminently. Owners of current Windows Phone 8 mobiles will get the update, possibly on day one of release. That’s the beauty of not letting manufacturers tinker with your OS, Android fans.

We don't expect wholesale changes, but there will be some important additions in this first and last major Windows Phone 8 update. Next stop: Windows Phone 9. We already know most of the features we'll get in Windows Phone 8.1, thanks to Microsoft’s release of the SDK and a few internet leaks.

Microsoft looks set to take a big step towards feature parity with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android with Windows Phone 8.1. There’s little that will be wholly new to people familiar with those rival platforms, but there are a couple of features that might just turn out to be better.

Here are some of the major and not-so-major features you can look forward to in Windows Phone 8.1

Cortana personal assistant

Windows blip

When Windows Phone 7 came along in 2010, it looked nothing less than the most forward-thinking and advanced mobile OS around. Since then, both Android and iOS have added intelligent assistant features that have gone some way to make Windows seem a little behind.

It has taken a while, but Microsoft is finally set to join the party. More than that, it’s set to become the life and soul of that party.

The most exciting feature in Windows Phone 8.1, without doubt, is Cortana, which promises to combine the best bits of both Google Now and Siri.

CortanaWhy Cortana? That’s a little reference to Halo, the seminal Xbox first person shooter series. In those games the hero, Master Chief, had an AI assistant called Cortana.

Alas, you won’t be getting a free-thinking AI construct beaming onto your construct with Windows Phone 8.1, but its capabilities are still pretty impressive.

Cortana will replace the current Bing search feature in the Windows Phone OS, and will be accessible through the search key. The focus is on advanced and adaptable voice recognition, much like Siri, and like Apple's Siri you’ll be able to do things like add reminders, search the web, and read out new messages simply by asking. Cortana can even be instructed to use your name (or whatever handle you wish) in its responses.

But Cortana can also scan your usage data and personal information to generate custom notifications, like Google Now. This might include pulling out flight details from your email and reminding you of it, for example.

Bing and Foursquare will form the basis of Cortana’s external information pool, but we expect this will expand to other online services too.

It seems that Cortana will store all of the personal information it acquires in a Notebook file, which can then be edited and deleted by the user. This should allay some privacy concerns.

Also check out:

Reviews of Windows Phone mobiles

Windows Phone 8 tips and tricks

Action Center

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Do you know the biggest annoyance with Windows Phone 8? If you said 'not enough apps,' then you’re wrong. No, it’s the lack of a proper notification centre with appropriate settings shortcut toggles.

Action CenterWhile Android and iOS users can swipe a menu from the top or bottom of the screen and catch up with their latest messages and updates without going into the individual apps, Windows Phone users cannot.

Similarly, if you want to quickly turn your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on, or flip into Airplane mode, Microsoft’s platform won't let you.

That’s all about to change in Windows Phone 8.1 with the introduction of Action Center. Despite spelling 'Centre' wrong (hello to our American readers), it promises to right the biggest wrong of the entire Windows Phone experience.

Action Center is a familiar notification menu with a two-stage access system. A quick, short swipe from the top of the screen will bring up four key notification toggles for things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the like. These should be fully customisable.

Swipe further and you’ll bring down an expanded menu containing all of your latest notifications. Think emails, text messages, and the aforementioned Cortana notifications.

Hopefully these notifications will be closer to Android than iOS in their ability to be dealt with directly, such as when replying to messages from within the notification itself.

Software buttons

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It might not sound like much, but Microsoft’s decision to implement software keys for Windows Phone 8.1, rather than continuing to require hardware solutions, could play a major part in the platform’s growth.

Put another way, it signifies Microsoft’s intention to take its platform to the masses. It’s a step that demands less from Windows Phone manufacturers, allowing them to cut costs and offer cheaper handsets.

Every component adds to the final cost of a smartphone, so taking that strip of capacitive keys or clicky hardware buttons out of the equation will help. Not a lot, but it will help.

Indeed, this new openness to cheaper handset design is evident elsewhere in Windows Phone 8.1…

Low-end processor support

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Windows Phone is very much a mid to high-end mobile OS. This means that Microsoft is missing out on the entry-level dollar, especially in (but not restricted to) developing markets where smartphone adoption is accelerating.

That’s why, in addition to the aforementioned UI tweaks, Windows Phone 8.1 will be much easier to run on cheap hardware. Microsoft is adding support for Qualcomm’s entry-level Snapdragon 200 and 400 processors.

Read more about Qualcomm's processors in our Snapdragon 805 vs 801 vs 800

Internet Explorer 11

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A new Microsoft OS, a new Microsoft browser. Windows Phone 8.1 will bring with it a portable version of Internet Explorer 11.

IE 11As is the case with many of the other new features we’ve discussed here, IE11 will add some familiar but much-needed functionality.

One of these new additions is Reading View. Just like iOS Safari’s Reader button, this feature strips away the clutter of your average web page and formats the essential text for mobile reading.

IE11 also borrows a leaf out of Google Chrome’s book by allowing you to sync your tabs across Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 devices. In similar fashion, a new password manager will let you synchronise your saved passwords across multiple devices.

We’re also expecting an InPrivate mode, which will enable incognito browsing, with no history or cookie information retained once you close the tab.

Background images

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Don’t expect Windows Phone 8.1 to look radically different to Windows Phone 8. After all, we’re not talking about Windows Phone 9 here, but rather an incremental update.

One stylistic tweak we can expect is the ability to add a background image to your home screen. This clever effect is kind of like the wallpapers you can add to Android and iOS, but it works in a slightly different way on Windows Phone.

Taking into account the OS’s unique Live Tile system, this background image forms the backdrop for a number of the square icons that make up your home screen, creating the impression of looking at the scene through a grate.

Of course, this won’t work with all app icons, and developers will need to activate the option individually. But it’s another welcome layer of personalisation in Microsoft’s carefully-crafted OS.

Battery Power Sense

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Here’s another new feature that mimics those found on Android and iOS. Battery Power Sense breaks down your power usage by application, so you can spot the serial juice drainers and cut them off when you know you’ll be away from a socket for a while.

A nice touch is that you won’t have to monitor this manually. You can set Battery Power Sense to automatically shut down specific apps when the power level drops below 20 per cent.

The Windows Phone 8.1 update will also offer numerous fixes and tweaks. We'll add any extra information once the software has been officially revealed.

Next, read our review of the Nokia Lumia 1020

Tim Monger-Godfrey

April 2, 2014, 6:44 am

Although I'm really yet to find a proper use for Siri / Google Now / Cortana etc, the rest of the updated seem to be genuinely useful.

However, what still seems one of the most overlooked annoyance on Windows Phone (for me at least) is having the same audio level for ringtone and headphones - often resulting in either missed calls or blown eardrums!

Tim Sutton

April 2, 2014, 10:05 am

I have no issue with Windows Phone getting a Notification Centre, but I don't think it's needed at all.

It's far quicker and much more instinctive to flip through all the live tiles on the front screen to check for notifications then it is to pull down the notification tab on my Android Memo tablet.


April 2, 2014, 12:34 pm

"No, it’s the lack of a proper notification centre with appropriate settings shortcut toggles."
WTH is a "proper notification centre"? At least with my WP I don't have to make an extra step by pulling down some notification center to get what's important to me. All I have to do is look at my screen and the information I need is there. Yes, I have an iPhone 5 and it bugs the heck out me in order to get quick information I have to make extra steps to go to a notification center whereas in WP it's already right there on my screen.
Further what the hell is so good about an background photo if you cant see it? Can someone get a brain around here? Furthermore, the technique Microsoft will be using seems way better than some background photo. Oh my goodness! If Apple had come up with this feature it would be hailed as the best thing ever! Please get someone who has passion about WP to do writeups about WP. And who actually knows something about the the OS.


April 2, 2014, 12:44 pm

I'm not sure any phone really needs one, frankly. It's my least favourite part of iOS and I'm not overly enamoured with them on Android, either. Too much noise.


April 2, 2014, 1:25 pm

Actually, the live tiles don't always let you see the notifications. Toast notifications appear at the top of the screen but don't stay there. The live tiles have no way of showing you which notification is the latest one. With the Battery app, you get a toast notification but, if you're like me and you can't immediately read the message that is displayed, there's no way of going back to it or seeing what it said. I get that with several apps. I use several email accounts and I don't want to have to open each mailbox to see the latest messages. It will be nice to see them all in a notification center and then decide if any need immediate attention or not. I for one have been waiting for the notification center for more than 3 years now. It's about time!


April 2, 2014, 3:17 pm

My Wife recently got the 1020, playing with it, I think it's rather nice..

Only main issue I've had is having to reset the phone, eg. Sometimes it just won't see wireless networks, but doing a reboot seems to fix it. Hopefully 8.1 will also implement some stability fixes too.

Although the live tiles are really nice feature, it's not the same as the notification center, so having both is handy.

Also I can see the Cortana been nice if done right, been able to say something like "Dentist appointment tomorrow at 10am" and it create a calendar would be spot on.

The battery saving is a must, compared to my HTC One the 1020 drains battery very fast.

Francis Pelland

April 2, 2014, 3:21 pm

That seems to be something left out in this article that is also getting a complete overhaul. Definitely something I looked forward to as well.

Francis Pelland

April 2, 2014, 3:23 pm

While I do agree with you in many ways. Not all apps appear on your live tile (or at least mine). I sometimes get notifications (I hear it), but by the time I get to my phone I have missed it and have no idea what app generated the notification.

Francis Pelland

April 2, 2014, 3:28 pm

My 1020 lasts 2-3 days if I don't use it much but is powered on. But if I use it extensively it will last me a full day. It definitely seems like a lot of background apps running and battery sense would be useful to find the culprit.

As for Cortona, I think it would just end up being more of a gimmick. But I do use TellMe A LOT while I am driving as it is a perfect tool for allowing me to keep my eyes on the road. If it provides further abilities that TellMe cannot that are useful to me while driving, then I would definitely welcome Cortona. Hopefully it can properly launch apps like Xbox Music and start playlists.


April 2, 2014, 3:40 pm

Not really sure, neither me or the wife are heavy users. Bluetooth is always on as we use that in the cars, maybe it could be that. Fingers crossed the battery sense will sort it out. Also just checked and battery saver in setting was turned off, but that seems a bit too much, and battery sense might be better.

Francis Pelland

April 2, 2014, 3:51 pm

Do you have the Lumia Black update by any chance? My battery got significantly better when I installed the update. My Bluetooth is also always on as I stream music while I am in the car for at least 3 hours per day. Battery sense will only let you know what is using your battery up.

I've noticed that some apps affected battery in ways I never imaged, like the Weather Network app eats my battery life a lot. Viber, while I rarely used it made my battery last 4 hours at most. One that really surprised me was the AllRecipes app that had a negative toll on my battery. You can go in your settings and see which apps are running in the background and shut them off if you really don't need to be instantly alerted about something.


April 2, 2014, 3:56 pm

I think as default Android notification definitely do give you too much noise, but when you get one your not interested in, just hold your finger on it for a few seconds, you can then select App Info and disable notification for this app.


April 2, 2014, 4:07 pm

Yes, it's got Black update. What did you use to find out what's taking CPU / battery?.. My wife does have the weather tile, hopefully that's not the culprit.

Francis Pelland

April 2, 2014, 4:19 pm

Most of the time, the apps that kill your battery run in the background. If you go to Setttings > Slide Right to Applications and click on background tasks you get to see all the apps that run in the background. I usually just tried to install an app a day at most, but if I installed more than one I would try to remove them until I found the culprit(s).


April 2, 2014, 4:26 pm

Oh right, I did see the settings for background tasks,. But unfortunately it not giving you any info on battery usage, I thought you might have used something else. So IOW trial an error, so battery sense will be most welcome. :) Thanks for the tips, I've disabled a few that I certainly don't need running in the background and see how that goes.

Francis Pelland

April 2, 2014, 4:29 pm

Agreed, battery sense will be very helpful for things like this. Best of luck!

Tim Sutton

April 2, 2014, 8:51 pm

Yes, exactly. It's clutter and messy and I'm fairly certain in my own mind that Windows Phone handles the whole situation better already.

I feel like this is a feature aimed mainly at easing the transition of Android and IOS users (and hardware reviewers) who feel like a notification center is a necessary part of the phone experience.

But like I say, so long as it's in addition to Live Tiles rather than supplanting them, it's fine by me. I just won't use it much, and I imagine once newcomers to WP start appreciating Live Tiles they won't use the Center much either.

Tim Sutton

April 2, 2014, 9:04 pm

Those are all flaws in how the the individual apps work, not in the live tile system.

This is my worry, that if a notification center exists then developers will just lazily let that do the job that decently worked Live Tiles are designed to do.. which is presenting information visually and instantly.


April 2, 2014, 9:44 pm

Indeed. I've reviewed and used a few Windows Phones and 'notification center' wasn't one of the things I felt it needed. If you ignore the whole apps argument (it's still a valid one for me), though, the main challenge is now that people are either settled on iOS or Android, Microsoft really needs something spectacular to persuade people to switch to Windows Phone.

Everyone I know who has tried a WP has liked lots of things about it, but it's rarely enough to persuade them to switch full time. That's certainly the case for me, at least.


April 5, 2014, 2:57 pm

"That’s the beauty of not letting manufacturers tinker with your OS, Android fans" This statement is total bs. I had a windows phone before my current htc one, and updates were completely subject to carrier and manufacturer approval. They even came with bloatware. Some phones were never updated, while others were updated many months later. To make the assertion it isn't like that is totally bogus.

Tlangela Ntshembo Mkhacane

April 22, 2014, 3:11 pm

I just started using a WindowsPhone, a bit irritating that I can't close app as simple as in the Metro UI

and don't like that the search btn always jumps to bing, even in an app with the search functionality. *


August 10, 2014, 10:55 pm

What am i doing wrong? I have a Nokia Lumia… and I can't find Cortana or the Notification Center? I'm pretty tech savvy, but I'm hitting a brick wall here. Love my phone and want to use all the awesome features. :)


August 22, 2014, 1:02 pm

Unfortunately it was bad luck, in the end the wife bought an iPhone 5s, The 1020 just constantly ran it's battery down or locked up, even to the point were it wouldn't re-charge, and lots of other problems to boot!!, sent away to get repaired. But too late now, wife not want. So it's Ebay time, anyone after a 1020??

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