Microsoft has officially unveiled its new Windows Phone 8.1¬†update as well as the company’s own virtual personal assistant, Cortana, at the¬†Microsoft Build conference.
Cortana gives Windws Phone 8.1 users their own virtual personal¬†assistant powered by Microsoft’s Bing. Similar to both Google Now and Siri,¬†users will be able to add items to calendars, set alarms, find nearby¬†restaurants, perform searches, play back music, and set so-called “quiet¬†hours.” Cortana will slowly learn, adapt, and evolve, based on the user’s¬†search and activity history and will be able to provide contextual data and¬†information to the user, similar to Google Now.
The new Windows Phone 8.1 update will also introduce a new¬†Action Center, which is basically a notifications hub where users can customize¬†which apps can post notifications and how they remind you about them¬†(vibration, etc.). The Action Center will also be home to a few system toggles,¬†including ones for WiFi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, and Internet Sharing.
The lock screen on Windows Phone 8.1 has also been changed to be¬†more customizable, and Microsoft is releasing new APIs for third-party apps to¬†introduce interactivity and other things to the lock screen. The Start Screen¬†tiles will now also be customizable, with users being able to choose an image to¬†use instead of the current solid colors.
Microsoft is also introducing Wi-Fi Sense, which is a¬†feature that lets your smartphone automatically connect to free wireless¬†hotspots as they become available. Wi-Fi Sense will also let users share their home¬†wireless network with others via their Windows Phone 8.1 device without giving¬†them the password. A new version of Skype will also be introduced with a new¬†feature that lets users convert regular phone calls to Skype calls. Lastly, a¬†new keyboard feature called “word flow” that allows users to slide¬†their finger from letter to letter to form words will be coming to Windows¬†Phone 8.1.
Microsoft has not left out business users, as it will be¬†introducing support for VPN and S/MIME, which adds encryption and signing to¬†e-mails.
Windows Phone 8.1 and Cortana will be coming to Windows¬†Phone-powered devices in the next few months, but brand new Windows Phone 8.1¬†devices will start rolling out sooner; around April or May.