Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1- Preview, Features, and Release Date

Windows Phone Live Folders
On the left, a Start Screen Folder, on the right, an expanded folder
Nearly 4 months after the unveiling of Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update (1), Microsoft has announced the Windows Phone 8.1 Update (1). Today in an event in China, Joe Belfiore announced the latest Windows Phone update. Relative to the previous GDR updates, this update seems rather sizeable, so let’s get into the details.


Firstly, and hopefully (but probably not) to the delight of people in non-US countries who want Cortana, Microsoft’s voice personal assistant is expanding to 5 new countries. In the ‘beta’ state, Cortana is coming to China and the United Kingdom, with unique features tailored to those regions.

In China in particular, Cortana is very different. She receives a new name: Xiao Na, and has an entirely new look. She also has China specific information, such as air quality information, and the alternative day driving rules dependent on the smog conditions. Also, it goes without saying, but she speaks Mandarin Chinese.

In the UK, Cortana gains a British accent, uses British spellings, and knows about subjects such as the London Stock Exchange.

Cortana also expands to India, Australia, and Canada in the ‘alpha’ state. This means she will be an opt-in feature and be restricted to US or UK English. The UK and China Cortana won’t be voiced by Jen Taylor, as the US version is.

In the United States, Cortana gains configurable snooze times for her reminder feature, and in the car she gains a special “Call Cortana” voice command to bring her up.



                NEW Start Screen Folders- A popular Android and iOS feature is coming to Windows Phone, but much like with Cortana and the Action Center, rather than doing a pixel by pixel copy, this feature is being designed for Windows Phone. Adding tiles to folders is the same as in Android: drag a tile on top of another one, and they will be added to a folder.

However, while in the folder, the Live Tiles will still function, and their layout in the folder and folder tile, can be changed by the user.

Expanding the folder also is implemented in a way that feels native to Windows Phone. Tap the folder, and the tiles in the folder will expand in the start screen, to full size versions of the tiles.

Folders can be named and resized, as folders are tiles.

                Live Tiles- XBOX Music and the Store gain live tiles. The Store live tile displays information about new apps, like in Windows 8, and is refreshed every six hours. The Music live tile works the same as it used to, before the tile was removed in Windows Phone 8.1


                Dual SIM- Windows Phone gains CDMA and GSM dual SIM support in Update (1), which allows the Dual SIM feature to be used with carriers that have CDMA or GSM bands, such as China Mobile.

                SD- SD cards will be able to be used to store data when updating the phone. This will make updates easier to install on lower memory devices, which tend to get filled up with Apps and such very quickly.

                Charging- Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 support gets added for handsets which choose to support the standard. Quick Charge devices draw around 2.5 amps, instead of the USB standard, which draws 0.5 amps. This will result in dramatically reduced charging times. Some existing devices will support this, though the specifics are unknown at this time.

                NEW Smart Covers- This update adds support for smart covers, such as the HTC Dot View case.

                Bluetooth- Update 1 adds support for PAN (Personal Area Netwrok), the aptX Codec for A2DP, and browser support for AVRCP. This allows for better compatibility and quality for media. Bluetooth also gains support for pushing notifications from wearables to a Windows Phone handset.

                Resolutions- Three more display resolutions are supported for Update 1: 540x960 qHD, 1280x800 WXGA, and for screen sizes of 6.01” to 7”, the 1280x768 WXGA resolution. This makes it easier for OEM’s to reuse their Android hardware designs with Windows Phone 8.1. 1920x1080 is still the maximum resolution for Windows Phone.


                Messaging- SMS allows multiple texts from a conversation to be selected at the same time for deletion and forwarding purposes. Prior to this, users had to either delete one text at a time, or delete all of them (the entire conversation).

                NEW App Corner- A new feature called ‘App Corner’ is added. App Corner is similar to Kids’ Corner, but remove restrictions on In App Purchases and Internet Browsing. This will be useful in demoing apps or games in a public event, such as PAX or CES.

                VPN- This update introduces support for the L2TP protocol for VPN, also known as consumer VPN. The VPN added in Windows Phone 8.1 was IKE v2, which is for enterprises. This is useful for many situations, one of which being accessing a local server, while not directly connected to the Wi-Fi that the local server is connected to.


                The Windows Phone 8.1 Update (1) is set to release as part of the ‘Preview for Developers’ sometime during the week of August 3, 2014. My personal schedule will say August 5, but it can be any day that week. It is not hard to imagine that it will roll out globally later this year, probably starting in September.
The Windows Phone 8.1 Update looks like a nice little update to Windows Phone. I am actually rather excited for the Music and Folders features.

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