Windows Phone 8.1 signifies a new direction for Microsoft

While Windows Phone is still the underdog in the mobile platform wars, it will not lack in any features thanks to the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 “Blue” update. The operating system will likely be announced at Microsoft’s BUILD conference in April, and should be available to users beginning sometime in June. Windows Phone 8.1 is set to be a significant overhaul, with a laundry list of new features oft-requested by users finally added to the operating system.

Windows Phone is no longer a lacklustre ecosystem

It looks like Microsoft went back to the drawing board for Windows Phone 8.1, as there are a whole host of changes and additions baked into the ecosystem now. Let’s go through some of these:

• Action Center: Windows Phone is finally getting a notification center, and it will be called Action Center. The Action Center features a notification setting screen that users can configure to show quickly accessible settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Driving Mode and others. A single swipe down from the top shows quick toggles, and another swipe will show incoming notifications.
• Ability to turn on Wi-Fi automatically after disabling it for a set amount of time.
• Hardware accelerated audio and video transcoding. Screen capture directly from within an app. Functionality to edit audio and video files, and added support for slow motion video and Stereoscopic 3D.
• Ability to customize the background on start screen, along with three column tiles as standard.
• Ability to change default SMS client.
• Cortana voice assistant that will offer similar functionality to Siri and Google Now.
• A full-featured YouTube client with HTML5 video support and a custom UI that features closed captioning.
• A new file picker and manager along with a dedicated “Downloads” folder. OneDrive integration with file manager.
• Single sign-in for apps, ability to install apps on SD cards and filter through them by usage/install date. Automatically update apps from the store.
• Password protection for Internet Explorer 11, Bing smart search and dedicated Xbox Music and Xbox Video clients.
• Battery percentage will now be shown beneath the battery icon.
• Support for encrypted e-mail, and the ability to download always download e-mails.
• Twitter integration with Contacts. In addition, the ability to share secure Wi-Fi network information with contacts. While contacts can connect to the secure Wi-Fi network, they would not be able to see the password.
• Quiet Hours, a utility that mutes all incoming notifications for a user-defined time.
• Background tasks: Bluetooth signal strength, Chat message notification, Device connection change, Device use trigger, Gatt characteristic notification, Location, Push notification, Rfcomm connection, System event and Timer.
• Remote locking and addition of location based reminders.
• New camera layout and UI.
• Dual-SIM functionality.
• New USB device dialog box with added functionality.
• Screen sharing with Miracast and native Google Calendar sync.
• New gesture-based keyboard.

Interesting new devices on the horizon

In addition to new features that are being added to the platform, there are a host of new devices that are set to launch. It is rumoured that Samsung is working on a Windows Phone based device codenamed Huron that will launch soon on Verizon. It is likely that the device will be officially announced next week at the Mobile World Congress. Other manufacturers, like HTC, Sony and Huawei are also set to be working on new Windows Phone handsets that will launch later this year.
It was alleged in January that Microsoft was paying handset manufacturers around $2 billion to launch Windows Phone handsets. It was later confirmed that while Microsoft does co-marketing with manufacturers, the figures quoted were incorrect. Whatever the case, it looks like Microsoft has gotten other manufacturers interested in launching Windows Phone devices, which is great for the platform as a whole. Currently, Nokia owns over 85% of the market share in the Windows Phone segment, so it will be nice to see some diversity as far as hardware is concerned.
Nokia has seen renewed interest in its handsets with the likes of the Lumia 1320 in emerging markets. Phablet devices are generally well-received in countries like India, and with the Lumia 1320 price in India set at $340 (Rs. 21,500), the device is attracting a lot of consumer attention. While Nokia has seen a modicum of success in emerging markets with Windows Phone, other manufacturers have failed to gain any traction in these countries. HTC’s 8X and 8S have flown under the radar, and even after offering attractive discounts, the devices failed to garner any attention. However, with new devices in the horizon, all that might change soon.

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