Windows Phone 8.1: What’s new?

By Britta O'Boyle | Small Business

Microsoft made a flurry of announcements during its Build 2014 developer conference in San Francisco, including its new mobile operating system: Windows Phone 8.1.

Windows Phone 8 was introduced in October 2011 and, following three updates, the new Windows Phone 8.1 brings the software to near perfection. Here is what's new and what you can expect from Windows Phone 8.1.


Perhaps top of the features list is Cortana, which is Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now and allows you to control your phone without touching the screen.

Cortana has the same voice as the artificial intelligence character in the Halo games, hence the name, and she works as a personal assistant to perform searches, control calendars, send messages, make calls and more.

She has her own Notebook that shows everything she has learned about you, allowing you to edit it, and Cortana can be extended to third party apps allowing you to request things such as "Cortana get Joe Bloggs on Skype".

Cortana uses Bing search to find out the information you need and if you are looking for a restaurant, it will use Bing's Yelp data to narrow down the choices, plus she comes with her own Live Tile to feed information you might like.


The Windows stock calendar has been updated to be more compatible with external sources such as Google Calendar, meaning everything can now be pulled into the Windows 8.1 native app.

This will mean you can access everything in one place and it will even let you know the weather, so it will help make sure you won't walk out of the house in shorts if it is set to rain. A week view has also been added and it is easy to get to by swiping to the left or right.

Action Centre

Microsoft has introduced the Action Centre to offer Windows users a more detailed top level of notifications and a pull-down menu.

This feature means users will be able to pull down from the top of their screen to access four toggle buttons that include switching Wi-Fi on or off, brightness control, messaging and phone settings.

Users will also be able to modify what is displayed in the notifications to suit their needs and there is a wide variety of options to choose from.

Word Flow Keyboard

The stock Windows Phone 8.1 keyboard is a clever little number, allowing the user to swipe their finger across the letters to create a word, similar to SwiftKey on Android. Microsoft claims it is the fastest in the world.

It will learn the user's writing style, the words they type frequently and the contacts in their address book, as well as predicting the words they are typing. The keyboard will also suggest emoticons based on what is being typed.

Wi-Fi Sense & Storage Sense

Microsoft has introduced a range of Sense features, including Data Sense, Wi-Fi Sense and Storage Sense.

The Wi-Fi Sense will connect to good free Wi-Fi hotspots when you are in range, but more interestingly it will also connect to the Wi-Fi spots owned by your friends. It will do this by utilising the user names and passwords of the friends you are connected to through Facebook, Outlook and Skype.

Storage Sense is also a useful feature enabling you get the most out of your phone and SD card's storage. It will allow you to move content such as apps, music and photos easily between the two storage options.

Windows Phone 8.1 will be rolling out to older phones in the coming months, while new devices featuring the software will arrive by late April, early May.

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