Microsoft unveils Windows Phone 8.1; developer preview releasing on April 8

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Microsoft let loose latest version of its mobile operating platform Windows Phone 8.1 at BUILD 2014 and the key highlights of the announcements were Cortana; new action centre; Wi-Fi Sense, Word Flow keyboard, personalisation options; and support for new LTE chips among other things.

At BUILD 2014, Microsoft touted its Windows Phone operating system as ‘the fastest growing smartphone operating system’ and said that the latest version of the OS will reach all Lumia devices in the next few months.

Developers who managed to find themselves at the conference were lucky to get a copy of their own Windows Phone 8.1 right away with other developers getting their copy starting April 8.

One of the biggest feature of Windows Phone 8.1 is Cortana – the long rumoured digital assistant from Microsoft and which the company now claims is first “personal digital assistant”. This claim is rather too bold and insulting to Apple’s Siri which has been around for years now.

Using Cortana users will be able to carry out functions such as managing basic phone features, perform searchers, play music, set appointments among other things. Further, Microsoft claimed that Cortana has learning abilities and it will learn from users’ web searches and provide contextually sensitive and timely information.

Cortana did steal the show, but there are quite a few other features worth mentioning including the new ‘Action Centre’. Through the Action Centre, users will be able to gain quick access to information about battery life, dual-SIM usage, Airplane Mode toggle, Bluetooth and Internet Sharing options, and more.

On the customisation front, Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore revealed that developers will have access to a new set of APIs for the Windows Phone 8.1 lock screen using which they will be able to provide “lock screen experiences that are highly individual and unique.”

Microsoft also announced support for new LTE chips including Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 200, 400, and 400. The new OS doesn’t mandate physical camera button and supports soft buttons thereby eliminating the need for hard buttons.

As previously reported, SD card has also been expanded allowing users to “store apps on SD cards.”

Some of the other features of Windows Phone 8.1 include enterprise VPNs, enterprise Wi-Fi, including S/MIME support, extended mobile device management, and certificate management.

Wi-Fi Sense feature automatically connects a user’s phone to free wireless hotspots nearby and on top of that allows users to share their home wireless network with friends without the need of sharing passwords.

Microsoft also said that it will be released a new version of Skype that has the ability of converting regular phone call into a Skype video call.

Windows Phone 8.1 will also bring with it “word flow,” – a SWYPE like keyboard – that will allow users to type faster.