Microsoft is going to ring in summer with the Windows Phone 8.1 update sometime next month. For those of you already in the Windows Phone camp, there’s a lot here to get excited about, including (finally) your very own digital assistant. But, will there be enough to bring in some defectors from Android or iOS? Well, maybe – there are some pretty nice upgrades coming with Windows Phone 8.1 that might make Microsoft’s platform more compelling than anything else out there. Here are six of the best new features to keep your eye on this year.
You’ve probably already heard a little about Cortana, Microsoft’s new digital assistant. Based on the Halo character (with Jen Taylor herself even doing some of the voice work), Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now. But, Microsoft likes to style Windows Phone as the OS that’s all about personalization. Same goes for Cortana – she’ll keep a notebook of your likes and tendencies, leading to more contextual, personalized information when you use her to search for information. She’ll also be able to give you location and time-based reminders – time will tell if Cortana will come out on top as the best digital assistant, but she definitely seems to be the one most keen on getting to know you.
You can make your own commentary about how a key new smartphone feature is something that disables your smartphone. Quiet Hours will allow you to set up scheduled or one-off times when you won’t be disturbed by your phone. You can shut off notifications completely, or block incoming calls or texts. It’s not a blanket ban on interruptions, though – you can still select key people whose communications will be allowed during that time, in case of emergency.
Data Sense and Wi-Fi Sense
This is something that has been available for a while on other phones, from first party and third party sources alike, but it’s good to see Microsoft join the club. Seeing as how unlimited data plans sailed off into the sunset with the advent of 4G LTE, most now have to contend with data caps on their monthly plans. Data sense can track your monthly data usage, so you know exactly how close you are to going over and getting nailed by overage charges. Wi-Fi Sense helps with that, too – it’s an option you’ll have to automatically connect to a Wi-Fi signal if you’re in range of one, so you’re only using your data connection when you absolutely have to.
This is like the cousin of the two features above – instead of data, Battery Saver tells you how much power each of your apps are using. This used to be something more in the wheelhouse of third-party app developers, but having something native that is integrated into your phone deeply is probably a little more reassuring in keeping track of exactly where the biggest power-sucking offenders on your phone are. As long as smartphones run the risk of not lasting the day, this feature is a must.
Yeah, it has to be said – Microsoft is a little behind on this one, too. But, if you’ve been a long-time Windows Phone user, you’ll be happy to know that Windows Phone 8.1 is finally introducing a unified notifications system called the Action Center. By swiping down from the top of your screen, you’ll be able to check and act on notifications from all of your apps, including those from your email service, Facebook, and Twitter. And, like with Android and OS, you’ll be able to access it even if you’re not on the home screen.
Skype Dialer Integration
Last of all, we have one of those great little tweaks you’ll probably find yourself using all the time without even realizing it. By integrating Skype into the Dialer, Microsoft has something akin to Facetime. Skype is integrated into your contacts and the Dialer, so if you have the Skype name of a contact you’re calling, you can press a button and convert your regular phone call into a video call instantly. The transition is completely seamless, and the feature works over both Wi-Fi and data connections. If Skype is something you use with any sort of frequency, this is a pretty compelling reason to have a Windows Phone.