MANILA, Philippines — Microsoft spilled the beans on its upcoming smartphone operating system update Windows Phone 8.1 at its Build conference in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, April 2 (Thursday in Manila). The update promises to make Windows Phone the “world’s most personal smartphone.”
The biggest, most noticeable feature of Windows Phone 8.1 is a virtual assistant named Cortana.
Based on an artificial intelligence (AI) character from the video game Halo, Cortana takes some of the best features from its competitors, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now – while giving it its own twist.
To avoid stalker-like data collection (i.e. Google Now scanning your Gmail inbox), Cortana presents a more transparent way of learning about a user’s preferences. When you first meet she (yes Cortana’s a she) will ask for your name and make sure she learns how to pronounce your name right. She’ll then ask a few questions like what movies and music you like.
Like Google Now, Cortana will track locations you frequent and figure out where you live and work so she can suggest the best routes to and from these destinations. She’ll also go through emails to find out things like upcoming flight details. Everything she collects is logged on a virtual notebook.
You have full control over Cortana’s notebook and can tell her to ignore certain information that you would rather remain private. Windows Phone Chief Joe Belfiore says, “The user is in control of the relationship…I can view and edit what she knows about me whenever I want.”
Like Siri, Cortana has personality too, and is able to have conversations about love and/or tell jokes. The Microsoft team took inspiration from real-life assistants which it consulted with during the product’s conceptualization phase.
In instances where you cannot give voice commands such as a noisy concert or quiet meeting, you can also type in commands. Cortana is trained to accept natural language and will not require a specific set of pre-programmed commands.
Other significant Windows Phone 8.1 updates include:
Action Center – a drop down notification shade similar to that on Android that displays shortcuts to turn on/off WiFi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and Internet Sharing as well as recent app notifications.
Lock Screen Themes – and a couple of Start Screen improvements like the 3rd row of Live Tiles which first made an appearance on the Nokia Lumia 1520, and Start Screen backgrounds, which instead of the usual black allows users to pick an image which appears as a background behind your Live Tiles.
An enhanced Word Flow Keyboard with “shape writing,” a Swype clone that allows users to trace letters to form words instead of typing them. Word Flow now holds the Guinness World Record for typing speed erasing the previous record held by Swype on a Samsung Galaxy S4.
Microsoft says Windows Phone 8.1 will start rolling out to existing Windows Phone 8 devices “in the coming months.” It will also come pre-installed on just announced Nokia Lumia 630, 635 and 930 when they become available starting next month. — Rappler.com
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