The competition has just began, Microsoft has now build a challenger for Google Android and Apple iOS. At the BUILD 2014 conference in San Francisco, Microsoft has announced its latest update to mobile operating system – Windows Phone 8.1.

It’s not a complete overhaul like from Windows Phone 7 OS to Windows Phone 8 OS, but this update brings a handful of innovative changes and bunch of new features to the mobile operating system.

Microsoft unveils Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana, Action Center, Word Flow, Wi-Fi Sense & more

Cortana

The personal assistance for your smartphone, just like Apple Siri or Google Now. If you are serious game player, you may have heard ‘Cortana’ – the popular character from Halo who served as a brilliant AI and a deeply personal digital assistant to Master Chief.

Cortana is powered and build on Bing which can be launched right from a Live Tile on Start screen or by pressing the search button. As a personal assistant Cortana tries to learn more about the users and then populates with information that is curated just for them. Like flight information found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and traffic information of your daily route, such as from work and home.

It can also perform basic phone functions such as make phone calls, messages, etc and also able to interact with 3rd Party Apps installed on your device. For example Cortana can help you to make a video call in Skype, watch a TV show in Hulu Plus, look up a news feed on Facebook or send a tweet using the Twitter app

Cortana will launch first in the U.S with a beta tag on it and then will launch in the U.K. and China in the second half of 2014 with other countries including India to follow afterwards into 2015.

Start screen & Lock Screen

Windows Phone 8.1 makes the smartphone Start Screen more customisable. There is now a third column on devices for 5-inch or larger screen size one’s such as Lumia 1520, which enables more stuff to show up on the screen. The update also provide the ability to customise the Start background with your images.

With Windows Phone 8.1 Microsoft has added a wide range of Lock Screen Themes which show all kinds of different visuals and animations.

Action Center

Microsoft has added the much-needed notification centre for Windows Phone. With Action Center users can see notifications from any app and also provide quick access to various settings like Wi-Fi, Flight Mode, Bluetooth and Rotation Lock.

Word Flow Keyboard

Reminding us of the popular Swype based keyboard, Windows Phone 8.1 packs the Word Flow Keyboard. Users can now swype through or as they are saying ‘glide your fingers over the keys’ to quickly type a word. In addition it will also learn users writing style and even knows the names of people in their contacts for faster typing.

Wi-Fi Sense

One of the interesting feature added to Windows Phone 8.1 – Wi-Fi Sense can automatically connect you to free public hotspots it finds to help you save cellular data.

It can also automatically and securely enable your friends and contacts to auto-connect to your home Wi-Fi, so they can use the internet connection at your house without hassling you for the password and typing it in manually.

Together with Windows

Microsoft has further integrated Windows Phone 8.1 device with Windows PC. So if you now change the theme in theme color, that change will sync across all your Windows devices. Similarly apps purchased from Windows store now synced and works with phone and PC. One can also connect their Windows Phone to a compatible PC using a USB cable and can run an application on the PC to show the phone screen.

Universal Windows apps – developers have now a common way of building and architecting apps that will work on phones, tablets and PCs. [more details]

Free Windows Phone license for phones and tablets under 9 inches

It seems Microsoft can’t beat the open source Android operating system with its licensed operating system. So to tap the low-end smartphone market, Microsoft is making its Windows operating system which include the Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 free for smartphone and small tablets vendors building devices with screen sizes under nine inches (23 cm) for the consumer market.

Earlier Microsoft charged around $5 to $15 as license fee per device to use its Windows operating system. Now that will make small-scale vendors to build cost-effective smartphones just like Android devices.

Windows Phone 8.1 will start rolling out to existing Windows Phone 8 users and will come pre-installed on new phones in the coming months.

|