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Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts

Microsoft uses its Windows Phone 8.1 update to add Start screen folders and new security features while pushing Cortana to new parts of the world.

Smartphones Of The Future: 6 Cool Technologies
Smartphones Of The Future: 6 Cool Technologies
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Microsoft announced the first update for Windows Phone 8.1 on Wednesday. Simply labeled "Windows Phone 8.1 Update," the new package includes the ability to categorize apps into folders on the Start screen, several new security options, and a range of enhancements to tailor Cortana, the OS's digital assistant, to different geographies and cultures.

What can you expect from the update, and when can you get your hands on it? Here are seven things to know about Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 Update.

1. Cortana is an international citizen.
Microsoft and other big technology players consider China one of the world's most important smartphone growth markets, so it's no surprise Microsoft is tweaking Cortana, its competitor to the iPhone's Siri, to appeal directly to local culture.

"The huge Chinese market has a bunch of different expectations and needs than the US or other countries," Windows Phone boss Joe Belfiore said in a blog post.

[Does Satya Nadella have Microsoft back on track? Read Microsoft Faces 4 Big Challenges.]

Special features for China, where Cortana will be called "Xiao Na," include a different appearance, different sounds, support for Mandarin voice and text controls, and specialized regional content that includes information about air quality, driving restrictions, or local TV shows and celebrities.

The Chinese version of Cortana includes locally relevant features and a somewhat different interface.
The Chinese version of Cortana includes locally relevant features and a somewhat different interface.

Along with China, the UK will get Cortana as a "beta release" in this update. The British version will feature a locally inspired accent and personality and will feature information on UK sports teams, the London Stock Exchange, and nearby travel conditions. Canada, India, and Australia will get Cortana as an "alpha release."

2. Windows Phone 8.1's Start screen folders act like Live Tiles.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update's Start screen folders were rumored to be just like the ones in iOS. Now that Microsoft has pulled back the curtain, it's clear the rumors were mostly correct -- but with one major exception: Windows Phone 8.1 Update's "Live Folders" can display updates themselves, just like the Live Tiles those folders contain. "You won't miss tile updates because you group apps in a folder," Belfiore promised.

Windows Phone 8.1 Update's Live Folders.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update's Live Folders.

3. Improvements are coming to Xbox Music, SMS messaging, and the Windows Store.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update restores several Xbox Music features that vanished when Microsoft moved from Windows Phone 8 to 8.1, including background syncing of the user's music library and the "swipe to advance" control. The update also allows users to select multiple SMS messages for deletion or forwarding. It includes a dynamic Windows Store Live Tile that, if pinned to start, will display updates about the newest apps, refreshed every six hours.

4. Cortana will be easier to use while driving.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update supports hands-free use of Cortana when the user's smartphone is connected to a car Bluetooth kit integrated with the user's contacts list. "If your car kit is integrated with contacts, you can now treat Cortana as a contact to invoke her, simply saying 'Call Cortana,' and then talking to her as you normally would," Belfiore said.

5. Apps Corner is a new way to control app access.
With Apps Corner, Windows Phone 8.1 Update lets users select whether an app runs in a sandboxed mode that restricts its interaction with other apps. The feature could help

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
8/1/2014 | 6:24:11 AM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
I think Cortana is the major shining point of Windows Phone 8.1 update. From the advertisement, it can do more than what Siri does nowadays. But I am not sure how it will perform - will it become a solid personal assistant or just a funny widget without much intelligence?
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 9:49:34 PM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
ts hard to see how this will shift the focus from iPhone's Siri especially considering the fact that the latter has been in use for way much longer and has many more capabilities
I agree that Cortana can't match Siri right now, but it'll get there.

Not to be a critic but, in addition, I think focusing the Cortana to just China and the UK doesn't sound that smart.
According to the article, Canada, India, and Australia will get Cortana as an "alpha release."  I'm not sure how smart is that, but the reports I read here and elsewhere give Cortana good reviews; even as an alpha release.
I believe Cortana will also be available in the US market.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 5:55:43 PM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
@Thonmas, I don't own a windows phone, but I do have and android tablet, and I would personally like to interact with files in there native format. Google docs does a really good job, but when in an business environment that is very reliant on an ms office eco system, that's where I think windows phones can shine
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 5:49:34 PM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
@Ashu001, Thanks for the feedback, I think its only logical that microsoft try to offer a seamless experience within there mobile platform... So I'll consider the switch :)
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 5:13:41 PM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
Integration with MS Exchange as well as MS Office is way better on Windows Phones today.

MDM is also much easier on Windows Phones.

This matters a lot for ordinary Businesses who would rather control their Endpoints more effectively.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/31/2014 | 5:10:21 PM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
Is there anything Windows Phones do better than Android?
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 4:13:18 PM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
meijac,

Have to agree with your sentiments here.Just feel that you should consider Test-Driving Windows Phones now.

They have gotten quite good(I am saying from personal experience) and especially once you get the Hang of them you would'nt want to go back to Android.

That's a Given.

Sure some of the Software Apps they are use are different from Android;but that's to be expected.They are pushing their own products after all.

MSFT have aced this one nicely.Now its just about getting the right Sales traction in place.

Regards

Ashish.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 2:37:25 PM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
I think Windows is on the right track. Microsoft knows that it can directly compete againts Android and Iphone, but by strategically targetting other markets that can lead to sales growth is a smart move (similar to how Nintendo pursued the casual gamer with the first Wii).

I think a good step would be for Microsoft to try and provide a concise eco system with there phones and surface tablets.

I won't buy a windows phone, but I would definitly consider and iTouch equivalente
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 5:39:39 AM
Re: Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts
The addition of a personalized digital assistant to the operating system is indeed a welcome move. That said, its hard to see how this will shift the focus from iPhone's Siri especially considering the fact that the latter has been in use for way much longer and has many more capabilities. Not to be a critic but, in addition, I think focusing the Cortana to just China and the UK doesn't sound that smart.
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