Windows Phone 8.1 is official, and it finally brings WP8 up to speedAnna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
Today was a pretty good day for Windows Phone fans, as today marked the day that Windows Phone 8.1 was officially announced by Microsoft. After months and months of leaks, we were able to finally catch a glimpse of what Windows Phone 8.1 actually entailed, and for the most part the rumors were pretty spot on. Still, after watching an early access review from Windows Phone Central, I could help but get a little excited at what this update will do for Windows Phone.
I do realize that as big of an update as Windows Phone 8.1 is, it’s still not exactly anything new. Two of the biggest features are the addition of a Notification Center (which is one of those things where you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone) and Cortana, the voice activated virtual assistant of sorts. It’s not that Windows Phone 8.1 brings anything that we haven’t already seen before, but it does bring some pretty important updates that the platform probably needs in order to move forward.
I can’t lie, personally I can’t rank Windows Phone at the same level as Android or iOS. The platform does have its perks and I find the UI to be beautiful, but aside from that and the camera on the Lumia devices there’s a lot of room for improvement with the platform - something that Windows Phone 8.1 will definitely help fixing.
Another area that Microsoft decided to work on was the design. Although I am already a fan of the design, there’s still not a whole lot to customize when it comes to your Start screen. You can choose what Live Tiles to put on there, and you can choose what main color you want your theme to be (which shows on your Live Tiles and accented text). With the Windows Phone 8.1 update though, you’ll be able to apply a wallpaper to the actual start screen - and it actually looks good. Instead of giving you the option of slapping a wallpaper behind the Live Tiles, though, Live Tiles will now be transparent to reveal a wallpaper with a parallax effect, as shown below.
It wasn’t necessary, but I do think it adds a bit of eye candy for those who might have thought that Modern UI was just too plain for their taste. It will be nice to be able to customize more than just the lockscreen.
Speaking of the lockscreen, Windows Phone 8.1 also apparently brings a lot of customization to it as well. Although the current Windows Phone 8 lockscreen is fairly customizable as it is, but Windows Phone 8.1 is supposed to bring it to an entirely new level of what you’re able to see at a glance.
I think the one thing that Windows Phone 8.1 has a chance of really making a break in is Cortana. Although voice activated assistants have already been done when it comes to smartphones, none of them have really been perfected yet. Cortana seems to bring a lot of “learning” tools to the table, and constantly learns about the user for later use. Cortana can also be programmed to work with certain applications (at the developer’s discretion). It’s also integrated with Bing, so that Bing search button that comes on Windows Phones still serves a similar function (it’s how you activate Cortana). Between all of that, Cortana has a chance to bring voice activation to the next level.
Basically, Windows Phone 8.1 significantly helps bring Windows Phone up to the standards of Android and iOS. Of course, the last thing people need to see is a jump in application support. If that happens, then Windows Phone could finally really take off. That’s the hope, anyway.
Are you excited about Windows Phone 8.1, readers? Now that the details are official, are you thinking of switching to Windows Phone 8 if you don’t already use it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!