Windows Phone 8.1 to be available soon, with new phones running the software arriving this month
Microsoft has announced a major update for Windows Phone operating system which brings a number of new management and security features for businesses alongside a Siri-like personal assistant known as Cortana.
Windows Phone 8.1 will be made available for free to manufacturing partners as Microsoft seeks to expand the reach of its platform and get more people using its services.
Microsoft claims the platform will allow for the “world’s most personal smartphone,” with the new themes, the ability to use images as live tile backgrounds and the introduction of a third column of live tiles to the Start screen on all handsets, having only previously been available for smartphones of five inches or larger.
Cortana is based on the video game character from Microsoft’s Halo franchise, and is a personal assistant to the protagonist Master Chief. On Windows Phone, Cortana promises to learn about the user’s behaviour by asking questions and presenting curated information in a ‘notebook’.
The digital assistant can be summoned via a live tile or through the search button and queries can be entered either by typing or speaking, with results returned via Bing. It can also interact with third party applications such as Skype to make calls, or Twitter to send Tweets, while it will also silence the handset during meeting and recognise an inner circle of friends and family.
“Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behaviour and checking in with you before she assumes you’re interested in something,” says Joe Belfiore, vice president and manager of Windows Phone at Microsoft. “She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day, and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you.”
Also on board is a new action centre, which displays notifications and provides easy access to functions such as Wi-Fi, flight mode and rotation lock, along with separate music, video and podcast apps and enhanced photo and camera applications.
The Data Sense app, which tracks data usage by application and offloads traffic onto Wi-Fi when a user is near their limit, now has a high savings mode and works with Wi-Fi sense, which automatically logs users into free public hotspots. In addition, Storage Sense unsurprisingly monitors the use of internal storage and MicroSD cards, while Battery Saver tracks battery use by app.
Windows Phone 8.1 has a built-in mobile device management client that allows enterprises to use their management system of choice, such as Windows Intune, MobileIron, Citrix, SAP or Sophos. This promises to lower support costs and assist enrolments in a corporate device or BYOD environment, with administrators able to manage app collections, configuration policies, email accounts, certificate authentication, VPNs and Wi-Fi profiles.
Security improvements allow for remote business data removal if a device is lost or stolen, while app sandboxing helps protect smartphones from rootkits or malware. Support for S/MIME encypted email is also added, as is assigned functionality and app-specific VPN capabilities.
Finally, enhanced app management lets businesses sign up for a Microsoft enterprise account to securely distribute apps to smartphones using an MDM platform, along with the ability to whitelist or blacklist apps from the Windows Store, or block the marketplace entirely.
Cortana will be available as a beta in the US shortly, before reaching the UK and China during the second half of 2014 and other countries next year. Windows Phone 8.1 will begin rolling out to existing handsets soon and will be available on new Windows Phone devices from this month, including the Nokia Lumia 630, Lumia 635 and Lumia 930 which were announced during the reveal of the new operating system.
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