Microsoft BUILD 2014 Developer Conference Kicks Off with Windows Phone 8.1, New Phones

micromax and prestigioIt’s  a big day for Microsoft. Kicking off their BUILD Developer Conference, Joe Belfiore took us through an on stage demo of  Windows Phone 8.1 and the new Cortana digital assistant.

New Phones

Microsoft announced new partnerships with MicroMax and Prestigio to develop hardware. These companies should help expand Windows Phone’s presence in European, African, and Asian markets.elop lumia 930 b

lumia 930 bOf course the premier line of Windows Phone handsets is the Nokia Lumia line. Stephen Elop took the stage to show off the Lumia 930, which looks like an international version of the Lumia Icon we’ve been reviewing over the past several weeks, only now we’ll have more colors than stingy Verizon was willing to offer up.

dual simNokia also has two mid range phones on the way, the Lumia 630 with 3G and dual sim variants, and the Lumia 635 with 4G LTE. The dual sim 630 will show off different colored Live Tiles for each of the sim accounts.

The Lumia 630 will be priced at $159 for single sim, $169 for dual sim, and $189 for LTE, and it’ll be the first phone to land with Windows Phone 8.1. It wasn’t announced what the screen resolution of the 630 will be, but it is arriving with the newer 3 rows of Live Tile arrangement found on the 1520 and Icon. Cortana will also be arriving for these entry level handsets.

ALL Nokia Windows Phone 8 Lumias will be upgraded to WP8.1 this summer, which is exciting even down to customers who opted for a sub-$100 Lumia 520, especially when compared to the Android market at that price point.

Windows Phone 8.1 Updates

A ton of new features and polish are coming to the Windows Phone platform. Demonstrated on stage, here’s a short list of some of the highlights!

word flow keyboardWordFlow keyboard is getting gesture “Swype” style typing. You can now slide your thumb around the keyboard to create words. This new keyboard now holds the Guinness Book world record for fastest text entry.

live tiles background photoLive Tiles are getting a pretty refresh. You can select a background image, and Live Tiles with mostly text info will now be transparent to show off the background.

action centerAction Center is the long awaited notification center. Giving users a single place to catch missed notifications and simple controls for things like wireless radios.

App Store is getting a redesign to better show off popular content and to serve up personalized recommendations.

calendar updateThe Calendar is getting spruced up with daily views being side swipes, and a new Week/Agenda view. Seeing a list of appointments, tapping on a day explodes the view for more information.

Microsoft collaborated with premier developer Rudy Huyn (who delivered the fantastic 6Tag Instagram client) to develop new dynamic lock screens.rudy huyn lockscreen

wifi senseWiFi Sense allows you to share your home WiFi credentials with friends in your contact list and on Facebook. This allows your friends to automatically sign on to your home network without having to share passwords. It can also store your info to automatically sign on to public WiFi hotspots, like those found at coffee shops.

skype integrationThird party app integration is extending to services like phone calls. While in a phone call, you can easily transfer over to a Skype video call from the phone app. It’ll hang on to the call, while launching Skype in the background until the video service is ready. This will be extended to other services in the future.

IE11 now comes with a easy reading mode and in-private browsing. Better HTML rendering and WebGL should improve performance and allow for better in browser video embedding and 3D graphics.

Universal Windows Apps

Developers now have better tools to deliver one app which can interact with all Windows screen sizes from phone to tablet to laptop to desktop. Windows Runtime API’s allow each app to offer up specific experiences for various screen sizes and hardware builds, and can easily communicate with services like awake/suspend or file management.

These universal apps will also eventually make their way to the XBox One using the same platform. universal windows apps

Best of all this might finally end the problem of having to buy multiple versions of an app for it to work on various platforms. One purchase can now work across all devices if a developer enables that compatibility.


cortana notebookMicrosoft’s Digital Assistant is now real, and retains her Halo inspired name. Replacing the generic Bing search function tied to the magnifying glass button on Windows Phones, Cortana is a text or voice search service which ties into web and local on-phone data to provide greater control over your phone and info.

Basic queries are answered similar to Siri or Google Now, though there’s a greater emphasis on casual speech interpretation.  You can fill out a “notebook” of personal information to help Cortana deliver more meaningful notifications and alerts about people, places, calendar entries, and online content. Like setting alerts for day to day data.

cortana voice action calendarVoice commands like calendar entries and reminders can be delivered casually like a conversation with a human business assistant, and Cortana can alert you to scheduling conflicts, with the ability to reschedule through voice actions.

cortana 3rd party app huluCortana taps into third party services like Yelp, Hulu, and Facebook. Casual searches like “what’s the best Mexican restaurant near me” will result lists from Yelp, and further queries like “which take reservations” will refine the search. Asking Cortana to add a show to your Hulu queue will automatically open the Hulu app and add the show. Asking questions like “what’s going on with  Bob” will launch Facebook and take you to a friend’s wall for all of their recent updates.

cortana email scanning trackingIf given permission Cortana can scan your email for local searches, and typed searches will result in text responses if you’re looking up sensitive information.

Cortana is also built to handle contextual requests around people and places. “Remind me to buy hot sauce the next time I go to the store” will serve up location based alerts. A reminder like “remind me to ask my wife about the dog” will open up a Cortana reminder the next time you call, text, or email the person.cortana people reminders

Windows Phone 8.1 will roll out to existing Windows Phone customers in the “next few months” and on new phones by early May. Developers will be able to install WP8.1 on their phones “this month”.

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