Cortana leads Windows 8.1 attack on iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5

New Start button, taskbar windows back to former desktop glory

Microsoft has finally introduced its much awaited Windows 8.1 mobile and reintroduced the start button and taskbar features into the desktop version.

The Windows 8.1 mobile comes with several new features including Cortana, the all-new personal assistant that looks smarter than Siri; a new word flow keyboard that it says is currently the fastest in the world; a new start screen and action centre for notification alerts; Skype video integration into active voice calls and Wifi Sense for smarter connectivity.

All Windows phone users will be eligible to get the new update that will roll out during the next few months.

The feature will come pre-installed on all new Windows phone rolling out from the last week of April.

Microsoft posted this 15 minute video by Joe Belfiore, VP Windows which clearly introduces all the new updates

Cortana – good enough to take on Siri

Cortana will be the new personal assistant to windows mobile users. But is it smart enough to rival Siri that runs on iOS devices?

In Windows Phone 8.1, you get to Cortana by either a Live Tile on your Start screen or by pressing the search button on your device.

Powered by Bing, a user can communicate with Cortana either by speaking to the device or texting.

Send a text and she will text you back with the answer, send a voice command and you will get a voice response. It works based on user behavior and crosschecks with the user before its sets something as your preference.

“When you interact with Cortana for the very first time, she will start learning things about you -like your name, how to pronounce it, and ask for some personal interests. 

“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,” Belfiore says in his presentation.

Microsoft says the name Cortana was derived as they were inspired by the popular character from Halo who served as a brilliant AI and a deeply personal digital assistant to Master Chief.

Cortana will first launch in the US as a beta, and then will launch in other countries including the UK and China later this year. It will be rolled out in the UAE only by 2015.

Microsoft says it even spoke to real personal assistants while developing Cortana.

“One technique these assistants spoke about was keeping track of the interests and preferences of their bosses in a notebook. We thought, what a great idea! So all the stuff Cortana curates for you is stored in Cortana’s Notebook,” said Belfiore.

Cortana can also communicate with your apps.

Ask her to open an app and download something and she will initiate the task.

You can ask Cortana to help you 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.

She can even manage your phone when you don’t want to be disturbed by setting quiet hours where she will silence any notifications, in-coming calls, and texts.

Cortana understands the “inner circle” of people-closest-to-you, and she can let them break through at any time during quiet hours. It even lets you setup people reminders. “You can have Cortana remind you that your buddy owes you $20 the next time you talk to him,” added Belfiore.

Start screen revamped

The new start screen will enable the user to add multiple rows of tiles and enhanced the background image feature.

In 2013, Microsoft introduced a third column on devices for 5-inch screens and have now expanded this on all screen sizes in Windows Phone 8.1.

“We’ve also added the ability to customise your Start background with a favorite picture or one of the options we’ve provided, which will make many of the tiles on your Start screen become clear so you can see the background you selected as you scroll up and down,” says Belfiore.

Microsoft has also introduced a whole new range of lock screen themes.

Another significant new introduction is the action center that enables a user to see new notifications by swiping your finger from the top of the device – similar to the notification feature on iOS and Android devices.

Word Flow Keyboard

According to Microsoft the keyboard is smart enough to learn your writing style and even knows the names of people in your contacts for faster typing.

“A kid was able to break the official world record previously held by the Swype keyboard on a Samsung Galaxy S4 using Word Flow by 8 seconds,” said Belfiore.

Skype video integration

The new Skype app for Windows Phone 8.1 integrates with the Phone dialer, so if you’re on a call you can quickly and easily “upgrade” your ordinary phone call to a Skype video call at the tap of a button! The new Skype app is designed to work seamlessly with Cortana so you can use Cortana to setup your calls within Skype.

Wi-Fi Sense

This new feature will automatically connect you to free public hotspots it finds. You can also opt-in to 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.

Windows and Windows Phone Together

A user can integrate the settings on a phone with a desktop or other connected windows based devices using a single sign in. Through the Microsoft Account Windows and Windows Phone will work together.

“If you change your theme colour, that change will sync across all your Windows devices. If you buy an in-app purchase in some of the newer apps written for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1, the purchase works on your phone and your PC. And other settings like your home Wi-Fi password will also sync,” he added.

Start Button and TaskBar for PCs

The update also introduces significant changes on PCs and Tablets. Changes are more significant for windows devices without a touch screen. You can now control all the windows or apps that are open through the new task bar.

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