b2ap3_thumbnail_windows_phone_400_20140606-135935_1.jpgSmartphones that have been running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system have been manufactured for over a year and a half, and in that time, Android has wrestled the title of “most popular mobile OS” away from Apple’s iOS. Windows Phone 8 devices currently sit third, making up just over 3% of all the world’s mobile phones. Despite its place in the market, the world’s largest software company will release the first major update to their Windows 8 Phone platform in the upcoming months, and early users are saying they’re really hitting the mark.

Windows Phone 8
Windows has been making mobile operating systems for over a decade, but Windows Phone 8 was supposed to be the OS that would allow them to compete with Android and iOS. Microsoft has been hurt by the lack of devices that operate their software. They launched an app store and over 19 months have built it to a respectable 200,000 apps. Their live-tile interface is simple and dynamic, allowing for customization and incredibly fast mobile computing. For one reason or another, users weren’t buying the products, forcing Microsoft’s developers to readjust their offering. The result is Windows Phone 8.1.

Main Windows Phone 8.1 Features
Many of the issues that users have had in the past have been addressed in the OS’ newest update. Two of the largest changes are:

  • Integration of a dedicated notifications hub – Windows Phone 8 did not come equipped with a notifications hub that you would find on most mobile operating systems. The “Action Center”, as it has been labeled, will allow users to access their personal message notifications as well as any social media notifications that they may receive.
  • Integration of a personal assistant – Apple has Siri, Android has Google Now, but Windows Phone 8 has nothing, zero, zilch. With many smartphone users depending on this feature, Microsoft has added a virtual assistant called Cortana to their OS. The app utilizes the Bing search engine to provide users with many of the same services the virtual assistant software on other platforms provides. Improving the usability of the Windows phone experience was high on Microsoft’s list of priorities.

Other Considerations
While the notifications hub and Cortana are the two most anticipated and noteworthy additions to the Windows Phone 8.1 interface, the mobile OS upgrade has many other improvements to the offering. These include:

  • An upgrade to Internet Explorer 11, including “InPrivate” mode.
  • “Data Sense” to help users manage their data usage. Windows Phone 8.1 integrates a setting to allow users to limit their data to avoid expensive carrier-based data fees.
  • Additional live-tile customization.
  • Adds multiple functions to the messaging capabilities of Windows Phone 8 devices. “Word Flow” allows users the option to integrate a “Swipe” feature to their messaging input.
  • Provides enhancements to the Phone Storage application that comes equipped on Windows 8 handsets. This allows users to manage their device’s storage capabilities to ensure that users don’t run out of storage.
  • Presents additional Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities.
  • Adds the ability for users to project their Windows Phone screen using wireless Miracast or wired USB technologies.
  • Presents improvements to Windows Phone Store.
  • Presents improvements to Windows’ camera application, including “burst mode.”
  • Windows Phone 8.1 comes equipped with a battery-saving application called “Battery Sense”, that helps users get the most out of their device by managing the amount of power each application uses.
  • The “WiFi Sense” application automatically signs the Windows Phone into trusted available WiFi hotspots.
  • Features revamped “Calendar” and “Maps” applications.
  • Separates Xbox Music and Xbox Video and adds functionality for each.
  • Adds a “speed dialer” application.
  • Adds a dedicated file manager.
  • Allows users to set volume on multiple levels instead of the global volume adjustment toggle found on Windows 8 Phone.

Microsoft has made all these changes to best compete in the fast-paced mobile phone market. Users that have switched to the new Windows Phone 8.1 have given the OS adjustment rave reviews, saying that it is like using a brand new phone. In order to compete with the highly user-integrated Android and Apple devices, Microsoft has made some major adjustments.

Windows Phone 8.1 is currently available on some of the newest Nokia devices, including the Nokia Lumia 930, Nokia Lumia 630, and the Nokia Lumia 635. Current users of Windows 8 Phone will be available to upgrade sometime after June 24, 2014, depending on their carrier, device, and location.

Do you think that Microsoft’s new mobile OS will be the boost it needs to improve their mobile market share? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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