Windows Phone 8.1 for developers is here and ready for download!

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Just as promised, Windows Phone 8.1 is now available for download to developers. Joe Belfiore, the chief of the Windows Phone Program Management at Microsoft has tweeted a screenshot of the WP 8.1 update prompt.

Mind you, before being able to install the Windows Phone 8.1 update, you’ll have to download a minor update that prepares your phone for the essential one. Regular consumers can expect their phone to receive the update in a few months, while the first devices to run it out of box will come at the end of this or the start of next month.

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If you are in a hurry, registering as a Windows Phone developer isn’t really that hard. You can either pay $19 to Microsoft and get access to publishing apps in the Windows Phone Store or register as a developer through App Studio. The latter option is free and is aimed at enthusiasts but it also grant you the Developer status, which in turn lets you install the update.

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The Windows Phone 8.1 update brings a lot of new features to Microsoft’s phone OS. Most notably, those are the digital personal assistant Cortana, Action center, updated UI with custom lockscreen and tile backgrounds, IE 11 as well as updated security and Sense apps.

Microsoft finally unveils its Siri competitor ‘Cortana’


It’s been nearly three years since Apple unveiled Siri on its iPhone 4s, and Microsoft finally has its answer to the digital assistant: Cortana. Named after a virtual character in the company’s popular Halo gaming franchise, the feature is powered by Bing and offers a mix of Google Now-ish and Siri-like characteristics.

We first got a glimpse of Cortana earlier this year courtesy of a developer leak, but Microsoft officially unveiled her this morning at its Build Developer Conference in San Francisco. The assistant will ship alongside several other new features in the Windows Phone 8.1 update, expected to launch in the next few months…

How does it work? Cortana can be triggered either by an assigned Live Tile on your Windows Phone home screen, or via your device’s built-in search button. From there, it works pretty much like any other digital assistant, capable of setting alarms, searching the web, finding nearby restaurants and other standard affair.

Cortana also has a few unique traits as well, such as contextual reminders that will remind you of something when you’re talking to a designated person, and the ability to add shows to your queue on Hulu Plus. Microsoft has provided an API for third-party apps to interface with—but to what degree, we don’t know yet.

Here’s a video overview of Windows Phone 8.1 (Cortana comes in at 1:50 mark):

Other 8.1 improvements include a new Action Center, similar to iOS 7′s Control and Notification Centers, a refreshed start screen and an updated Windows Phone Store. Skype has also been integrated in new ways this time around, and the WP keyboard has been revamped with support for ‘wordflow’ gesture-based typing.

Microsoft says the update will be rolling out to Windows Phone users in the “next few months” and will start shipping on new devices later this month. On that front, 3 new Nokia Lumia phones were also unveiled today, including the Lumia 930 which features a 1080p display, a 2.2Ghz CPU, 2GB of RAM and a 20MP camera.


Overall, Windows Phone 8.1 seems like a solid update and early reviews of Cortana have been glowing. It would seem that Apple and Google have their work cut out for them. Apple is up first, with its World Wide Developer Conference to likely take place in early June, and Google will follow with its I/O Conference later that month.

Start Button Officially Returning with Windows 8.1, But not the way you remember it.

After a number of reports and a seemingly never-ending slew of complaints, Microsoft is officially bringing back the Start button with the upcoming release of Windows 8.1. As told by The Verge, the Start button will appear in both traditional desktop and Windows 8 views, but will not work in the way that long-time Windows users have become accustomed to — instead, selecting the button will bring you to the Windows 8 Start Screen or a new All Apps section. Similar functionality is technically already present in the latest version of Windows, which is currently activated by bringing your cursor to the bottom left corner of your screen.

Despite this, Microsoft was well aware of the flaws in its original design. Jensen Harris, director of the Windows User Experience Team at Microsoft, explained that “We knew we needed to change that [start tip] to the Windows logo.” He continued by saying “Once we had that there and we figured out that was the change we needed to make it was pretty straight forward to keep that same button in the same place in the task bar…it lends back a little bit of familiarity. It makes the whole PC work the same way.”

Along with the return of the Start button — which will be present by default and cannot be deactivated — Windows 8.1 will also add the option to boot straight to the traditional desktop veiw, as well as the ability to view the Windows 8 Start Screen with your desktop wallpaper in the background.

In a separate report, The Verge highlighted additional features that will be introduced in the upcoming version of Windows, including an improved lock screen and enhanced built-in search functionality, which will allow you to search across the web as well as your computer or tablet.

Another welcome change coming with Windows 8.1 will be additional Snap View configurations for “Metro”-style apps. For example, clicking a link from within an app will bring up a 50 /50 view, and opening a picture will result in a 40 / 60 view. Even better, individual apps can have more than one window, allowing users to view multiple webpages at once.

Skyrdrive will also be baked into the operating system, and the cloud storage option will be visible from both File Explorer and apps as a location to save or load files. The new Internet Explorer 11 will be included as well, which enables the option to sync browser tabs between Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8 devices. For tablet and convertible-PC users, the virtual keyboard will be the recipient of some added functionality.

Availability for Windows 8.1 has yet to be announced, but Microsoft intends on releasing a preview version of the operating system at its Build developer conference on June 26th.