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Microsoft Build 2014: Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana and Action Center, Windows to Bring Back Start Menu

build2014Today in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, Microsoft kicked off its annual Build developers conference. Up until now, many had been questioning Microsoft’s continued relevance in this new mobile-friendly age. However, today’s keynote clearly shows that Microsoft doesn’t intend on letting Google and Apple have all the fun.

Does Windows have what it takes to be your platform of choice in 2014? Read on to find out more about what Microsoft has in store for Windows and Windows Phone.

Windows Phone 8.1

cortana 1Microsoft began today’s keynote by talking about the future of Windows Phone. As we’ve known ever since the middle of December, WP8.1 has been poised to provide a major facelift to Microsoft’s struggling mobile OS. Now, Windows Phone 8.1 is official here.

First up, we have Cortana. Just like Google Now and Apple’s Siri,┬áCortana can place calls, send messages, schedule appointments, set reminders, create notes, set alarms, play music, get directions, and search the Web. This functionality can also be extended via third party apps.

cortanas

Despite its similarities to other digital assistants, Microsoft states that Cortana is able to get to know you more than what you’d expect from “a mere search engine.” While the not-so-subtle jab may vastly underplay Google Now’s features, there is some merit to the claim. Cortana’s keeps a “notebook,” which puts you in control of how Cortana interacts with you. This notebook allows you to customize your interests, inner circle of people who matter most, quiet hours, people who can break through quiet hours restrictions, and much more.

wp81

Next up on the topic of personalization are personalized lock screens and tile customization. Like we’ve already seen for some time on Android, WP8.1 allows developers to take control of the lock screen to deliver highly themed, custom experiences. In addition, users can now heavily customize their start screens by adding backgrounds and configuring how many tiles are displayed.

Windows Phone 8.1 finally brings proper notification handling. Dubbed “Action Center,” Microsoft’s take on the Android notification shade offers four customizable quick settings atop a standard notifications from all apps. This is accessible all throughout the entire UI, including the lock screen.

Windows 8.1 and Beyond

Microsoft also talked quite a bit about the future of traditional Windows. For starters, many will be elated to learn that Microsoft is bringing back the Start Menu with an update coming later this year. The revised Start Menu is essentially the Windows 7 Start Menu with some Windows 8 flair. It’s about the same size as what we’re used to in Windows 7, but with the added benefit of also displaying Windows 8 Live Tiles.

windows

In addition to the new Start Menu, Microsoft is also introducing a new interface mode that allows you to run Modern UI apps while in Desktop mode. Furthermore, a substantial update to Windows 8.1 to improve keyboard and mouse usability is coming in under a week. This will bring an ever present task bar, which allows users to seamlessly switch between apps just like what was possible on Windows 7.

Unified Apps

Finally, Microsoft also talked about making applications easier to code across all of its platforms. Now, developers can create a single app that works on Windows Phone, traditional Windows, and even the Xbox One. With this, developers can allow consumers to purchase an app on one device and access it on any connected Windows device.

What do you think of Microsoft’s announcements today at Build? Does the prospect of Unified Apps help developers and consumers? Are you glad to one day get the Start Menu back? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’d like to watch the entire three hour keynote in its entirety, head over to Microsoft’s Channel 9.

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