Cortana (yes!) and Many, Many Other Great Features coming in Windows Phone 8.1

Whew, what a day! What a week! I’ve just gotten off the stage at Build in front of 5,000 of our beloved developers talking about the future of the Windows platform. And now I’m here to tell YOU about the stuff we’ve been working on to delight all our Windows Phone users and fans!

During my time on stage, I went over what’s next for Windows PCs, tablets, and phones with two major updates: Windows Phone 8.1 and the Windows 8.1 Update. Both releases bring a lot of new features for consumers and businesses alike, built from the feedback we’ve heard from customers along the way. We’ve also continued to invest in our partners, enabling lots of great new phones, tablets, laptops and PCs for you to choose from in the months ahead.

Windows 8.1 Update: Focused on Mouse/Keyboard

For PCs and tablets, we’ve made improvements in Windows 8.1 that will noticeably improve the experience when you’re using a PC without a touch-screen. We’ve made commands easier to find with mouse/keyboard, we’ve made switching between apps—especially Windows Store apps—much easier with mouse/keyboard… and we’ve made it easier to find new apps to install.

To learn more about the update to Windows 8.1 for your PC and tablets, head on over to the Windows Experience Blog and read Brandon’s post. What I really want to cover in detail here is…

Windows Phone 8.1: More Personal, Smarter, and even a “World Record Holder”!

If you’re a Windows Phone user, you already know that we set out to create an experience that puts you and the things you care about most front and center. As a result, we believe Windows Phone is the world’s most personal smartphone… and with Windows Phone 8.1, we’ve added a BUNCH of new features that make your smartphone even more a reflection of your personality and desires.

Want to experience it all in one giant demo? Then watch this marathon 15-minute video. Else… read on!

Start screen: Make the Live Tiles Yours

We want your Windows Phone Start screen to genuinely reflect your personality and the people and things you care about—so we are making it even more customizable!

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In 2013, we added a third column on devices for 5-inch screen or larger devices, like the Lumia 1520, to enable more stuff to show up on the screen. People really liked this so we are enabling this on all screen sizes in Windows Phone 8.1. Pin away! We’ve also added the ability to customize 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.

Lock screen: Lots of new “themes” to choose from!

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The Lock screen is the very first thing you – or your friends—see when you grab your phone, and in Windows Phone 8.1 we’re providing a new app that lets you set a wide range of interesting “Lock Screen Themes” which show all kinds of different visuals and animations. Make it yours…

Cortana: Your PERSONAL Digital Assistant

Of everything we’re announcing today, I’m most excited to introduce you to the world’s first truly personal digital assistant, now on Windows Phone. We were inspired by the popular character from Halo who served as a brilliant AI and a deeply personal digital assistant to Master Chief… so we called her Cortana.

Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behavior and checking in with you before she assumes you’re interested in something. 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. Cortana will launch shortly here in the U.S. first as a “beta,” and then will launch in the US, the U.K. and China in the second half of 2014 with other countries to follow afterwards into 2015.

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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. This will take you to Cortana Home. To interact with Cortana, you can either speak or type—if you’re in a meeting, just type and Cortana won’t talk out loud. But if you ask her a spoken question, she’ll answer verbally and even carry on a natural conversation.

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.

Once she’s learned a bit about you, Cortana’s home populates with information that is curated just for you. You’ll see things like flight information she’s found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and even traffic information once she learns your commute routine, such as from work and home.

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To develop Cortana, we talked to a number of real personal assistants. 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. This information enables Cortana to be proactive and helpful throughout the day. For example, she’ll let me know if my upcoming flight back to Seattle is on time and, if I choose, will even pop-up to recommend what time I should leave for the airport based on traffic. Cortana can also 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. And Cortana is the only digital assistant that lets you setup people reminders. You can have Cortana remind you that your buddy owes you $20 the next time you talk to him. And ALL of these interests and preferences are under YOUR CONTROL via Cortana’s notebook.

What’s more, because Cortana is powered by Bing, some of the interests in Cortana’s Notebook will light up on Bing.com when you sign in on the web. Bing.com will give you access to the things Cortana tracks for you, like your weather, stocks, news, and flights.

We’ve also designed Cortana to be able to interact with 3rd Party Apps installed on your phone. 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 – all of which we demoed during this morning’s keynote.

And finally, Cortana isn’t just a dry computer returning search results. Just as she has in the game Halo, Windows Phone’s Cortana has a bit of personality. But you’ll have to talk to her yourself to see what I mean by that. Or… I bet you’ll be able to find some videos on the web pretty soon to see what I mean.

We think you’re going to really love having Cortana as your personal assistant!

A Whole Slew of New Delighters

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Action Center: Live Tiles are a great way to “glance and go,” and now we’ve added Action Center to enable you to see notifications from ANY app – pinned or not—and to give you a customizable way to quickly access the settings you care about most, like Wi-Fi, Flight Mode, Bluetooth and Rotation Lock.

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Word Flow Keyboard: The keyboard in Windows Phone is smart enough to learn your writing style and even knows the names of people in your contacts for faster typing. Best of all, our new Word Flow Keyboard lets you glide your fingers over the keys to type INCREDIBLY quickly… 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!

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Skype: The new Skype app for Windows Phone 8.1 brings the best of Skype on a smartphone. It’s integrated 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! And… the new Skype app is designed to work seamlessly with Cortana so you can use Cortana to setup your calls within Skype.

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Calendar: The new Calendar has been redesigned to add a new week view which lots of people have been asking for and it has many nice touches—like panning right to get to the next day or week or month! What’s more, it looks a lot like Outlook on your Windows PC… e.g., the weather is integrated at the top – just like in Outlook.

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Music, Video, Podcasts: We’ve made a ton of improvements to these experiences, which are now split out as separate apps and all of which can be updated via the Store. In Music, you can edit your playlists and manage your cloud collection really easily and effectively. Video makes it possible to buy or rent videos from Xbox Music, and Podcasts now lets you subscribe to any RSS feed AND provides a Bing-powered podcast search for every country where Windows Phone is available. Oh… and we’ve improved the phone volume control by including separate sliders for your ringer/notifications and for your apps and media. Just the way you asked for it!

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People Hub, Email and Accounts: The People Hub has higher-fidelity feeds for your social network content (large photos!) and it connects directly to 3rd-party social networking apps so that you can have easy access to all the full functionality of the 3rd party apps once they are installed. Email now supports S/MIME secure email, and we’ve broadened our support for different account types, now including iCloud.

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Photos & Camera: The Photos experience now jumps directly to your most recent photos and shows as collections automatically organized, in a view grouped by date and location. Online photo albums are now supported via app-extensibility, so 3rd parties can plug in their services. In the Camera, we’ve updated the UI and added “burst mode” photography that lets you capture exactly the perfect moment—just like on Windows 8.1.

Data Sense, Wi-Fi Sense, Storage Sense, and Battery Saver: We’ve added a number of features in Windows Phone 8.1 that are designed to help you get the most out of your data allowance, battery life and storage.

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Data Sense lets you track how much data usage you use in a given month and will give you a breakdown of usage by app so you can see which app is using the most of your data. As you near your data limit, Data Sense will more aggressively offload data to Wi-Fi and limit cellular usage… and in 8.1 there’s a new “high savings” mode that cranks up the compression of images as you browse the web so you can browse even farther using less data than WP8.Wi-Fi Sense will automatically connect you to free public hotspots it finds to help you save cellular data. And, if you’d like, you can 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. If you turn off Wi-Fi in Wi-Fi Sense, you can have Cortana automatically turn it back on when you reach one of your favorite places as identified in Cortana.

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We’re introducing Storage Sense to help you get the most out of the memory and storage on your phone. It will help you manage content you have on an SD memory card if your device supports those. You can also move content – like apps, music, photos – between the storage built in to your device and an SD memory card.

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And Battery Saver gives you a clear breakdown of how apps are using your battery so you can make more informed usage decisions. With “automatic mode” enabled, it can dramatically extend your battery life.

Windows and Windows Phone Together

Your Microsoft Account allows Windows and Windows Phone to work together in amazing ways. Windows Phone 8.1 furthers the integration between phone and PC. If you change your theme color, 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.

Ever wanted to project your phone screen onto a PC, TV set or projector? We’ve added support for that as well—connect your Windows Phone to a compatible PC using a USB cable and you can run an application on the PC to show the phone screen. Some of the forthcoming new phones will also support wireless Miracast display to compatible TVs and other devices.

And finally with Internet Explorer 11 for Windows Phone, you will be able to see all the open tabs you have on all your Windows devices and all your Favorites too. Plus the new Internet Explorer gives you InPrivate browsing, password caching, and a super-handy reading mode.

Great for Business Users and IT Managers

Windows has long been the choice for the enterprise and professionals. Windows Phone fits easily and seamlessly into a corporate ecosystem making it easier to work when you are on the go. Last year, PC Magazine’s readers selected Nokia Lumia/Windows Phones as the Business Choice Award for smartphones by scoring them the highest in end-user satisfaction.

With Windows Phone 8.1, we’re making it even easier for IT professionals to manage devices and for professionals to connect to essential business apps and services with features such as customizable MDM enrollment, support for loads more MDM policies, LOB application & certificate management, S/MIME and VPN support. Stay tuned for a detailed blog post later today on the Windows for your Business Blog that covers all the key features for businesses.

Sounds Great! When Can I Get It? And on which phones?

Windows Phone 8.1 will start rolling out to existing Windows Phone 8 users and will come pre-installed on new phones, including the Lumia 630 and 635 and Lumia 930 announced by Nokia today, in the coming months. If you want to try out Windows Phone 8.1 and you are a registered developer, you can update your phone as part of the Developer Preview Program in the first part of April.

We are very proud of the progress we are making with Windows Phone. Industry analyst IDC proclaimed Windows Phone the fastest growing smartphone platform in 2013, and we think the future is even brighter. At Mobile World Congress, we announced our commitment to growing the number of device partners making Windows Phones, and were proud to welcome nine new partners to the Windows Phone ecosystem. Today we announced two more partners – Prestigio in Europe and Micromax in India – to further ensure that individuals around the world will have access to the amazing experience that only Windows Phone delivers consistently across all price points.

We know we have lots more to do – for developers, for business customers, and for consumers. Today’s announcements at Build were all about taking the next steps – making it easier than ever to build great devices and write great apps for Windows, and enabling a new generation of cool experiences for customers that show the power of designing around people, delivering truly personal computing, and helping us all to get more out of the technology in our lives.