Windows Phone 8.1 now available on Windows Phone Preview for Developers

Starting today, you can update your personal dev phone(s) to run Windows Phone 8.1 using the Windows Phone Preview for Developers program . Along with the tooling delivered in Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 RC, developers can now get everything they need to start building and testing Windows Phone apps and universal Windows apps. Even better, Windows Phone Store is also starting to accept app submissions and to enable app linking today – enabling you to bring the universal Windows app experience to your beta users and consumers.

To update your Windows Phone 8 device to 8.1, you will need to download the app and opt into the program (the process is outlined on the Windows Phone Dev Center); if your phone is already opted in, then all you should need to do is head over to your phone’s settings and check for an update.

Windows Phone Preview for Developers program

The Windows Phone Preview program, introduced last October, gives our developer community access to prerelease builds of Windows Phone updates before the operating system updates are made generally available to consumers. We make these updates available to you to enable on-device testing, and to enable you to build and test platform capabilities not present in the emulator.

WinPhone81-ssFor the majority of developers, we know that it is critical for you to see your app running on a physical phone prior to submitting to the Store. For me, I try to use my app on a device for 3-4 days before submitting updates to the Store. My emulator-based testing typically is focused on functional testing (does the code work as designed), while my on-phone testing tells me more about the app’s real-world usability (e.g., touch target sizing, load times).

Beyond testing, there are a number of app scenarios that just can’t be done using the emulator alone. Most of these scenarios involve device sensors like Bluetooth, NFC, and the camera. But these also involve scenarios including app-to-app communication (when integrating with third-party apps that you need to install from the Store) or using phone capabilities like voice.

Participation requirements for the Windows Phone Preview program are the same as last fall. In order to opt your phone into the program, you must meet one of the following three criteria: (a) you’re a registered developer on the Windows Phone Dev Center, or (b) you’re a registered developer with Windows App Studio, or (c) your phone is developer unlocked (which anyone can do using the developer phone registration tool, which is included as part of the Windows Phone tooling). As mentioned above, check out the Windows Phone Preview Program for Developers page for full details. If you have any further questions or encounter an issue while updating your phone, we have a team of update experts monitoring the program’s support forums – ask a question in the support forum, and someone should be able to help you out.

New reference app: MSDN Voice Search

MsdnVoiceSearch-ssSpeaking of voice (see what I did there?), the Bing Conversational Understanding team released a new reference app today – the MSDN Voice Search app– that demonstrates how to integrate your app into the new contextual voice capabilities available in Windows Phone 8.1.

The app itself is very simple and straight-forward, surfacing the vast MSDN documentation library to you from the Cortana experience. Once you have the app installed, ask ‘MSDN, what are universal Windows apps?’ while in Cortana and she’ll launch the MSDN Voice Search app and help you find an answer.

For more information, check out the Bing Dev blog post on integrating Store Apps with Cortana (and don’t forget to grab the app’s source code to see how they made the magic happen). For more detailed WPDev ‘how to’, also check out the Speech Dev Center and the recorded session from Build.

Start your app engines!

With today’s release, you now have everything you need to get started building for Windows Phone 8.1: the tools are live, you can update your phone, and we have a ton of great Build session content availableto help you get started. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you head over to the Download Center and install the new Visual Studio update tooling.

To help you cross the last mile getting your apps published to Windows Phone 8.1, the Store is now open to link and publish your apps, and Windows is sponsoring over 60 //publish/ events hosted around the globe next month. The //publish/ events will be a great opportunity to be part of the global WPDev community, as well as get some last minute advice on your phone and universal Windows app(s). If you haven’t already registered for a local //publish/ event, check out the //publish/ website and find the one closest to you.

We’re excited to see what you’re going to build with all the new goodness that’s in the Windows Phone 8.1 release; feel free to chime in below or using the #wpdev hashtag on Twitter to share your thoughts with the community.

Update: 9am Pacific: I added a link to the WP Preview Program for devs support forum; 11am: Added links to the Bing blog entry and source code for the MSDN Voice app