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April 4, 2014

Delight and engage your users with these new Windows Phone 8.1 capabilities

This week at Build, we announced Windows Phone 8.1 and the Visual Studio tooling to build apps for it. With this release, the team brings platform convergence to the Windows developer platform, completing the convergence journey to the top of the stack and making it more accessible to build apps that engage and flow across every Windows screen in a user’s life.

As the mobile market continues to mature and evolve, success for the average mobile developer is a challenge – it’s no longer enough to simply be good at coding and churn out an app that has short-term potential. Most users make a decision on an app within their first 15 seconds of use – and that’s pretty harsh. Even after working so hard to acquire a user, they are lost if you don’t build something that engages them. To truly engage users, we must delight them and focus on their needs.

Windows Phone 8.1 introduces numerous features that challenge developers to be creative in considering what is newly possible while still helping them focus on user needs. Let’s take a look at the features that make this release a special one:

Live tile Improvements

The team continues to make live tiles better with each release: we’ve brought more templates in this release to help you engage users at the first glance, and we’ve brought consistency to these templates between Windows and Windows Phone that is thoughtful – a tile template looks like it belongs on the form factor that it renders on.

Background execution and triggers

In this release, we’ve also continued to improve background execution for apps, allowing developers to create app experiences that work the way they want them to, without compromising on device health and performance. The team has brought over a number of additional event triggers and background execution options to Windows Phone from Windows, while also improving the background audio and file transfer capabilities to make apps more agile and capable. Also, the addition of geofencing enables developers to create apps that are aware of the surrounding area and engage the user at just the right time.

Bluetooth LE support

With the world getting more interconnected by the day, this release adds the capabilities that developers need to connect their apps to the world around the user. For this week’s release, this means the arrival of a converged Bluetooth/Bluetooth LE stack from Windows. Users of both Windows and Windows Phone can enjoy connecting to an array of personal devices and the ‘Internet of Things’ around their Windows devices.

Action Center (aka ‘Notification Center done right!’)

I don’t need to say much about the challenges of missed toast notifications – we’ve all been there. And, as you may have seen, the Windows Phone 8.1 release not only solves that problem by shipping a notification center that gathers up all of your missed notifications, but also solves the ‘app junk drawer’ problem that plagues other platforms.

In Windows Phone 8.1, we provide an Action Center that honors a shared contract between the developer and the user to surface notifications that matter. On Windows, the Action Center is not just another sink to collect toast messages; developers can manage their messages – inserts, updates, and deletes. And combined with the user’s ability to manage how the app notification groups are surfaced (managing notification sounds and/or visibility for a given app), the Action Center delivers a truly actionable and personal notification experience, tailored to the needs of each user, much like each user’s own Start screen.

Notification improvements

With Windows Phone 7, we released Microsoft Push Notification Services (MPNS); when Windows 8 shipped, we improved upon the service with the release of Windows Notification Services (WNS), applying a number of learnings from MPNS to the new infrastructure. As the teams and platforms converged, it seemed impractical to have two separate services for doing notifications, so we standardized on WNS as our single notification infrastructure for the Windows platform, and improved it to make it more reliable, secure, and easily scalable for our developers. We’re not only making WNS available to phone developers with this release, but WNS now powers MPNS to improve the Windows notification experience for all.

Mobile web feels more like native

Although not technically an app developer feature, Internet Explorer 11 brings a cadre of improvements to help websites feel like native apps. While users have always been able to pin sites to the Start screen, web developers can add a few lines of code to their page to control pinning behavior, enabling the use of high-definition icons and web notifications to the pinned Live tiles. Also, the inclusion of more video streaming options and WebGL support provide a much more capable and modern browsing experience on the phone.

Roaming data and the Windows Credential Locker

Once your apps take advantage of linking your app across the Windows and Windows Phone Stores, you can use a common Product Family Number to get shared entitlement for your apps. Additionally, you get the benefit of being able to roam user preferences and setting data and Windows Credential Locker credentials in your apps to create a more fluid user experience as your users move between their devices. With roaming data, we make it easy to store user preferences and settings, and have it flow seamlessly across a user’s devices without the developer needing to do any back-end infrastructure work. And the Windows Credential Locker (using the PasswordVault class) should be used to securely store sensitive user information in a way that provides both the developer and the user with peace of mind that the credentials and passwords won’t be compromised through either reverse-engineering of the app source code or from an attack on app isolated storage. For me, the Credential Locker is one of the coolest finds since the async keyword.

Architect the future

Apps (and the devices connected to them) are changing people’s lives and the larger world around them, and you are making it all possible. And circling back to the topic of the mobile market evolution, users are no longer buying apps and games up-front – Free-to-Play (F2P), IAP, and In-app advertising all require that you provide value to the user. To truly revolutionize the industry and the mobile experience, we must collectively (both as a platform and as app authors) enrich users’ lives by providing them with real value – both with a user experience that provides a sense of novelty (a delightful and engaging experience) and a sense of utility (they feel they get personal value from the app, whether it is a sense of productivity, enrichment, or even just helping pass 5 minutes waiting in line for a coffee).

With this week’s release, we now have more power and the resources than ever to create value in the app economy that is not only user-centric, but one that is not bound by a device form factor (phone, tablet, laptop, or PC) – you can now delight your users while they are on the go, while leaning back on the couch, and while leaning into their PC. If you haven’t already, grab the tooling available with the Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 and discover what you can do on the Windows platform.

Your fans are waiting. Build it.