This week Microsoft have started pushing out Windows 8.1 to Windows Phone handsets. The roll-out is set to take a few months, so don’t be surprised if you don’t have it yet – but it does have several very interesting features.
Now, I know I’ve been harsh on Windows Phone in the past – and I stand by my criticisms of the platform lacking any apps, which prohibit it from being a desirable platform… but there are several things in the new release that I’d really like to see Apple and Google steal and add into their new operating systems.
1) Public wifi built into maps
Ever been stuck wandering around the city looking for some wifi so you can upload that big file, or sit down and do some work? In what retrospectively seems like an obvious move, the new version of Bing Maps will have the option to show public hotspots – saving us from fruitless Googling, or dodgy third-party websites with incomplete listings. Apparently Microsoft’s initial database will have over a million hotspots worldwide, with more to follow.
This should be a pretty easy idea for Google to pinch too – thanks to all of that Streetview trawling, the company have lots of wifi data picked up by their cars, so should be able to sort through what is public, and what isn’t. In any case, aggregating the databases of all of the major providers (The Cloud, BT Openzone, etc) shouldn’t be too difficult, should it?
2) Wifi Sense Passcode Sharing and auto-login
This is really quite clever. It’s such a pain inputting wifi passwords, so Microsoft have done away with it. Using what they call “Wifi Sense” you can share your wifi credentials with trusted friends – so they can get connected in a tap rather than in five minutes of bending awkwardly behind the router.
For public wifi too, apparently the updated OS will automatically connect to wifi and log you in – skipping all of those irritating login screens. How happy wifi providers will be that you’ve skipped their opportunity to advertise to you, I don’t know – but anything to stop the tedious splash screens gets my support.
3) Swype-style keyboard input
This is something Android and now Windows have – let’s hope it finally persuades Apple to follow suit. Like the Android app Swype, in 8.1, rather than have to lift your fingers to type, you can draw a shape between the letters of the word – and then it’ll figure out what you want to say. It works a treat on Android – and now Microsoft have it too. C’mon Apple – how about making that keyboard better?
4) Keyboard interactions with Cortana
One of the big announcements is Cortana, Microsoft’s attempt at a Siri-alike assistant. Whilst it can do pretty much the same stuff as Siri there is one difference: you can talk to Cortana using a keyboard. This could be useful for times when it is too loud for Siri… or too embarrassing.
5) Built in Skype
Finally Microsoft have brought one of their biggest trump cards to the table: Skype, which they own. Apparently Skype is deeply integrated into 8.1 – and can be always on in the background on the OS. Even more cleverly, a Skype button has been added for when you’re in a call – so you and the person you’re speaking to can take the call to Skype if you want video or higher quality audio. Brilliant. As a non-Windows Phone user, I can only hope that Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella sees enough sense to open this sort of Skype integration into other platforms too.
So that’s my pick of the top five new things in Windows Phone – what do you like? What should Apple and Google pinch? Let us know in the comments.
By James O'Malley | April 16th, 2014