Microsoft’s annual conference is underway this week – here’s a round-up of all the big news so far
Microsoft is hosting its Build conference in San Francisco this week, and is using the event to reveal some interesting new updates. This year’s Build is the first event overseen by new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, so he will be looking for maximum impact from the news and announcements revealed. There have already been several key announcements so far, so here’s a round-up of what we’ve learnt already.
The latest Windows 8 update is looking to reach out to old-school users
Microsoft has made a big effort on upgrading its Windows 8 OS, with Windows 8.1 including a variety of features aiming at looking to improve the user experience,
Many of the updates in Windows 8.1 are targeted at PC users, as Windows 8 was designed with touchscreen devices in mind. Microsoft has also made finding commands with mouse/keyboard much easier, as right-clicking on a live tile now brings up the familiar taskbar, and has also made switching between apps a much simpler process.
It is even bringing back the old Start Menu, although Microsoft has yet to confirm exactly when this will be. Windows 8.1 will be rolled out as a free update to existing Windows and Windows RT customers through the Windows Store on April 8.
Windows Phone 8.1 is probably the best reason for getting a Windows Phone yet
It’s clear that Microsoft now sees mobile devices – smartphones in particular – as a major focus. The company has poured millions into developing its Windows Phone OS, and with its ongoing acquisition of Nokia’s handset business set to be completed next month it should soon have a wide range of devices to really appeal to consumers.
The company has said that the new update will allow for the "world’s most personal smartphone", with the addition of a third column to the home screen on certain devices, meaning you can add in more live tiles than ever before and keep up to date with a larger number of apps. The update has also included a whole new range of themes and colours to further personalise your device.
Windows Phone 8.1 will start rolling out to existing Windows Phone 8 users in the next few months, and will start coming pre-installed on new phones, including the Lumia 630, 635 and 930 devices announced yesterday by Nokia, in a similar timeframe.
Microsoft is getting into voice
As part of its Windows Phone 8.1 announcement, Microsoft revealed Cortana, a voice-activated personal assistant. Named after the AI character in the Halo Xbox series, the service will look to be Microsoft’s version of Siri or Google Voice. Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore showed off a few of Cortana’s tricks in a demo at Build yesterday, revealing that she sees herself as resembling a hula hoop, and that she won’t give away any details of the upcoming Halo film.
Cortana looks to learn about the user’s behaviour by asking questions and presenting information in a ‘notebook’. It can be summoned via a live tile or through the search button and queries can be entered either by typing or speaking, with results returned via Bing. It can also interact with third party applications such as Skype to make calls, or Twitter to send Tweets, while it will also silence the handset during meeting and recognise an inner circle of friends and family.
Microsoft wants to get all your devices working together
Microsoft has wised up to the fact that people like to use their various devices together, combining mobile, tablet, laptop, and even smart TV if possible. The updates to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 now allow further integration between your phone or tablet and your PC via your Microsoft Account, which is now able to sync a whole new range of features across devices. This includes themes, Wi-Fi accounts and even in-app purchases if applicable. The new version of Internet Explorer for Windows Phone also allows you to view any open tabs you have on other Windows devices, as well as any saved Favourites pages.
Microsoft has also added support for projecting your phone screen onto a PC, TV or projector – Windows Phone devices can now be connected via USB to a PC. Some of the forthcoming new phones will also support wireless Miracast display to compatible TVs and other devices.