[sc:mobile-category ]Over the last few weeks we had some new Windows Phone 8.1 information and rumors turn up, so what’s the scoop?
First was on-screen buttons (from @evleaks on Twitter via wpcentral.com), which is interesting as they do make sense in general. Just like on-screen keyboards, you can do lots of things with a set of on-screen buttons that just can’t be done with physical ones.
For example, if there’s no more pages to go “back” to you can visually disable the button instead of having to simply do nothing when the button is hit. Also screen rotation can move the buttons are required, instead of them fixed to one side of the phone.
Important to note is that while on-screen buttons seem to be coming, that doesn’t exclude separate off-screen buttons, either capacitive or physical.
More options are better. In fact I’d like Microsoft to take this to its logical extension and ensure that there are on-screen equivalents for all the physical buttons. This would let a phone manufacturer build a phone with no buttons (ok, maybe a power button).
The other benefit to on-screen buttons is that it makes it easier and cheaper for OEM’s to use existing Android hardware for Windows Phone. I love my Nokia 925 and all, but what if you could have a Galaxy S4 or an HTC One running Windows Phone?
The Verge brought use quite a bit of information, including the fact that 8.1 details would be covered at Build in April. Microsoft is beta testing the code now internally.
Server sites have suggested that they may announce at Mobile World Congress in February, which is traditionally a strong show for Nokia.
With the Nokia deal completing shortly, Microsoft can’t say much until it officially closes but waiting until Build seems like a long time.
Traditionally Microsoft has announced early, then done the developers details a few months later with final availability coming a few months after that.
Most are ignoring CES, which happens Jan. 7-10. CES is traditionally a strong show for Microsoft.
The Microsoft-Nokia deal seems to have passed all of the regulatory hurdles, so if they could get it officially closed by CES we could see something there.
Here’s my guess at it:
- Make the official announcement at CES/MWC. This will be a user feature announcement, highlighting new features of the OS.
- Make the developers announcement at Build. This would be the release of the SDK (maybe beta) as well as early access for developers to the images to install on devices.
- Final release would be in June/July, with the first phones from Nokia available at launch.
The Verge article also details some new features. Another tweet from @evleaks (via wpcentral.com) also details a dual SIM phone under development from Nokia. And a third tweet from @evleaks (via wpcentral.com) provides a screen shot of the dual SIM phone.
So to sum up:
- Dual SIM support
- Notification Center
- Cortana Personal assistant
- Quick settings
- Separate volume controls for media and system sounds
- Bing Smart Search results
- VPN Support
- More integration options for the People hub for social networks
More interestingly is the fact that Microsoft is looking to remove some of the built-in features and make them applications instead. This seems probable as Xbox Music and Video have been released separately to the Store and keeping them in the core seems unlikely.
I can’t stress enough how good of an idea this is. Keeping these separate allows Microsoft to quickly iterate these apps without having to go through the carriers testing and release schedules each time they want to make a change to them.
Overall the update list is pretty much what has been expected for new features for quite a while, may question is where’s the big *WOW* feature that will make appeal to consumers.
I would also expect to see even more kernel changes to bring Windows Phone closer to Windows RT. I doubt we’ll see a merge kernel in 8.1, but I would expect it with 9.0. Perhaps even a completely merged OS.
Something no one has talked about yet is the upgrade path to 8.1. Upgrades from 7 to 8 were a big issue when 8.0 came out. It left a lot of people at a dead-end.
I don’t expect the same to happen here. The point upgrade should be workable on any of the existing Windows Phone 8.0 hardware. Perhaps the lowest end of the 8.0 hardware might not be supported, but even that seems unlikely.
Of course that is dependent on the OEM’s supporting the upgrade, I’m sure there will be some bugs/incompatibilities with 8.1 that will have to be taken care of. I would expect MS/Nokia to fully support it, but HTC and Samsung may be less willing to invest the time and effort to bring it to their older hardware.