SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft just wrapped up their Build developers conference at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Here’s a recap of what had developers buzzing.
Windows Phone 8.1
Microsoft is allowing the Windows Phone Start Screen to be even more customizable.
Last year, a third column of Live Tiles was added for Windows Phones with screens 5-inches or larger. After rave reviews, the feature is being added for devices of all screen sizes with Windows Phone 8.1. The company also added the ability to customize a user’s Start background with a custom image or a pre-installed image.
In Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft is providing a new app that lets users set a wide range of Lock Screen Themes which show all kinds of different visuals and animations.
Live Tiles are probably the best way to get your information at a glance, but now Microsoft has taken it one step further. Action Center allows users to see notifications from any app — pinned or not — and to give users a customizable way to quickly access the settings users care about most like WiFi, Flight Mode, Bluetooth and Rotation Lock.
The Word Flow Keyboard in Windows Phone is smart enough to learn a user’s writing style and even know the names of people in your contacts for more efficient typing. Best of all, the keyboard lets users glide their fingers across the keys (a la Swiftkey) to type efficiencly.
The new Skype app for Windows Phone 8.1 brings users the best of Skype on a smartphone. The app is integrated with the Phone dialer, so if you’re on a call you can quickly and easily “upgrade” your ordinary phone call to a Skype video call at the tap of a button.
The Calendar app has been redesigned to add a new week view, which allows users to pan right to get to the next day, week or month. Aesthetically, it looks a lot like Outlook.
Microsoft has made a ton of improvements to the music, video and podcast experiences, which are now split out in separate apps and can be updated via the Windows Phone Store. In Music, users can edit their playlists and manage their cloud collection easily and effectively. Video makes it possible to buy and rent videos from Xbox Music, and Podcasts now lets users subscribe to any RSS feed and provides a Bing-powered podcast search. The phone volume control has also been improved by including separate sliders for the ringer/notifications and apps/media.
The People Hub has higher-fidelity feeds for a user’s social network content and it connects directly to 3rd-party social networking apps so that users can have easy access to the full functionality of the 3rd party apps once they are installed. Email now supports S/MIME secure email, and support for different account types has been broadened to include iCloud.
The Photos experience now jumps directly to a user’s most recent photos and shows as collections automatically organized, in a view grouped by date and location. Online photo albums are now supported via, so 3rd parties can plug into their services. In the camera, Microsoft has updated the UI and added “burst mode” photography that lets users capture the perfect moment.
The company also added a number of features in Windows Phone 8.1 that are designed to help users get the most out of their data allowance, battery life and storage. Data Sense lets users track how much data is used in a given month and will give users a breakdown of usage by app so users can see which app is using the most data. As users approach their data limit, Data Sense will aggressively offload data to WiFI and limit cellular usage, and in 8.1 there’s a new “high savings” mode that cranks up the compression of images as you browse the web so users can browse even farther using less data than Windows Phone 8.
WiFi Sense will automatically connect users to free public hotspots it finds to help you save cellular data. Users can also opt-in to automatically and securely enable friends and contacts to auto-connect to their home WiFi, so they can use the internet connection in your home without hassling you for the password and typing it in manually. If WiFi is turned off in WiFi Sense, users can have Cortana automatically turn it back on when you reach one of your favorite places as identified in Cortana.
Storage Sense helps users get the most out of the memory and storage on your phone. It will help users manage content you have on an SD card if your device supports those. Users can also move content — like apps, music and photos — between the storage built-in to your device and an SD card.
Battery Saver gives users a clear breakdown of how apps are using your battery so you can make more informed usage decisions. With “automatic mode” enabled, it can dramatically extend battery life.
Cortana is Microsoft’s long-awaited response to Apple’s Siri, Google Now and the other voice assistants available. It lets you manage basic phone functions, set appointments, perform searches, play back music, and set “quiet hours” when only your inner circle of contacts may reach you. Similar to Google Now, Cortana learns from the web searches a user performs and the locations you frequent to try and provide contextual information.
Visually, Cortana is a circular icon that adopts the same color scheme as the one used on Windows Phone. It also pulsates when she speaks and rotates searching for an answer. One of its cool functions demoed by Joe Belifore is the ability to answer questions spoken in more natural language, such as “how about in Celsius?” following the query of “what’s the temperature in Las Vegas?” The Halo-inspired voice assistant will launch in beta in the United States first, followed by the UK and China.
In Windows Phone 8.1, Cortana can be reached through a Live Tile on the Start button or by pressing the search button on any device running Windows Phone 8.1. To interact with Cortana, users can either speak or type — Cortana won’t speak out loud when users type a question into her. But if you ask her a spoken question, she’ll answer verbally and carry on a natural conversation.
When users interact with Cortana for the first time, she will start learning things about you like your name, how to pronounce it and your personal interests.
Once she obtains that information, Cortana’s home populates with curated information just for you. Users will find information like flight information found in your email confirmations, weather, news and traffic information once she learns your commute routine.
All of that curated information is kept in Cortana’s Notebook. This enables Cortana to be proactive and helpful throughout the day. For example, she’ll let me know if my flight is on time and, if I choose, will even pop-up to recommend what time I should leave for the airport based on traffic.
Cortana can also manage your phone when you don’t want to be disturbed by setting quiet hours where she will silence any notifications, incoming calls and texts. Cortana understands the “inner circle” of people closest to you, and she can let them break through at any time during quiet hours. Cortana is the only digital assistant that lets users setup people reminders. You could have Cortana remind you that your friend owes you $20 the next time you talk to him. All of these interest and preferences are under your control via Cortana’s notebook.
Also, because Cortana is powered by Bing, some of the interests in Cortana’s Notebook will be seen on bing.com when you sign in on the web. Bing.com will give users access to the things Cortana tracks for you, like weather, stocks, news and flights.
Cortana has also been designed to interact with 3rd Party apps installed on your phone. Users can ask Cortana to help you make a video call in Skype, watch a TV show in Hulu Plus, look up a news feed on Facebook or send a tweet using the Twitter app.
Windows 8.1 Update
The Windows 8.1 update delivers a collection of refinement designed to give users a more familiar and convenient experience across touch or keyboard and mouse inputs. It also brings improvements for business customers, really accelerates opportunity for developers, and enables device makers to offer lower cost devices.
On the Start screen with select devices, users will now find Power and Search buttons at the upper-right corner next to your account picture. Users can also shut down their PC if you need to and do a search right from the Start screen.
If you like using the desktop, you will be happy to know that select devices will now boot to desktop by default. And on your taskbar, you can now pin both legacy apps and apps from the Windows Store as well as your favorite websites. You can now pin any app you want to the taskbar so you can open or switch between apps right from the desktop. You can also access the taskbar from anywhere when you’re using a mouse by moving your mouse to the screen’s bottom edge. Just click on any of the apps pinned to your taskbar to open or switch to them.
Microsoft’s made it so your mouse works more consistently anywhere in Windows. If you move your mouse to the top of the screen when using a Windows Store app, you will see the familiar Close and Minimize buttons.
On the Start screen, you will get a context menu next to the app tile that shows you what you can do with the tile if you right-click on app tile, like unpin from Start, pin to the taskbar, change the tile size or uninstall the app. Right-clicking on an app tile on the Start Screen works by right-clicking on the app.
After installing the update, you’ll find the Windows Store is now pinned to the taskbar by default allowing customers to easily discover new apps (it can also be unpinned if you don’t want it there). After installing new apps, you’ll notice a message at the lower-left corner of the Start screen that points to the Apps view so you can see what you recently installed.
The update will be made available to Windows 8.1, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 RT customers through Windows Update Tuesday, April 8th.
Internet Explorer 11
Microsoft also announced an updated version of Internet Explorer 11 available with the Windows 8.1 Update and Windows 7 as well as the debut of Internet Explorer 11 for Windows Phone 8.1. The update will be coming April 8th for Window 7 users and with the Windows 8.1 update on the same day.
The update allows tabs and favorites to be available on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones whenever you use it.
With Windows Phone 8.1, users now have access to a modern, full-featured phone browser with IE11. In addition to the same underlying engine across device experiences, and roaming your favorites and tabs between devices, Windows Phone now offers many of the same features as Internet Explorer does on Windows. With IE11 for Windows phone and Live Sites, you can now pin your favorite sites directly to your Start Screen for information from the Web at a glance. Reading Mode helps you optimize the view of articles like you were reading an ebook on your phone. Voice Commands get you quickly to your favorite websites by speaking to your device. IE11 for Windows Phone also includes InPrivate to keep your browsing private. To help you better manage your phone’s data usage, the new High Savings Mode can be enabled to reduce data consumption by 60%-80% through reducing image downloads and only loading elements of the page relevant to the content you want to view.
With today’s update, IE11 adapts your browsing experience by detecting your Windows device and input type — whether it’s an 8-inch tablet in portrait mode or a 24-inch desktop with a keyboard and mouse. The web is still front-and-center but new design enhancements make your browsing experience make your browsing experience like it was made just for your device — such as the number of tabs on-screen and the size of the fonts and menus. You can also control when the browser remains on-screen or hides away for full-screen browsing depending on the type of device you use.
Nokia’s Stephen Elop also announced three new Lumia smartphones at Build that can be seen as the integration point for Nokia as Microsoft welcomes the Finnish company in.
Nokia Lumia 630
Starting on the low-end with the Nokia Lumia 630, which has a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon S400 processor and 4.5-inch IPS LCD WVGA (854×480) display as well as Windows Phone 8.1.
The Nokia Lumia 630 comes in two 3G variants, the traditional single-SIM and dual-SIM variants.
Both variants of the Lumia 630 ship with a matte finish and the same vibrant colors, although you could customize it with a glossy cover if you prefer.
Also, the Lumia 630 along with the Lumia 635 (more on that later) are the first to include on-screen Windows Phone navigation keys in the UI, which disappear when watching video and when the phone’s locked, as well as color-matching volume buttons.
Both phones also introduce ‘SensorCore’ low-power sensing, which allows the 630 and 635 to enable apps like Bing Health and Fitness, which provides Fitbit-like monitoring on metrics like steps taken, calories burned and miles walked without burning the 1830mAh battery.
There’s a 5MP rear camera on board with autofocus and 720p recording at 30 frames per second with no front-facing camera.
Here’s the spec sheet:
- Battery: GSM talk time (16.4 hours), Maximum 3G talk time (13.1 hours), Standby (25 days), Video playback (7 hours), Music playback (58 hours)
- Storage: 512MB RAM, 8GB internal storage, 7GB OneDrive storage, microSD card support up to 128GB
- Dimensions: 129.5mm x 66.7mm x 9.2mm
The Lumia 630 will begin its rollout in May, starting in Asia, Russia, India and Europe, from $159 for the single-sim variant and $169 for the dual-sim variant in orange, green, yellow, white and black.
Nokia Lumia 635
Delivering exactly the same specs as the 630, the Lumia 635 is distinguished by a glossy finish and swapable covers in orange, green, yellow, white and black.
The Lumia 635 will be available broadly, including in the US starting in July for $189.
Nokia Lumia 930
The Nokia Lumia 930 sports a 20-megapixel PureView camera, optical image stabilization (OIS) and Carl Zeiss optics to achieve sharp shots and the flexibility to zoom into any shot after it’s taken. A 1.2MP wide-angle camera can be found on the smartphone’s face.
The Nokia Lumia 930 also has four high-performance microphones to allow for directional recording, which “enhances the clarity of your subjects by rejecting the sounds outside the direction of capture.”
Counteract shaky hands with the built-in optical image stabilization (OIS) and use the single-finger zoom feature to get closer to the action without sacrificing resolution.
When you’re done shooting your life moments, play it back on the 930’s 5-inch 1080p (1920×1080, 441ppi) display with Gorilla Glass 3, Super Sensitive Touch and a near 180-degree viewing angle for watching content anywhere from a bright sunny beach to a dimly-lit hotel room.
Integrated Dolby Surround Sound also makes for a rich audio experience when watching movies or listening to music with your headphones or home theater system.
Powering everything along is a speedy 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 32GB of internal storage plus 7GB of free OneDrive storage and 2GB or RAM.
Aesthetically, the Lumia 930 blends the striking looks of recent Lumias with an aluminum frame, metallic accents and a polycarbonate back with color choices of orange, green, black and white.
Also built in is an LTE quad-band chip and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.
To keep it going all day is a 2420mAh battery rated for 11.5 hours of GSM talk time, 15.5 hours of 3G talk time, 18 days of standby time, 9 hours of video playback time and 75 hours of audio playback time.
The Lumia 930 also runs Windows Phone 8.1, just like the Lumia 630 and Lumia 635. The 930 also comes with imaging apps such as Nokia Camera, Nokia Storyteller, Nokia Creative Studio and Nokia Refocus. With the enhanced Nokia Camera with Living Images ,you can now capture and relive your memories in a new way. A new imaging experience adds an integrated Camera Roll with full megapixel zoom and improved sharpness algorithms, while the new Creative Studio app makes image post-editing easier and richer.
Not forgetting the on-the-go businessman (or woman), the Enterprise Feature Pack presents the Nokia Lumia 930 as a secure device for the corporate world.
Available around the same time with the Nokia Lumia 930 is the Nokia Case CP-637. The soft microfiber lining of the device protects and cleans your screen when not in use. The case comes in orange, green and black.
The popular Fatboy wireless charging pillow will also be getting a redesign in green.
The Nokia Lumia 930 will be available for $599 before taxes and subsidies in June — beginning in Europe, Asia, India, the Middle East and Latin America and other markets around the world (except the US) throughout the summer.