Beginning April 8, 2014, Windows 8.1 Update 1 will become officially available to the general public via Windows Update. Some of the tweaks included are the return of the Start button, tutorials, more personalization options, the ability to boot to desktop, improvements to multi-tasking, refinements designed to give people a more familiar and convenient experience across touch, keyboard and mouse inputs.
The Start screen on select devices now features Power and Search buttons in the upper-right corner next to your account picture, making it easier for users to turn off their device when needed, and search for content on the device, as well as in the cloud.
Many people are fond of using the desktop instead of the Metro interface, so Microsoft now allows select devices to boot to desktop as the default setting. Users can also start pinning both desktop and Windows Store apps, as well as websites, right there on the taskbar. This allows you to click on any app pinned to the taskbar to open or switch to them.
The interface of Windows has been improved to make the touch-friendly platform work better with a mouse and keyboard. With the use of a mouse, users can access the taskbar anywhere on Windows just by moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen, while moving the mouse to the top of the screen brings up the familiar Close and Minimize buttons. On the Start screen, you can right-click on an app tile and a pop-up menu shows you what you can do with the app such as unpin from Start, pin to the taskbar, change the tile size or even uninstall the app, bringing the familiarity of previous desktop actions to the new platform.
Finding new apps is easier too now, as the Windows Store app has been pinned to the taskbar, but if you don’t like it there, you can simply unpin it, just like any other app. Upon installing new app, a notification will appear at the bottom of the screen to make it easier to access the newly installed apps.
The third column design introduced for bigger devices will be available on all devices, regardless of screen size, running Windows Phone 8.1. More customization will also be introduced, such as the ability to set your favorite photo, or an image from Windows, as the Start background. This turns all the tiles transparent so your background image is visible.
We also have new Lock Screen Themes which show all kinds of different visuals and animations. Meanwhile, an Action Center has also been introduced so you can better manage and see app notifications whilst getting easy access to quick settings such as Wi-Fi, Flight Mode, Bluetooth and Rotation Lock.
Microsoft’s new Flow Keyboard allows users to type faster as it is smart enough to learn not only your typing style, but also the names of your contacts. Just glide your fingers on the keyboard to type faster.
Also, Microsoft has finally introduced Cortana, its personal digital assistant that learns about a user’s preferences and activities to get to know him better and make smart recommendations if needed. It can be accessed via a Live Tile app, or by pressing the search button on the device. Learn more about Cortana’s capabilities here.
Skype has also been optimized for Windows Phone 8.1, and is now integrated with the Phone dialer, making it easier to quickly change from a normal phone call to a Skype video call at the tap of a button. Also, the new Skype app is designed to work seamlessly with Cortana so you can use your new helper to setup your calls within Skype.
Internet Explorer 11
Microsoft’s latest browser can now detect what device and input type you are using in order to enhance your web browsing experience. The web is still front-and-center but the update delivers a more customized experience for your device, such as the number of tabs on-screen, the size of the fonts and menus. The update now also allows users to control when the browser remains on screen or hides away for full-screen browsing.
Developers and OEMs
Microsoft is also offering a new incentive for makers of small devices, smartphones and tablets with screens less than 9”, by making the Windows platform free. This removes the licensing fees that manufacturers of small devices were previously burdened with, allowing them to sell more affordable devices.
For developers, Microsoft has announced universal Windows apps. This will allow developers to create apps which works across PCs, phones, tablets, and eventually the Xbox One. Microsoft will make the Windows runtime in Windows 8.1 Update 1 available for Windows Phone developers.
David Treadwell, Microsoft CVP of Operating Sytems Group, said that Microsoft focused on user interface, app model, APIs, tools, and store, to streamline the development process of these universal apps. According to Kevin Gallo, Microsoft’s Director of Developer Ecosystem and Platform, creating universal apps can easily be done in Microsoft’s Visual Studio, which allows the developer to manage UI for each platform, and now has new diagnostic tools. This will allows developers to see if any problems with their apps appear on all platforms or just some, making it easier to assess and remedy them.
With the universal apps, Microsoft is now allowing developers to sell apps across different platforms. It works similar to Apple’s iTunes, as an app purchased on one Windows device is made available to all the other Windows devices a particular user own. Not all apps will have universal compatibility though, so Microsoft has come up with a new universal badge icon to differentiate those that do from those that don’t.