Microsoft has announced the Windows Phone 8.1 platform, an update to its existing Windows Phone 8 environment, as well as new device partnerships with Prestigio and Micromax.
Revealed by corporate vice president of operating systems, Joe Belfiore, at Microsoft’s Build 2014 conference in San Francisco today, features include additional mobile device management elements, intelligent Wi-Fi management called “Wi-Fi Sense”, and a Siri-like AI assistant called Cortana.
Microsoft, said Belfiore, wants to make Windows Phone “less about technology, more about you,” and began by officially announcing the Windows Phone 8.1 platform, with a focus on Cortana.
While the AI assistant – named after a humanoid computer from the Microsoft-owned video game series Halo – was already known to exist, Belfiore shed some more light on its Siri-baiting abilities.
Cortana scans emails and uses Bing to intelligently “learn” about the phone user, integrating itself intelligently with apps to achieve feats such as opening Facebook and looking up a specific person all after a line of voice commands.
It can also ask confirmation questions back at the user, as well as being told to flag up certain reminders when calling certain contacts, helping grease the wheels no end with cheekily recalled requests after the health of pet dogs or the existence of birthdays or wedding anniversaries.
For the enterprise, Microsoft is promising several new mobile device management [MDM] features, including a per-app management ability and enterprise VPN, which will allow phone users exclusive employee access to internal company sites.
S/MIME [secure/multipurpose internet mail extensions] has also been added to Windows Phone’s email, allowing encrypted mail to be read and created.
MDM allows Windows Phones to add a new enterprise profile to the phone, adds a number of new security features. Examples given were denying the device from saving local copies of privileged information, and banning access to certain apps.
Removing the enterprise profile will immediately remove all these restrictions.
Windows Phone 8.1 will also include a feature Microsoft calls “Wi-Fi Sense”, which will allow a device to automatically connect to local, free Wi-Fi connections – automatically authorising connections – as well as allowing users to automatically share their home or office Wi-Fi connections with visitors to the location.
Windows Phone 8.1 will be rolling out “within the next few months” depending on handset, but in April or May 2014 for brand new ones.
Microsoft also announced device partnerships with Italian mobile device maker Prestigio, and Indian consumer electronics firm Micromax. More information about the devices will hopefully follow as Computing checks them out later in the conference.