Microsoft Announces Windows Phone 8.1, Cortana, Two New Hardware Partners

Redmond officially unveiled a bucketful of new details about its mobile platforms, while confirming most of the rumors, down to the names of the products and services.

Yes, Windows Phone 8.1 will be called Windows Phone 8.1, and Cortana is known as Cortana.

Both products went official earlier today at the start of BUILD 2014 developer conference, with Microsoft also announcing that two new mobile phone makers have joined the Windows Phone party. These are Micromax and Prestigio.

Joe Belfiore, the head of operating systems at Microsoft made the official announcements, showcasing the main enhancements that will be coming to the mobile OS when it launches later this summer.

The highlight being the personal digital voice assistant, Cortana, and the Action Center that provides users quick access to various parts of the operating system — including battery percentages, customizable quick settings, SIMs, and yes, finally, notifications from apps.

Microsoft said that Windows Phone 8.1 (codenamed Windows Phone Blue) provides users with a brand new, interactive experience. Focus on interactive, please, as the company showed how applications are now able to take full control of the lock screen via new and updated APIs.

The Start Screen gets plenty of enhancements too, including new customization abilities like having more Live Tiles displayed at the same time, background images, and all that pizazz.

And speaking of style, the Cortana voice assistant is all that it was hyped up to be, and then some. The long rumored voice assistant is by far the greatest new feature in Windows Phone 8.1, by some distance at that. Microsoft bills it as the first truly personal digital assistant.

The company said that it was still applying finishing touches to this new version of its mobile OS, and the update will start arriving on existing devices in the next few months.

New smartphones powered by Windows Phone 8.1, however, will be available later this month.

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