Windows Phone buyers won’t have to wait for Microsoft to share details about its upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update at its BUILD 2014 or Mobile World Congress events after all. Just a day after Microsoft released early builds of Windows Phone 8.1 to a select group of developers, a Reddit member has begun posting all the mobile operating system’s sordid details.
Reportedly, builds of the Windows Phone 8.1 update shared with developers include a ton of improvements that Windows Phone owners have requested for years. Those features are also backed by strategic moves where Windows Phone and Windows RT are concerned.
The Windows Phone 8 SDK drops Windows Phone’s app packages for the appX style app packages of Windows 8. Reports also indicate that the app can also be packaged with “Universal” app support and templates. Though trivial to end users for now, these changes confirm rumors that Microsoft is planning to merge and meld Windows Phone with Windows RT, the operating system it uses on tablets like the Surface 2.
Microsoft has even changed the way apps close on Windows Phone 8.1 to more closely resemble app management on Windows 8.1. Instead of closing apps with a single tap of the back button, pressing the back button only suspends an app – technically the app is still running in the background. Swiping down in the multitasking menu now closes applications just like on Windows 8.1.
Joining those under the hood changes are new features like the ability to set a default messaging app, a new Battery Sense feature that allows users to monitor apps for how much power they’re consuming and support for corporate VPN networks so that Windows Phone users can use their device with their company’s network safely. A new Store Sense setting also allows Windows Phone 8.1 users to install apps to an SD card instead of their device’s built-in storage. Users who frequently install large games should enjoy that new feature when it arrives.
Windows Phone 8.1 also includes an update camera that allows users to take bursts of photos, that’s something that had been conspicuously absent from Windows Phone for some time. Microsoft has also done away with the auto-full screen experience when users are streaming video. In the leaked Windows Phone 8.1 SDK playing a video in YouTube now plays it in the Internet Explorer window itself.
It appears that Microsoft has gone and killed the Music + Video hub that previous versions of Windows Phone used. The company recently released separate Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps for Windows Phone, it seems likely that Microsoft will simply include those apps in the version of Windows Phone 8.1 that goes out to users.
Finally, Microsoft is rounding out those changes by adding on-screen buttons options. In short, devices designed for Windows Phone 8.1 won’t need to include hardware buttons. The on-screen buttons in the Windows Phone 8.1 SDK can be manually hidden, however. Dropping hardware Start, Back and Search buttons keeps the cost of making Windows Phones down and allows makers like HTC and Samsung to easily share hardware designs between their Android and Windows Phone lines.
All told, users who have a Windows Phone or are thinking about picking one up should definitely get excited. Microsoft is expected to share more information about Windows Phone 8.1 at its press event during Mobile World Congress in two weeks. It isn’t expected to share all the details on Windows Phone 8.1 until its BUILD 2014 event in April.