Introducing the New Windows 8.1

The rumour mill was constantly in motion when it came to the update of Windows 8. It was whispered that personal assistant inspired from Halo that rivals Apple’s Siri would be there along with an action centre. The Windows 8.1 Cortana version takes on from the AI character and is something to be owned.

Windows 8.1 Cortana

Windows 8.1 Cortana

Cortana is available only in beta and seems more sophisticated compared to Google and Apple. However, this is not the only service that Windows 8.1 has on offer.

Cortana is Redmond’s reply to Google Now and Siri. At a glance, the accuracy and speed and layout of the personal assistant would bowl you over. Microsoft has based the Cortana on human assistants. For researching into the type of virtual assistant to be made, officials even spoke to personal assistants to know of their work profile. Their efforts paid off; the Cortana seems to be a cross between a PA and a search engine. People, place and time based information is offered by the Cortana. It can remind you about calling people, prompt conversation inputs and even provide directions to go to nearby restaurants. The Cortana provides immediate answers to questions. The Cortana Notebook can be used to organize important information including quiet hours, reminders, interests, places, your close friends and music searches.

Cortana suggests the names of people who can belong to your inner circle. The suggestion is based on the last name of a contact person, the numbers saved on your home screen and even individuals whom you would not want to talk to at night. Daily Glance can be viewed which offers traffic information, weather, finance and much more. If you search through Cortana about your favourite sports team, Cortana would bring up the latest information about them and ask you whether you would like to receive notifications about it. If you agree, then it will store the information about your favourite team in the interests section.

While sliding up the Cortana Home Screen a Canvas or Protective Canvas view comes up. Sports scores, flight information and other personal information can be kept here. The feature tries to incorporate these kinds of information. If you consistently look up some topic on the Cortana, it will ask you whether you like it. If you say yes, then it will show information related to it from time to time.

The Cortana also has the feature of finding out your interests by reading your mails. When it does this, it will ask you whether it can continue to read your mails. At that time, you need to set controls to this feature.

Accessing Cortana is very easy as it is pinned as a live tile on the home screen. Through the search button, you can read the Cortana. Type input is an option which eliminates the need to speak to Cortana. Typing in keywords or a question will allow Cortana to bring up results.

The functioning of Cortana is very similar to that of the real world. Its functions do not stop at being a search button. For example, if you ask Cortana to remind you of something, then it will ask back other relevant questions such as time and mode of reminder. The task at hand would be successfully completed.

These features have been incorporated into the Cortana keeping in mind the behaviour of real personal assistants. Cortana can also access information from 3rd Party applications. It can guide you to an application that you use regularly for work or entertainment when you give it the command.

The personal assistant can also guide you to different parts of your phone. Instead of taking the long drawn route to visit the settings option for customizing your home screen, you can simply say “start+theme” for Cortana to take you there.

The positives of Cortana include its voice search, home and notebook. However, it takes substantial effort to make a phone truly personal.

Action Center is another feature of the Windows Phone 8.1 that should be watched out for. A window can slide down from the top of the screen and it can be viewed in two different ways. The first list is a partial one which shows the top 4 tiles located on top and a button that will take you to the phone’s settings. Time, date and battery life tracker has also been included in the quick view of the Action Center.

Windows 8.1 Preview

Windows 8.1 Preview

If the slide is further pulled down, then a complete set of notifications are shown which can be customized. Messages, missed calls, social media notifications and emails form the constituents of the Action Center. The top four tiles can also be customized.

Other changes in the OS include availability of Camera Lenses on the camera screen which allows users to enter other options such as Bing Vision. Personal pictures can be used to customize backgrounds and a parallax effect has been introduced which is similar to the iOS. The image position will adjust itself automatically as you swipe from top to bottom.

With the introduction of the Action Center and Cortana, Microsoft has developed an OS which could give Android and iOS a run for their money. The features used in Cortana simply surpass those of Google Now and Siri. The reminder and search features are one of the best on the Cortana. The Action Center, although not highly impressive, will certainly make navigation through settings and applications easier.

Only time will tell if the new Windows phone is adapted by users as much as iOS and Android. However, the effort on the part of Microsoft cannot be denied and much of the credit for appreciation goes to Cortana. This feature has the potential to make or break the new Windows Phone 8.1. The Windows phone has not enjoyed much popularity because of the lack of apps on the phone and high prices. Moreover, it is not open sourced like Android which makes most manufacturers shy away from adopting the OS. However, with the acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft, improved features should be expected in the near features and it seems to have already started.

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