Though the official announcement isn’t slated until April, when Microsoft will host its annual Build conference, juicy details of the company’s next version of Windows Phone have been revealed.
Windows Phone 8.1, like Windows 8.1 on the desktop side, is reportedly set to put Microsoft’s mobile OS on equal footing, both in terms of features and hardware capabilities, with iOS and Android. Specifically, an early version of the upcoming SDK has revealed much closer ties between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, both in how apps are written and how they’re distributed.
Long-awaited features like VPN support and improvements to Internet Explorer, though expected, will be welcome to users tired of Windows Phone playing second fiddle to the business and WebKit-focused markets on iOS and Android. Similarly, Windows Phone 8.1 may allow users to change their default messaging app, much like it did with the camera app in GDR2.
Peppered through the preview SDK are references to Microsoft’s rebranded OneDrive service, while the default back button behaviour has been changed to no longer kill an open app; instead it goes into a suspended state, similar to iOS and Windows 8. Closing apps from the multitasking menu looks to be easier, too, as users will be able to swipe down as opposed to pressing a small “X” on the top left of the card.
The web browser has also been improved, reportedly scoring a 372 out of 555 for the HTML5Test, up from 328 on Windows Phone 8 GDR3. Internet Explorer 11 is reportedly the codebase for the new version. Microsoft also seems to be changing the way YouTube works on Windows Phone 8.1, launching in the browser window as opposed to a separate video layer.
According to The Verge, Microsoft will also be removing support for Facebook within the People app, though Twitter integration remains. There are no references to Microsoft’s widely-leaked ‘Cortana’ voice assistant, either, which means that the company is likely holding a number of important user-facing features back until the SDK is launched.
Whether Windows Phone 8.1 will be enough of an upgrade — along with better hardware from Nokia — to claw back some market share in North America remains to be seen, but we’re holding out hope for big announcements in April.