In the coming months, Microsoft will roll out its third update to Windows Phone 8, the mobile operating system it unveiled in fall 2012. There are plenty of performance improvements on the menu, but you'll also see a handful of new features that change how the OS looks and works, especially on upcoming phablets.
We've seen leaked images of a Start screen with more live tiles, and it turns out all those rumors were true. Windows Phone 8 Update 3 (its official name) adds a new column and a few more rows to the Start screen, which Microsoft says will effectively double the number of tiles that can show up on the home screen.
There is a major caveat here though. Existing Windows Phone 8 devices will not get the extra column and rows. This feature will only show up in new, yet-to-be announced devices with screens that are 6 inches and larger. That makes the rumored phablet, code-named Bandit, that Nokia is supposedly building seem much more likely.
Windows Phone devices have had multitasking capabilities since the beginning: you can tap and hold the back button to view all the apps running in the background and quickly switch to a new app. Now you can also quickly close any app from the multitasking app list by tapping the small X button in the corner of the app preview.
Hoping to minimize distractions and keep your eyes on the road, Update 3 adds driving mode. You can have it turn on automatically when your phone's Bluetooth signal pairs with a specific device, such as your car or hands-free headset. When it's on, you can choose to have the phone turn off incoming call notifications or text-messaging alerts, or both. It will also automatically send a text response that you can customize.
Update 3 adds a new mode for people with visual impairments. Called mobile accessibility mode, it gives your phone a simplified home screen with large tiles. There are a few basic apps -- a phone dialer, an IMAP e-mail client, and a browser -- and video-messaging services Lync and Skype have both modified their apps to make them easier to use. The mode also enables screen reading, which uses audio to guide you.
One of the most requested features on Windows Phone has been the ability to assign custom text notification tones to individual contacts. Well, Windows Phone owners are getting their wish. Now you can tell who sent that text just from the sound your phone makes.
On upcoming, (yet to be announced) larger-screen devices, you'll see more information at once in many of the preinstalled apps from Microsoft. In Outlook that means you'll see more e-mails on the screen and longer previews for each message.