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Microsoft reveals features in Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1

The first update for Microsoft's latest mobile OS is already rolling out to developers. What new features will they find?

Windows Phone 8.1 CNET

The Windows Phone 8.1 mobile operating system is still relatively fresh from the factory, but Microsoft already has a feature-rich update available for developers.

Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 is aimed toward developers, according to The Verge, but any user with a Windows Phone can download it by registering for an account through Microsoft's App Studio program.

Given the dominance of Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems, Microsoft faces a tough environment in which to push Windows Phone. Windows Phone is now in third place behind iOS and Android in the mobile market, but its share has remained relatively flat.

Microsoft is trying to drum up excitement in Windows Phone 8.1 with such features the Cortana voice assistant, Start screen enhancements, and an Action Center with easily accessible items. The first update to Windows Phone 8.1 promises more features, but with iOS 8 expected to arrive in the not-too-distant future, Microsoft will see its competition ramp up even further this year.

So what fresh new features does Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 contain? Microsoft's Update page describes each of the following new items in detail:

  • Folders. Folders let you organize your Start screen the way you want. Push one Tile on top of another one to create a folder and get going.
  • Messaging. Combine multiple text messages into one, and then forward them to someone else.
  • Selection. With improved selection, you can now delete multiple calls, messages, or contacts.
  • Apps Corner. Apps Corner lets you specify apps other people can use on a Windows Phone. Great for individuals and any-sized organizations who want to provide only the essential apps for others to use for work, school, or any other reason.
  • Alarms. Now you can customize the snooze time for an alarm, and then enjoy a little more shut-eye for the time you want.
  • Accessory apps. Use accessory apps to get notifications from your phone on your smartwatch, active phone cover, fitness tracker, or other kinds of accessories.
  • Internet sharing. Now you can share your cellular data connection over Bluetooth, so you can get an Internet connection on more kinds of devices.
  • VPN. VPN (virtual private networks) now supports L2TP, which lets you connect to more VPN services. Whether you connect to a VPN for work or personal use, you can do it on your Windows Phone.
  • Narrator. Narrator now has touch typing and a way for you to turn off hints for controls and buttons if you don't want them read aloud. Some other improvements to Narrator help you unlock your phone a little more quickly, find and use the Back, Start, and Search buttons more easily, and tell you when your phone screen is on or off.

The Start screen folders idea is a good one. I'd like to see the same feature debut in Windows 8.1 for the desktop. The Apps Corner and VPN features are geared for business users and organizations, more signs that Microsoft is trying to expand further into the enterprise market with Windows Phone 8.1. Most of the other features are aimed at helping you achieve certain tasks quicker, easier, and more conveniently.

Are there other surprises in Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1? Apparently so. Supersite for Windows author Paul Thurrott said that Microsoft's list is actually incomplete and that there are improvements for Cortana and Internet Explorer, among other items. In late July, Thurrott published a list of changes in the update that seem to be more comprehensive.

In a July blog post, Microsoft itself did detail a few of the new features and changes in the update, focusing on Cortana, Live Folders, Xbox Music, an Apps Corner, and enhanced privacy and security.

The big question now is when will Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 roll out to all users beyond just developers? A Microsoft spokesperson didn't pin down a specific date but told CNET that Update 1 would be available for consumers via updates and new devices in the next couple of months.

Update, 8:46 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Microsoft.