The new version of Windows Phone is ready to make you more productive. Dubbed Windows Phone 8.1, the update boasts dozens of new features for business users. Notably, it introduces a voice-activated personal assistant and a comprehensive notification center so you can check all your alerts at a glance. Other highlights include a slew of updates that help you conserve battery life, limit data usage and free up storage space on your device. The update is expected to roll out on Windows Phone devices starting this summer, so read on for five features business users can look forward to.
Microsoft's new virtual personal assistant, dubbed Cortana, will let you to be more productive with context-sensitive alerts and voice commands. Cortana, which will be baked into every Windows 8.1 device, is Microsoft's answer to Siri on the iPhone and Google Now on Android devices. Microsoft says Cortana will "learn" about you every time you use your Windows Phone, helping it deliver timelier, more relevant information.
To use the service, just tap the Cortana app on your phone's home screen. You can state your question or command out loud, or just type it in. For example, you can ask Cortana about the weather forecast, set an alarm, or simply perform a Web search using voice commands.
Over time, the Cortana app will begin to display relevant information automatically. For example, if you have an upcoming business trip, Cortana can gather information about your flight from your email account, and notify you about any delays. It can even let you know when to leave for the airport based on current traffic conditions.
Business users will also benefit from a new way to screen phone calls using Cortana. If you have a meeting or appointment scheduled in your calendar, Cortana can intercept and automatically respond to incoming phone calls. You can also allow calls from specific contacts, such as family members or employees, to get through during quiet times.
Both Android and iOS boast a single unified notification center where users can see all their alerts in a single location. The feature makes you more productive by letting you check your notifications quickly and easily. It also ensures that you won't overlook an important message or alert when it arrives. Up until now, Windows Phone has relied on Live Tiles to deliver notifications; when users check their home screen, a number appears next to the messaging or phone app to indicate a new message or missed call.
But now there's a better way to check your notifications via the new Action Center hub, which pulls together all your alerts in one place. To access it, simply swipe down from the top of your phone's display -- just like on Android and iPhone. You can even swipe to reveal the Action Center when you phone is locked. That will help you respond to notifications quickly and get back to work.
The new version of Windows Phone is packed with small software tweaks to streamline your mobile workflow. For example, the updated operating system features a new, improved keyboard that learns as you use it. When you type in any app, the keyboard learns your writing style and the words you type frequently to provide suggestions and corrections. The keyboard can also access your address book to help you type the names of contacts, addresses and more.
The calendar app also received a major update, including a visual makeover that makes it look more like the desktop version of Microsoft Outlook. The new navigation bar at the top of the page lets you easily switch between days, weeks and months with a quick swipe right or left. The weather forecast for each day is also included to help you prepare accordingly for upcoming appointments.
Phone management tools
Windows Phone 8.1 packs a variety of tools to help you manage almost every aspect of your business phone, from battery life to mobile data to storage space. First is Data Sense, a new tool that can help you make the most of your monthly data allowance. The tool monitors your data use, then notifies you when you get close to the cap. It can also automatically limit background updates to help you make it through the month without paying overage fees. Another new tool, WiFi sense, can automatically connect to open, high-quality WiFi hotspots when they are in range to further reduce data usage.
Storage Sense, meanwhile, is a utility that helps you see which files are taking up space in your phone's internal memory. It also makes it easier to move files between your smartphone and a microSD card.
Finally, Battery Saver enables you to see which apps are draining your battery. It can also put your phone in power-saving mode to help conserve energy when you're almost out of juice.
When you can't meet face-to-face, videoconferencing is the next best option. Windows Phone 8.1 features better integration with the Skype videoconferencing app to help you connect with clients, colleagues and employees using your smartphone's camera. New features include the ability to connect to Skype calls using voice commands. There's also the option to "upgrade" a regular phone call to a Skype video call with the tap of a button – without interrupting the call.