Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview

The first time I encountered Windows Phone was on the HTC HD 7 in 2011. It was running an earlier version of Windows Phone 7.

Despite that the phone was beautifully designed, "Copy & Paste" feature was missing. Many popular apps were not there - apps like Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Vine, Zite and the like.

Fast forward to 2014 and Windows Phone 8 has been in existence for a while and Windows Phone 8.1 (WP 8.1) has just been released to the market as a Developer Preview. It is going to be available to the public by June 2014.

The great news about WP 8.1 is that all devices currently running Windows Phone 8 (WP 8) are going to get WP 8.1 including the famous and quite cheap Nokia Lumia 520. Before now, we’ve had Windows Phone 7, 7.5, 7.8 and then 8.0.

With each of the iterations, Microsoft has been bold in its crusade.

During this crusade to make Windows Phone one of the preferred operating systems (OS) out there, it went into partnership with Nokia and eventually bought Nokia. Microsoft has a non-exclusive lease on the Nokia brand (patents and intellectual property) to use on mobile phones for the next ten years.

What are the changes that Windows Phone 8.1 is bringing to the table?

Action Centre

Notification on the Windows Phone 8 was broken or non-existent. With WP 8.1 comes the Action Centre.

WP 8.1 Action Centre

You can see in one swipe down from the top of the phone notifications like; e-mail, text messages, social media updates and some other apps that have notifications enabled (WhatsApp supports notifications too).

In that single swipe down, you can also see some quick actions that you can toggle like; WiFi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, Rotation Lock and Screen Display. Just below the screen display is the "All Settings"; tapping on the "All Settings" quickly takes you to the settings pane - you don’t have to be looking for the settings among the App List.

Internet Explorer (IE) 11

A new version of Internet Explorer is shipped with the WP 8.1.

Now, you can have unlimited browsers tabs open, hit the left hand side of the browser and you’ll see all the tabs that you have open.

IE 11

You can also clear out the clutter with IE 11.

This feature can be enabled by tapping the book icon at the bottom right of the browser within the address bar.

IE 11

IE 11 will also sync your browsing data across phone, tablet, and PC. This includes your favorites, history, passwords, and open tabs.

Sharing what you’re reading from the new IE that ships with WP 8.1 is also available, but something is missing. You won’t be able to share to Twitter. Under the Me tab, there are apps that are listed under the Sharing Apps; Facebook is among the apps that are there. However, Twitter is missing. When you are using the browser, you won’t see Twitter as one of the sharing apps that are available to you.

Other apps that you can share to apart from Facebook, are: Mail, One Note, Reading List (New from the Windows Store and only available on WP 8.1).

Sharing on IE 11


Like Siri and Google Now, Microsoft has introduced Cortana, a voice assistant that can carry out some of the following functions:

  • Open (certain) apps
  • Gather news for you
  • Have a conversation with you

Cortana is powered by Bing.

Since there has been some news making rounds about Boko Haram, I asked Cortana: “Can you get me the latest news about Boko Haram?”; and she did.


What amazes me is the way I did not have to adjust my Nigerian accent to that of an American. I spoke with my heavy accent and Cortana got what I meant. I even asked Cortana to open Twitter for me and she did.

Feel free to try different actions you can perform with Cortana. However, Cortana isn’t available for all yet. Only users in the US market will enjoy it for now and then it is going to spread to selected markets.

If you want to get Cortana on your phone right away, all you have to do is to go to your phone settings, change your keyboard settings and language to US, then restart the phone. Next, change your region to US and restart the phone again. When you do this, you’ll get Cortana to work for you. Or just wait till it is rolled out for everyone.

To wake up Cortana, just hit on the hardware search button -if you’re on the Nokia Lumia 1520.

Word Flow Keyboard

According to Microsoft, the Word Flow Keyboard is “the world’s fastest, easiest, and most intuitive smartphone keyboard. With shape writing, you can glide your finger over the screen, saving time and effort.”

Word Flow: Picture 5

Users of Swiftkey and Swype will be familiar with this already. Even users of Google’s Kit Kat are enjoying this feature. Microsoft has joined the league, leaving Apple and BlackBerry behind as the OEMs that are yet to incorporate this type of text input.

I would love to add that, with the WP 8.1, the space bar is wider than before. I was accustomed to tapping on the full stop each time I want to tap on the space bar as a rapid texter. This problem is solved once and for all now. The word prediction and autocorrect seem to have gotten a bump too. I notice that I can now type faster than I use to type when sending emails or texting.

Storage Sense

My Nokia Lumia 1520 has room for microSD card. With Storage Sense, I can free more space on my Windows Phone by moving apps and some other data to my external microSD card. If your Windows Phone supports microSD cards you can enjoy this feature; all you have to do is go to your App List, then tap Storage Sense. If microSD card is displayed, you phone has a slot.

As someone that shoots lots of pictures and download podcasts for offline listening pleasure, I can easily pop in a 32 gb to 64 gb microSD and enjoy more space on my phone. I do not have to spend so much to get a new phone just because I want to increase the amount of storage I need.

Other improvements that I have observed with WP 8.1 update

Email, Contacts & Calendar Sync. On Windows Phone 8, some Gmail users have been experiencing some issues with syncing their email, contacts and calendar.

There’s a particular error I get myself. Since I updated to WP 8.1, that error message ceased. (Error code: 85010020)

In addition, there’s the option of importing one’s iCloud to Windows Phone device on WP 8.1. This will bring along your contacts and calendar. (Shots fired at Apple). Someone like me who is a diehard iPhone fan, won’t lose much if my contacts and calendar have been tied to my iCloud account. Welcome, iCloud users, to WP 8.1.

Screenshots. Before now, screen shot can be taken on Windows Phone 8 devices by tapping on the Menu + Power button. Things have been moved around with Windows Phone 8.1. To take screenshots now, all you have to do is to tap on the Volume Up + Power button and bam!!

Start + Theme. You can now change the photo used as the background on Windows Phone 8.1 and use transparent tiles to make things look pretty and colourful. All you have to do is to go to the Settings > Start + Theme and you’re good to go.


Microsoft is bold. If you follow their journey, beginning with Windows Phone 7, you’ll know it has been a wild ride. They killed of Windows Mobile an operating system that they built and have been shipping with phones for a while and started Windows Phone 7 from scratch.

I am moved to say that Windows Phone 8.1 is the Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) moment for Windows Phone.

When Android hit ICS stage, it started to gain popularity. At that stage, the operating system (OS) seem to have matured. That is the stage Windows Phone is now.

The first set of phones that will be shipping with Windows Phone 8.1 straight from factory are: Nokia Lumia 930 and Nokia Lumia 635. But before then, you can get Windows Phone developers preview onto any phone you have now that is running Windows Phone 8.

Cover Image Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns