Microsoft kicked off its developer conference Build 2014 today by announcing Windows Phone 8.1 (you can watch the keynote here). The updated phone OS has a nonfictions Center called Action Center which is a central place for user nonfictions which is something that Windows Phone really needed. The lock screen has been improved, there will be a new Microsoft app that has lock screen themes that you can personalise. There are more personalisation options for your start screen including background images for tiles.

The other big new feature is Cortana, a personal assistant for Windows Phone which is a Bing powered voice controlled assistant. It has a notebook that contains your interests and preferences with things like what you are interested in and relationships with your contacts. It seems to have some of the notification prompts like Google Now but takes it to another level, it has full voice interaction and links in with many other apps including Skype, Facebook and the Calendar. I have to say it looks very impressive, I can’t wait to give it a try, but it’s still only a beta and is rolling out in the US first then the UK.

The Windows Phone Store has been improved, the landing page has been changed to make discovering new apps easier. Another new feature is WiFi sense that helps you connect to WiFi networks, Microsoft maintain a list of good WiFi hotspots and handles signing you into the services and makes it easy for you to share your home network key without actually giving them the password. Also shown was a new swipe style keyboard which looks very good.

This update address many of the issues I had with Windows Phone 8, it looks like a big step forward and I can’t wait to give it a try.

Consumers will get the update in the next few months. Developers should get it sooner with the developer preview program.

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