Top 11 New Windows Phone 8.1 OS Features

Meet Cortana

Microsoft upped its mobile game against Apple and Google Tuesday with a slew of additions to its Windows Phone OS. At its Build 2014 developers conference in San Francisco, Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8.1, an update to its mobile OS that introduces a

Siri-like Cortana service, a new app store and one-swipe access to Action Center -- a spot to view notifications from any app and access phone settings.

There are a lot of new additions to keep Windows Phone fans happy, but developers and enterprise also will be pleased that the new OS is now free on all sub-9-inch devices and comes with a bevy of mobile-device management capabilities.

Microsoft said it will release the Windows Phone 8.1 preview software to developers on April 14, and consumers can expect to see it in the April and May time frame. Here is a closer look at 10 of the coolest new features Microsoft brings to its mobile OS.

1. Cortana

Microsoft is going head-to-head or voice-to-voice with Google Now and Apple's Siri on the digital voice assistant front. Windows Phone 8.1 includes Cortana, a personal digital assistant (named after a female video game character from Halo). Microsoft's Cortana is powered by Bing and can do the usual Bing search queries, check your calendar for conflicts and will compose messages. Microsoft said Cortana's competitive edge over Apple and Google is the services ability to be customized to do things such as "learning" what your interests are and your "Inner Circle" of contacts.

2. Enterprise-Friendly

Microsoft warms up to the enterprise with new customizable mobile-device management enrollment options and support for more MDM policies. Also added is VPN and S/MIME support. Other key MDM enhancements include the ability to configure Windows Store app whitelists or blacklists, URL filters and Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer settings.

3. Action Center

Added is an Action Center, something similar to Android and iOS, which gives you swipe-down access to important settings such as Airplane Mode, SMS notifications, and basic system information such as battery life.

4. Windows Store Update

The Windows Phone app store gets a redesign that provides faster access to apps. The Windows Store app is now pinned to the taskbar by default. You also can now find, discover and run apps straight from the Start menu on Windows 8.1.

5. Windows Phone's Four New Senses

Windows Phone 8.1 adds enhancements to Wi-Fi, Storage, Data and Battery Saver called Senses. These are designed to help you keep tabs on resources being used on your phone. For example, the Data Sense keeps track of how much data you've used and which apps are hogging the most data. As you would expect, the Storage and Battery Senses let you more easily keep tabs on these mobile resources. The Wi-Fi Sense is the most unique. It can automatically connect to free Wi-Fi hotspots and automates the nagging step of having to OK the hotspots TOS.

6. Mobile Device Management

Windows Phone 8.1 has built-in support for MDM tools, such as Windows Intune, MobileIron, Citrix, SAP and Sophos. The baked-in MDM support extends to configuration policies around email or Office 365 accounts, certificates for user authentication, VPN, and Wi-Fi profiles and apps.

7. Calendar

Microsoft gives Calendar a much-needed update, now allowing you to swipe through dates left to right along with adding one-week views. Small weather icons populate the dates. Also, Cortana integrates with calendar so you can schedule events through voice commands.

8. Internet Explorer 11

The mobile version of Internet Explorer 11 heads to Windows Phone 8.1, adding HTML improvements such as in-line video playback and adaptive bit-rate streaming. The addition of IE 11 also adds InPrivate tabs, password caching and a new Reading View mode.

9. Customization

Microsoft clearly spent time adding personalization tools that allow you to do things such as deeper customization options for home screens. Now you can add more tiles, customize images or customize the colors of live tiles. The lock-screen also can be customized with a host of new lock-screen themes that include images along with animations. The start screen allows three columns of tiles instead of two.

10. Swype-ish Keyboard

Microsoft also steals a page from Android and Apple with a Swype-like keyboard that can predict what you're typing based on swiping gestures on the touch screen. Microsoft's previous default keyboard used predictive technology just on individual key taps.

11. Security

For enterprise customers, Windows Phone 8.1 can utilize MDM remote business data removal to protect data if a device is lost or stolen, implements secure and trusted boot, and sandboxes apps to better protect you from malware and rootkits.