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Windows Phone 8.1 Update Release Date and Features

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With the Windows Phone, Microsoft has attempted to enter the smartphone market, and even the playing field with competitors Google and Apple.

However, the mobile platform seems to be a failure so far, with Nokia, the main manufacturer of Windows Phone devices, reporting a loss of $34 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013. Currently, Windows Phones run on a version Windows 8, and much like on laptops, desktops, and tablets, the operating system has not been successful. Struggling from a lack of apps, compatibility issues, and an overall low number of features, there are a number of things limiting the Windows Phone. Looking to fix these issues and turn a profit, Microsoft is releasing a new update to the platform based on their 8.1 operating system, which has solved a number of problems for their computers.

A number of changes are rumored for the new update, including better thumbnail display for Windows Phone Apps, and multiple updates to the Metro-interface. One aspect clearly lacking in the current Windows Phone release is a notification center, something prominently displayed and used in both Android and iOS devices. With no easy way to see new messages and events, those loyal to Microsoft’s phones have been frustrated for a long time, but it looks that this will finally change with the update to the 8.1 operating system. In addition to this, Microsoft will be giving users more customization for audio and visual settings, and could potentially even add the beloved start menu of desktop OS’s prior to Windows 8. Finally, a new system known as “Cortana” may allow Microsoft to edge out Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S-Voice interactive assistants. Cortana will likely be extremely advanced, and allow control of weather, the calendar, and more. Currently, many of these rumors are unconfirmed, but seem likely enough, especially if Microsoft wants to be competitive.

Windows 8 has been far from good to Microsoft, but has allowed for a consistent experience across the board. Users can expect the same operating system on their laptop, their desktop, their tablet, and even their phone, with an eerily similar interface also found on the Xbox One, Microsoft’s relatively popular next generation gaming console. Despite this, the operating system also struggled from an identity crisis, with a tiled Metro interface designed for tablets like the Surface 2 conflicting greatly with the traditional desktop that most users were familiar with. On top of this, most programs were designed for the desktop system, and the release of an App Store for Metro programs provided another source of conflict; apps were slow, unresponsive, or even failed to load, making consumers unhappy.

Windows 8 on the Windows Phone had a similar issue. There is no completed Instagram app, no Vine. Users were unable to interact with their friends how they wanted to. When Nokia released their Lumia 1020, with a whopping 41-megapixel camera, there was no Instagram App for consumers to post their high-quality pictures with. It almost seems that the devices were planned too far ahead, and the necessary software was far behind the hardware.

Fortunately, there is light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. It is expected that the Windows Phone 8.1 update will be released on or near March 11th, leaving just over a month left before the problematic operating system currently in use can be phased out. But for the 8.1 update to be even a remote success, it will have to live up to all of the hype, giving Microsoft a difficult task. With Windows 9 getting closer to launch for desktop systems, it will be interesting to see how many of the expected features come true. As it looks, 8.1 will be a push for US success, and Windows 9 will seal the deal, giving Microsoft the share of the market it needs for survival.

Windows Phone 8 hasn’t been all bad, with the total number of sales increasing over 2012, and the operating system has finally secured its place in the top 3 mobile systems, a fate that cannot be said for competitor Blackberry, which has seen sales (and stocks) plummet since the smartphone became standard. In fact, in South America and parts of Asia, and even a few European countries, the Windows Phone has outsold the iPhone. In 24 countries, from Chile, to India, to Finland, to the United Arab Emirates, Microsoft has hit a patch of luck. In 14 countries, Windows Phone is the second most popular mobile operating system, and this number is only likely to grow as time passes.

So will Windows Phone 8.1 live up to the high expectations that consumers and technology reporters have set? Only time will tell. For the problems of the past to subside, Microsoft needs to patch issues, get developer support, and make sure that the operating system they release will have clear advantages over competing software.