Image Source: The Verge
Today, Microsoft announced some fairly compelling new options for Windows Phone today. Unsurprisingly, Windows Phone 8.1 was announced, alongside the long-rumored Cortana–Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now voice assistant software found on their smartphones. One of the major complaints Windows Phone users have dealt with since the launch of the first Windows Phone was the lack of a truly useful voice assistant. Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, has been found on the iPhone since the introduction of the iPhone 4S way back in 2011, while Google has used its own voice assistant baked into Android since 2012. This is technology that has been around quite a while, so Microsoft has some catching up to do.
While it is certainly a nice feature for Windows Phone to finally have some sort of voice assistant software, one could argue that Microsoft should have had this software ready to go two years ago in order to remain competitive with both Apple and Google. Apple’s Siri, although very sluggish at the early stages of its release to the public, has become a very nice way for one to interact with his phone in a way that was never before possible with smartphones in the past. The same goes for Google Now. Google Now has its own set of compelling features, such as cards for nearby attractions, sports scores, traffic information, and others. On devices such as the Moto X, the phone is always listening for the user to interact with Google Now. One can simply say, “Ok Google”, and Google Now will automatically launch and be at the user’s disposal.
Only time will tell how useful Cortana will turn out to be. It is definitely something to keep an eye on when the Windows Phone 8.1 becomes available to the public. (Especially for all you Star Trek fans out there).
The question is, however, is Microsoft too late to the game with the announcement of Cortana alongside WP 8.1? Android and iOS have had voice controls for years. No doubt, at launch Cortana will be full of bugs, as Siri and Google Now were. Keep in mind, also, that Cortana is still has a beta tag at the end of its name. Sure, Microsoft has the opportunity to build a truly great feature set to promote its WP 8.1 hardware, but is it enough to draw users away from iOS or Android? In my opinion, no. I do not see many people at all being willing to abandon Android or iOS in order to make the transition to the third-most popular operating system for the length of their two-year contract.
Another crucial part of smartphone software that is present in most platforms is some sort of a notification center. Often found on the top edge of smartphones, one will see no such thing in WP 8 or earlier versions. Well, Microsoft finally has a solution. Say hello to Action Center, their take on what a notification shade should be. This is a big improvement over previous WP versions because Action Center can be one central place the user can see all the notifications that need attention without being forced to scroll through all the Live Tiles in order to find notification information. If implemented correctly, this could be an excellent feature on WP 8.1.
Overall, this update was a good one. Nothing that was not expected from the numerous leaks tracing back months, but nonetheless, Microsoft has addressed many of the complaints that users have made known. Nothing truly innovative was announced, but it is a solid upgrade for the WP platform. But is it too little, too late? After waiting all this time to implement some of the critical features that other platforms have been using (with great success, by the way), will Windows Phone gain popularity in a smartphone market that is hotter than ever?
Windows Phone has a long way to go in order to knock off either Android or iOS for one of the top two slots in the smartphone market, but it is certainly going in the right direction. What do you think? Were you pleased with this new version of WP, or were you a bit disappointed as I was? Let me know what your thoughts are.