The Windows Phone 8.1 preview is already on the receiving end of updates, as programmers eagerly anticipate the features and capabilities it will offer when it goes into wide release. First debuted on April 14, the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers was installed on more than 1.5 million devices in its first week, according to Windows Phone Central. The expected release date is unconfirmed; Windows Phone expected the updates to roll out on May 31, while PCWorld's Mark Hachman wrote that June 24 is the stated release date, according to a Windows Phone support page. Of course, it will still depend on the carriers.
However, Microsoft recently released updates to Windows Phone 8.1, in a move that TechRadar contributor Michelle Fitzsimmons wrote could be a positive sign of monthly upgrades to come. While Microsoft didn't specify the exact nature of the features involved in the update, The Next Web contributor Emil Protalinski wrote that it appears to target bug fixes and improvements to battery life.
On the Windows Phone blog, chief blogger Brandon LeBlanc expressed excitement about the debut of Windows Phone 8.1 and praised the "direct feedback loop," a Preview for Developers feature that promotes direct engagement between the user community and the Windows Phone development team.
"We've had an amazing response to the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers we began delivering one month ago today," he wrote. "Developers (and enthusiasts) have been putting the software through its paces and giving us great feedback. People are loving the new features like Cortana, Action Center and the Word Flow keyboard with shape writing. We've managed to make the world's most personal smartphone even better, and folks are pretty stoked."
New features released on Windows Phone 8.1 included pull-down notifications and tools to better manage Wi-Fi and battery life, along with Internet Explorer 11, reported Hachman. The biggest splash, though, was Cortana, a digital assistant that aims to make Apple's Siri and Google Now look simple by comparison.
What will Windows Phone 8.1 mean for developers?
Until Windows Phone 8.1 goes into wide release and sees significant enterprise adoption, programmers can sit tight. Once it deploys, however, there could be some significant changes for developers working on mobile or cross-platform applications. Most notably, it seems that Windows Phone 8.1 will have a major impact on interoperability. Visual Studio Magazine contributor Nick Randolph wrote that the new update is much more than just a logical next step in the third-generation mobile operating system, originally released in October 2012. Calling it "a giant leap forward for convergence," Randolph highlighted the emergence of Windows XAML as a programming model as the basis for compelling changes to the Windows Phone development process.
"Prior to Windows Phone 8.1, if you wanted to write applications using XAML and C#, you used a programming model based on Silverlight," Randolph wrote. "As part of the new convergence story, you can now use Windows XAML, which is compatible with the model used for creating Windows Store apps. Recognizing the investment developers have already put into Windows Phone Silverlight applications, Microsoft ensured they could leverage some of the new platform features without having to re-write applications into Windows XAML."
Developers will now have three choices for Windows Phone 8.1 application development, Randolph noted: Windows Phone Windows XAML, Windows Phone 8.0 Silverlight and Windows Phone 8.1 Silverlight. The process of migrating a Windows Phone 8.0 Silverlight application to the upgraded platform is also designed to be simple. The application must be re-targeted to the new platform, but Microsoft helpfully provided a shortcut, "Retarget," through Visual Studio. This will make Windows Phone and Windows applications compatible, allowing more sharing of code and markup files across projects.