For all its polish, Windows Phone still lags the competition in certain features that seem obvious to include. Windows Phone 8.1, set for a public reveal at Microsoft’s Build conference in April, brings two iOS and Android standards to the Windows Phone quiver, including a Notification Center and a smart personal assistant.
Sources familiar with the unreleased update for Microsoft’s mobile operating system told The Verge that we’ll see a Siri-style personal assistant introduced, codenamed “Cortana,” (nice Halo ref, Redmond) and also a notification center that collects all your notices in one place. There’s also potentially going to be a move away from hardware keys and to on-screen soft keys, similar to the move made by Android in recent versions.
Cortana was a known quantity previously, or at least a frequently leaked one, though the latest report confirms when it’ll make its first official appearance. Other things are also being added including VPN support, separate volume control for different types of things like calls and music, and more depending on different devices from different companies. But there’s a fairly common thread here: most of these are what I’d consider table stakes for a mobile OS at this point.
It’s true that Windows Phone offers some things that the other players in the space don’t (I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but they’re there), but a lot of the work left to do is just making sure that anyone coming from another platform will be comfortable with what they find when and if they switch from either Android or iOS. There are expectations out there now about what you get with a smartphone, and those expectations are growing as Apple and Google raise to impress and win more of that top half of the market.
Of course, it’s possible to trail in feature-richness but then lead in execution once you do get the stuff out there, and Microsoft could implement a notification repository and digital assistant that blow away their equivalents on iOS and Android. But it’s hard to see that happening given the current state of mobile affairs. Still, Microsoft might just need to call in order to earn that third spot at the table permanently, especially if its plan of attack on the low end of the market works out.