In my first article of what to expect from Microsoft in 2014, I’ll gather my thoughts regarding the Windows Phone platform.
As we already know, there was no major update of WP platform in 2013. The last major update was WP8 in November 2012 and since then we have only seen minor updates called GDR1,2 and 3, or in Microsoft terms Update 1,2 and 3. These brought some small fixes and features asked by users + support for quad-core ad FullHD devices, but overall nothing breathtaking.
The year 2014 will be different. We can say almost for sure, that Microsoft will deliver the long awaited update with codename “Blue” and expected name Windows Phone 8.1. This update might be first mentioned on Mobile World Congress in February and maybe delivered as a beta version shortly after, or no later than after the BUILD 2014 conference in the early April 2014. Similarly to WP7.5 “Mango” that Microsoft delivered in 2011, WP8.1 should be available to all existing WP8 devices.
Beside WP8.1 we won’t see most likely anything new that year, maybe only some kind of GDR5 update filling the gaps and bugs in not yet fully polished WP8.1 RTM version.
What to expect in WP8.1 from user’s perspective?
This is my personal list of user features that we might expect in this update, sorted by my subjective probability.
- Availability to ALL current WP8 devices – 99%. It’s highly unlikely that Microsoft will reject this update to some devices
- Internet Explorer 11 – 95%. This is sure a thing, every major WP update brought updated version of IE. Beside new HTML5 features I’m quite interested here in highly requested new browser features like gesture navigation similar to Windows 8.1, password manager and sync, bookmark sync, WebGL support…
- Notification center – 90%. Long awaited feature, that is already present in current Android and iOS devices. Single place to check all built-in and 3rd party app notifications. From what I heard Microsoft actually plans deeper integration in WP8.1 with this feature – the possibility to respond to messages/events directly from Notification hub, not just plain log of events. There is clearly lot of place for Microsoft to do some inventions (or screw things up).
- Quick settings hub – 80%. The second most requested feature in WP. Again both Android and iOS has it one swipe from top/bottom and you can toggle there WiFi, Bluetooth, Alarm, Rotation lock, GPS… There is not much to say here, we all want something similar in WP, the only question here is whether this feature will look similar to current iOS/Android implementation, or more likely to Windows 8.1 Charms-like settings bar.
- Deeper OS and app synchronization + backup between devices – 75%. Right now the backup feature in WP8 is partially working. When switching from one WP8 device to another, the OS can migrate account settings, installed app and also message and call history few more features. That’s nice, but that’s not all we expect. In contrast with Windows 8.1, there is no tile layout synchronization and also no sync of application data. I really hope both these features will be available in WP8.1, so we can seamlessly migrate from one WP device to another without much hassle.
- File manager and better SD card support – 70%. Although the WP philosophy was always against direct file management in WP, this is right now the most wanted feature in WP8.1 on UserVoice page and I guess there is a high chance to see it implemented with native SkyDrive integration in WP8.1.
- VPN support – 70%. Nothing more to say here, we want it and it’s quite important especially for business usage.
- Automatic app updates – 70%. Just like it works in Windows 8.1, this should be simple to implement in WP8.1 as well.
- Multiple account support – 60%. Windows 8.1 and Android has it already, why not Windows Phone? I’m actually not sure about this feature. Microsoft said already, that instead of waiting for multi-user support we should rather use the Kid’s corner to limit access to certain apps to certain users. But who knows, this will be definitely nice addition to WP ecosystem.
- New tile sizes or types – 60%. WP7 had one tile size, Windows 8 two tile sizes, WP8 three tile sizes, Windows 8.1 four tile sizes, should we expect five tile sizes in WP8.1 to continue in this tile size battle? 🙂 My expectation here is four tile sizes with new large 4×4 tile to match Windows 8.1 sizes, but who knows, maybe we will see completely customizable tile sizes like 3×2, 4×1, or any rows/columns combination, similar to Android widget placing system (I hope not). Or what I have seen somewhere – interactive tiles with button for playing/pausing music, showing short news, weather on different places…
- New hardware types/requirements – 50%. There were already some rumors, that physical bottom buttons will be optional in WP8.1, maybe we will see even bolder design and-or factor type changes.
What to expect in WP8.1 from developer’s perspective?
Here comes my favorite part, what to expect in this update, if you are Windows Phone developer? There’s a lot on what we can look forward:
- Much larger shared Windows Runtime codebase with Windows 8.1 – 90%. WP8 right now shares subset of codebase with Windows 8, but this subset is not that large as we would like to have. Some WinRT methods or classes are even present in WP8 API, but throws NotImplementedException! My main hope for improvement in WP8.1 is to see much larger shared codebase between WP8.1 and Windows 8.1. Some of these shared APIs are discussed below.
- API for application data roaming/synchronization – 75%. Windows 8 API contains from the beginning the capability to roam app data and settings between app installations and instances. There is no such native equivalent in WP8 right now, but it is expected to see this implemented in WP8 as well. Plus, what might be even more interesting, if Microsoft adds the option to share/roam app data between WP8.1 and Windows 8.1 apps from the same author, but I won’t bet on this right now. If you don’t want to wait for this feature, you can use Azure Mobile Services for similar purpose right now!
- New Bluetooth 4.0 LE API and new NFC API – 75%. Better support of Bluetooth LE and improved NFC API is expected in WP8.1, not just because these are one of most wanted features on wpdev Uservoice.
- Improved Phone/SMS/Calendar API – 75%. I expect we will see some improvements in this area, but it will be still limited in a way.
- Deprecation of all XNA and Silverlight-specific APIs – 70%. With the ongoing Microsoft’s effort to move from XNA and Silverlight to WinRT we can probably expect that all XNA and most of Silverlight-specific classes will be deprecated, but not yet removed in WP8.1. But we will probably see complete departure of these API in Windows Phone 9 in 2015.
- New API for background app execution – 70%. Executing code on background was always really limited in WP7.5 or WP8. There were already some rumors that this will be improved in WP8.1 in a way. Here I’m a bit worried about the new API that we might see, because there is right now no such simple API for Windows 8.1 apps and I don’t want to see another different API for background code next to current WP and Windows 8 implementation.
- API to access Video library – 70%. In WP8 it’s still not possible to access videos in Video hub and create for instance video player app that can show custom subtitles over video. I have no idea why accessing videos is not allowed, maybe because of possible copyright issues, or because of possible performance problems? This will be nice improvement in WP8.1.
- GeoFencing and “Lockscreen Alarm” API – 70%. These two APIs are natively available in Windows 8.1, so it’s easy to implemented various GPS-triggered notifications and also to integrate custom Alarm app to be displayed on lock screen. This will be definitely nice to have in WP8.1.
- Larger Live Tile library and types – 70%. Windows 8.1 contains dozens of live tile templates. I see no reason to have only 3 types of live tiles in WP8.
- Databindable and fully managed AppBar – 60%. Yes please, it’s about time!
- Continuous merge of App/Store/In-app purchase model with Windows 8.x – 60%. As I noted in my talk on MS-fest about Tips, Tricks and hacks for WPdev, one of major issues when developing application both for Windows Phone and Windows 8 is completely different model for monetization, app types, in-app purchases, etc. I really hope Microsoft starts merging these changes into single common model really soon, preferably to the Windows 8 Store model, for the good of users and devs as well.
So that’s my outlook to Windows Phone user and dev features that I’d like to see in Windows Phone 8.1 in 2014. Let’s see in couple of months how accurate this list is/was.
Disclaimer – all these features are just my subjective notes I have either seen on various blog posts, heard from fellow developers “what should be really implemented” or I wish them myself. It’s probable, that the reality might be quite different.