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Microsoft executives gathered at the Build Conference in San Francisco to show off Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1 and how the two fit into mobile-enabled work styles.
The company announced during the event's first keynote session that its new development model, Universal Windows Apps, makes it possible to code once and publish apps for Windows desktops, Windows smartphones, tablets and even the Xbox One, the company's latest version of its popular video game console. As demoed by the company, the apps render and function appropriately regardless of screen size or device form factor.
David Treadwell, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Operating System group, said that Universal Windows Apps along with presence of the Windows runtime in Windows Phone 8.1, makes his company "the first in the industry" to allow unified app development across PCs, smartphones and tablets. He added that Microsoft "streamlined every phase" of the process, suggesting that developers will be able to target different device classes without expending extra effort.
In a separate presentation, Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows and Windows Phone, reiterated that app developers can target Windows PCs, tablets and smartphones with "very little customization between those form factors." Microsoft envisions that business (and non-business) app experiences and workflows can be seamlessly carried across multiple device types.
Work can start on a PC, get tweaked on a smartphone and ultimately be finalized on a tablet. A familiar app experience can be carried across 4-inch screens all the way up to massive 82-inch touch displays, asserted Visser.
Joe Belfiore, Windows Phone vice president, also took the stage to preview "the world's most personal smartphone." Among the new user-friendly enhancements are a notification center, called Action Center, and more options to adjust the number home screen tiles on larger smartphones (5-inches and above) and set their backgrounds. Belfiore also showed off Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri.
Powered by Bing, Cortana (currently in beta) replaces the search function on Windows Phone. Besides fetching information from the Internet, users can issue natural language voice commands and have Cortana reschedule calendar appointments and interact with other apps. In an onstage demonstration, Cortana was used to dial a contact on the new upcoming Skype app for Windows Phone 8.1 in a show of the tech's ability to infuse other apps with a level of voice control.
The mobile OS also does a better job of supporting remote workers that require access to internal corporate networks.
Sticking with Microsoft's tradition of "respecting existing IT investments," Nick Hedderman, global product marketing manager, announced "support for enterprise VPN in Windows 8.1." He added that the feature won't be buried in the settings menu, but rather Microsoft "pinned VPN to the quick-action settings, easing the process of connecting to secure business networks.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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