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Rumored Windows Phone 8.1 Details Surface

While Microsoft is prepping for the release of Windows 8.1 next week for Windows 8 and Windows RT, details on whether or not the company's smartphone OS will also be receiving a refresh on the same scale has been scarce until this week.

Windows SuperSite editor Paul Thurrott said in an online post that an anonymous source inside Microsoft has confirmed that Windows Phone 8 will be receiving the 8.1 update, currently code-named "Blue," sometime in 2014 and will aim at increasing the developer popularity of the mobile platform.

According to Thurrott, Windows Phone 8.1 will feature:

  • Universal binaries: This would allow developers to create apps that would run on both Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT. Thurrott said that Windows Phone 8 currently has a 33 percent application programming interface unity with Windows RT and the goal with Windows Phone 8.1 is to bring that up to 77 percent.
  • Support for bigger screens: The new phone update is rumored to increase support from 5- to 6-inch screens to 7- to 10-inch screens.
  • Back button removal: New hardware designed for Windows 8.1 will remove the back button due to it being a  feature Thurrott said "just doesn't make sense." Instead, users will be able to leave an app by pressing the Start button.

Along with the changes, Turrott said that Microsoft wants to position the next generation of Windows Phone devices as high-end devices to directly compete with Apple's smartphone. "Obviously, they're not going to walk away from market share gains, but low-end phones have technical limitations that harm the platform's forward progress," said Thurrott. "And this is what sank Windows PC sales when the netbook arrived. The push to 1080p screens and bigger devices will determine whether Windows Phone can break out of this mold."

Many Microsoft watchers, including Redmond magazine and ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley views the rumored Windows Phone 8.1 updates as a chance for Microsoft to continue its push to unify Windows tablet, smartphone and desktop OSes into one unifying ecosystem.

"I'm thinking this could mean Microsoft ends up dropping the Windows RT name and instead goes for a single unified OS brand across devices," said Foley in a recent ZDNet column. "Whether this ultimately is called 'Windows Phone OS' or just 'Windows' (or something else all together) will be interesting to see. Whatever it's called, this branded OS should, I'd think, work on ARM-based phones and ARM-based tablets."

While a more specific date besides sometime next year was not given for the mobile OS refresh, the rumored Windows Phone 8.1 plans does not interfere with the already planned General Distribution Release 3 (GDR3) of Windows Phone 8. While Microsoft has also not provided many details on the next Windows Phone 8 update, a leaked changelog discovered by Windows Phone Central surfaced online this week and Microsoft is expected to make an announcement on Windows Phone 8 GDR3 later this month.

The last update, GDR2, has been rolling out to Windows Phone 8 users since around late July.

Microsoft has declined to officially comment on either the Windows Phone 8.1 or the Windows Phone 8 GDR3 rumors.

About the Author

Chris Paoli is the site producer for Redmondmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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