Windows Phone 8.1 Update brings Cortana to new markets + new features

Back in April, you heard me talk about how we believe Windows Phone 8.1 is the world’s most personal smartphonebecause of features like highly personal Live Tiles on your Start screen and the world’s first truly personal digital assistant. Today I am in China to talk about how we’re continuing this vision in the very first update to Windows Phone 8.1, which we’re making available in preview form for developers next week. This update has some great new features for everyone around the world, and in particular we also included some that were completely customized for and by people in China. I’m going to tell you about a couple of the new features in this update.

Cortana:

We have been thrilled by the excitement around Cortana in Windows Phone 8.1. And we’re excited to make her available for people in China and the UK with this update as a “beta” and in Canada, India, and Australia as an “alpha”.

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The huge Chinese market has a bunch of different expectations and needs than the US or other countries—so while Cortana (nicknamed “Xiao Na”) generally works the same way in China as the US and the rest of the world, China did get some “special features”. As you’d expect, in her notebook, she displays what she is tracking for you, so you can see and control it. You can set reminders and quiet hours with her. She understands the whole internet so she readily helps you find anything you need. But our team in Microsoft China developed a number of additional features specifically for China. She has an alternative form which has a different visual appearance, animations, and sounds. She supports Chinese (Mandarin) in voice, text, and speech. She also has specialized suggestions tuned specifically for people living in China, like air quality information in weather cards, information about driving restrictions, and the ability to track local TV shows and celebrities. She can look up English words in the Bing Dictionary for people looking to brush up on their English.

Of course fitting a local-market isn’t specific to China! For the UK, Cortana has been tailored to support UK spellings and pronunciations and Bing-provided local data on sports teams (for the EPL), the London Stock Exchange, commuter conditions, and more. The voice and accent is, of course, local, and Cortana’s personality in the UK has also been tweaked to be more locally relevant.

We’re also bringing some improvements for Cortana in the U.S., including new natural language scenarios, snooze times for reminders, and a number of neat additions to her personality (try asking “do an impersonation” and see what happens). We’ve also added the ability to invoke Cortana hands-free in your car for phones connected to car Bluetooth kits that are integrated with your contacts list. If your car kit is integrated with your contacts, you can now treat Cortana as a contact to invoke her, simply saying “Call Cortana” and then talking to her as you normally would.

We know there has been a lot of enthusiasm about Cortana in many other markets, and we wanted to give more people the ability to start using Cortana. Therefore, we’re also starting a new “alpha” program in three countries: Canada, India, and Australia. This early adopter program will be opt-in and give people the ability to try Cortana using English language models from the US and the UK.

Live Folders:

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You asked for it! You can now organize your apps into folders on your Start screen! We call this Live Folders because the live tiles of apps appear in the tile of the folders—you won’t miss tile updates because you group apps in a folder! To create a Live Folder, just drag a tile over another tile and then name the folder. Open the folder to change the folder name and arrange and size the tiles however you want.

Xbox Music: Faster and with more features

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The Xbox Music app has been updated to deliver much better performance in areas like app load and list scrolling. It’s also brought back features that were missing in the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers. From background sync of your collection, to swipe to advance, the product has been continually adding features in every two weeks for the past few months. And in the coming month, there will be a “quickplay” of recent playback activities, and support for Kids Corner. Some of these features/improvements are already there in the latest Xbox Music app with the Windows Phone 8.1 release, but some (Live Tile in particular) are specific to the Windows Phone 8.1 Update. More to come!

Store Live Tile:

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We made it easier for you to see the latest info about the latest apps and games available in the Windows Phone Store through its Live Tile. If you have the Store pinned to your Start screen on your device, you’ll get updates on the newest titles – refreshed every 6 hours – streamed dynamically to you throughout your day.

SMS merge & forwarding:

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We have added the ability to select multiple SMS messages for deletion and forwarding, making it easier to manage your text messages.

Apps Corner:

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With Apps Corner, you can specify which apps are displayed in a special “sandboxed” mode (like a protected Start screen) that restricts which apps are used. This feature is for businesses so they can allow access to select apps in cases where a full MDM solution isn’t required. Apps Corner can also be used to boot straight to an app. An example of where this scenario would come in handy might be with employees at a distribution center using Windows Phone devices that go straight into an inventory app they use to scan products in the warehouse when they turn on their phone. Apps Corner can also be used to setup retail demos. Retailers can export the profile of Apps Corner on one device and import it on to other devices. And developers can get data on usage from inside Apps Corner too.

Enhanced privacy and security:

We’ve made some improvements in the Windows Phone 8.1 Update to keep your data and identity more protected on public networks. For example, we have added the ability for you to send and receive data through a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots giving you another layer of protection. If you’re on your home wireless, creating a VPN provides anonymity to help shield your device from being identified by other devices on the network.

When can I get the Windows Phone 8.1 Update?

If you’re already on the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers then this update should be rolling out next week. The Windows Phone 8.1 Update will roll out to consumers with devices running Windows Phone 8.1 in the coming months. As always, keep sending us your feedback here on UserVoice! Enjoy the update!

Google I/O 2014 App Source Code Now Available


By Bruno Oliveira, Tech Lead of the I/O app project

The source code for the 2014 version of the Google I/O app is now available. Since its first release on Google Play a few weeks before the conference, the I/O app was downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people, including on-site attendees, I/O Extended event participants and users tuning in from home. If one of the goals of the app is to be useful to conference attendees, the other primary goal is to serve as a practical example of best practices for Android app design and development.

In addition to showing how to implement a wide variety of features that are useful for most Android apps, such as Fragments, Loaders, Services, Broadcast Receivers, alarms, notifications, SQLite databases, Content Providers, Action Bar and the Navigation Drawer, the I/O app source code also shows how to integrate with several Google products and services, from the Google Drive API to Google Cloud Messaging. It uses the material design approach, the Android L Preview APIs and full Android Wear integration with a packaged wearable app for sending session feedback.

To simplify the process of reusing and customizing the source code to build apps for other conferences, we rewrote the entire sync adapter to work with plain JSON files instead of requiring a server with a specific API. These files can be hosted on any web server of the developer’s choice, and their format is fully documented.

Storing and syncing the user’s data (that is, the personalized schedule) is crucial part of the app. The source code shows how user data can be stored in the Application Data folder of the user’s own Google Drive account and kept in sync across multiple devices, and how to use Google Cloud Messaging to trigger syncs when necessary to ensure the data is always fresh.

The project includes the source code to the App Engine app that can be reused to send GCM messages to devices to trigger syncs, as well as a module (called Updater) that can be adapted to read conference data from other backends to produce the JSON files that are consumed by the I/O app.

We are excited to share this source code with the developer community today, and we hope it will serve as a learning tool, a source of reusable snippets and a useful example of Android app development in general. In the coming weeks we will post a few technical articles with more detailed information about the IOSched source code to help bring some insight into the app development process. We will continue to update the app in the coming months, and as always, your pull requests are very welcome!

Facebook Messenger for Windows Phone gets Video recording and playback

Facebook has released an update for their Messenger app for Windows Phone that brings a few new features I think you will enjoy. This update introduces video recording and video playback so that you can send video messages and watch received videos directly within the app. A new sticker tab is also being introduced that shows recent stickers, as well as some sticker improvements to help save bandwidth. If you already have Messenger installed, you should begin seeing the update soon.

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Don’t have Messenger installed? You can download it here for free from the Windows Phone Store!

Cortana now shows local recommendations from Foursquare

One of the benefits of Cortana is that we can make updates behind-the-scenes on the servers that light up new capabilities without the need for a software update. We added the ability for Cortana to predict the winners in popular soccer matches in Brazil courtesy of Bing magic earlier this month. Starting today, Cortana will now proactively showcase local recommendations from Foursquare on devices running Windows Phone 8.1 in the U.S. To turn this on, go to Cortana’s Notebook and then Interests and look for “best nearby” and then toggle this option to “ON”.

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How this works is that Cortana talks to the Foursquare service in the cloud and gets the best recommendations for your location and time of day. If a particular interest catches your eye, you can click on it and Cortana will open up that location in the Foursquare app. W00t! If you don’t have the Foursquare app installed (you can install it here!) then it’ll take you to the Foursquare web experience.

This is another example of Bing magic at play. For more, read this blog post from the Bing Blog.

Grow with Google Play: Scaled Publishing and New App Insights

By Kobi Glick, Google Play team

If you’re growing your business on Google Play, the Google Play Developer Console is one of the most important tools at your disposal. At Google I/O, we introduced a number of new changes that give you valuable insight into how your app is performing. Here’s an overview of some of the improvements you can now take advantage of.

Publishing API for scaling your app operations

Today we’re happy to announce that the Google Play Developer Publishing API is now available to all developers. The API will let you upload APKs to Beta testing, Staged rollout and Production, and integrate publishing operations with your release processes and toolchain. The Publishing API also makes it easier for you to manage your in-app products catalog, provide tablet-specific screenshots, and localize your store listing text and graphics. The Publishing API will help you focus on your core business, with less time managing your releases, even as your business grows to more apps and markets.

Actionable insights at the right time

Email notifications for alerts

Recently, we added Alerts in the Developer Console to let you know when there are sudden changes in important stats like app installs, ratings, and crashes. You can now turn on email notifications for Alerts so that, even while you’re not in the Developer Console, you’ll be informed of relevant events before they can have a broader effect on your app. You can turn on email notifications for one or more of your apps under Email Preferences in the Developer Console settings.

New Optimization Tips

You’ll now see new Optimization Tips with instructions when we detect opportunities to improve your app. For example, we’ll let you know when updated versions of APIs you use are available — such as new Google Play in-app billing or Google Maps APIs. For games developers, we’ll also surface opportunities to use Google Play game services that can help improve users’ gaming experience and drive engagement. To see what tips we suggest for you, go to your app in the Developer Console and click on Optimization Tips.

Better data to inform your business decisions

Enhanced revenue statistics

To help you better understand your commercial success, we’ve enhanced revenue statistics in the Finance section of the Developer Console. We now let you see the average revenue per paying user (ARPPU) and give you more ways to analyse buyer data, such as comparing returning buyers (i.e., those who also made purchases in the past) to new buyers.

Bulk export of reviews

You can already engage with your users by reading and replying to reviews in the Developer Console and we’ve now added bulk export of reviews so you can download and analyze your app’s reviews en masse. This is particularly useful if you receive a large volume of reviews and want to perform your own sentiment analysis.

Improved stats for beta releases and staged rollouts

Since last year’s launch, you’ve used beta testing to release alpha and beta versions of your app, and staged rollout to gradually launch your app to production. To help you make the most of this feature, we’re now improving the way alpha, beta and staged rollout specific stats are displayed. When viewing your app and crash statistics you can now filter the app version by alpha, beta, or staged rollout to better understand the impact of your testing.

Improved reporting of native crashes

If you develop in native code, we’ve improved the reporting and presentation specifically for native crashes, with better grouping of similar crashes and summarizing of relevant information.

Deep-linking to help drive engagement

Finally, we’ve also added website verification in the Developer Console, to enable deep-linking to your app from search results. Deep-linking helps remind users about the apps they already have. It is available through search for all apps that implement app indexing. For example, if a user with the Walmart Android app searches for “Chromecast where to buy”, they’ll go directly to the Chromecast page in the Walmart app. The new App Indexing API is now open to all Android developers, globally. Get started now.

We hope you find these features useful and take advantage of them so that you can continue to grow your user base and improve your users’ experience. If you’re interested in some other great tools for distributing your apps, check out this blog post, or any of the sessions which have now been posted to the Google Developers Channel.

Fitbit arrives for Windows Phone 8.1!

Fitbit is launching their native app for Windows Phone 8.1 today that brings direct mobile syncing (via Bluetooth 4.0). Devices running Windows Phone 8.1 will now have instant access to up-to-date stats from Fitbit’s wireless activity trackers like the Flex, One and Zip. Fitbit’s wireless activity trackers track health and fitness metrics like steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, active minutes, floors climbed and sleep quality. With their wireless activity trackers, Fitbit wants to inspire people to lead healthier and more active lives. I am nearing my two-year mark as a Fitbit user so I’m pretty excited about their app!

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The Fitbit app features a Live Tile when pinned to your Start screen giving you all the up-to-date information and notifications at a glance. You’ll see things like steps taken and how much more is needed to meet your daily goal for example. All without having to open the app. In addition to direct mobile syncing, you’ll be able to quickly log fitness and nutrition data and set or manage personal goals directly from the app. And you’ll also be able to see how you stack up against your friends on the leaderboard and cheer (or taunt) them by direct messaging them from the app.

Here is a list of what is included in the Fitbit app for Windows Phone 8.1 today:

  • Real-time stats: Automatic and wireless syncing for all Fitbit activity and sleep trackers through Bluetooth 4.0
  • Fitbit on your Start screen: Pin the Fitbit Live Tile to your Start screen and quickly view your step count
  • Stay on track: Real-time and historical stats in easy-to-understand graphs, to help track progress and set goals
  • Log more than activity: Recently enhanced food database of more than 350,000 foods with accurate nutritional data for faster, better food-logging and calorie coaching
  • Get motivated: Fitbit’s motivational social tools like notifications and badges, to help reach target goals
  • Stay social: Ability to challenge friends and family with leaderboards, direct messages, cheers and taunts

You can download the Fitbit app today for free from the Windows Phone Store and start syncing your Fitbit wireless activity tracker. Click here to read on getting started with their app for Windows Phone 8.1.

Don’t have a Fitbit wireless activity tracker? You can pick one up from Fitbit.com or the Microsoft Store.

Please note: Fitbit currently supports Microsoft Nokia Lumia devices running Windows Phone 8.1 with the Lumia Cyan firmware. You can check their supported device page for the most up-to-date list of compatible devices as they expand compatibility to additional devices in the Windows Phone ecosystem.

Uber now available on Windows Phone!

Uber, the popular technology platform that connects users with safe, reliable and seamless transportation announced their official Windows Phone app earlier today. Uber for Windows Phone is a fast, full-featured native app that makes ordering your next ride super easy. The app works on all Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices, is free, and is available for immediate download in the Windows Phone Store.

We welcome Uber to our fast-growing Windows Phone ecosystem. Now with Uber on Windows Phone, our users will have a seamless ride at the touch of a button.