On the heels of Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft has released the latest update to its mobile OS. Currently available to download for users as part of the free-to-join Preview for Developers program, Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 includes some minor but important enhancements. Here's a look at what to expect.

Microsoft has said that the update will roll out to consumers with devices running Windows Phone 8.1 in the coming months, but we've already taken it for a spin.

Live tile folders

Android and iOS devices have had the ability to group apps together by creating folders for several years now and Windows Phone is finally joining the party, but with a bit of a twist. The folders continue with Microsoft's live tile approach, so you will see updates from each app you put in a folder.

Putting apps in folders is just like adding apps to create folders in iOS and (some) Android launchers. Just tap and drag an app to another app to create a folder and then you'll be able to name it. The folder will display a grid of mini app icons, and when you tap it, you can easily access the app you want. You can also resize the app tiles inside the folder once it's expanded. For example, in the screenshot below I created a music folder and you can see both the live tile view and the larger view once the live tile is opened.

Apps Corner

Apps Corner is a restricted access mode that's designed to provide access to selected apps on your phone if you let someone borrow it. The person who borrows your phone will get a customized Start screen with access to only the apps you selected. This is a good solution for businesses and can work as a sort of kiosk mode to prevent users from accessing certain functions. It's also similar to another Windows Phone feature called Kids Corner that gives your children access to only specific games and apps you choose. To use it go to Settings > apps corner and tap Apps. Then select the apps you want to be available.

To get out of Apps Corner, hold the power button down for about a second and you'll see the following screen. You can either power the phone off or swipe to the right to exit Apps Corner. Make sure you have a Lock Screen password set, because the other person using the phone has access to this too. But they will need your code to get out of it.

Xbox Music improved

Xbox Music has improved quite a bit across all platforms over the past few years. Unfortunately, when Windows 8.1 was launched, it was painfully slow and crashed a lot. Microsoft heard the user complaints and admitted the app was broken. Now with the Windows Phone 8.1 update, you should notice several improvements and bug fixes, along with a snappier interface. The company also said new features will be added regularly, with "now playing" on the music live tile set to appear in the not-too-distant future.

Windows Store live tile

Now when you have the Windows Store tile set to the medium size, it will be "live" and display new apps, recommendations, the app of the day and more. The screenshot below shows two different games that are being featured via the Store's live tile. While this isn't a huge deal, it is further evidence that Microsoft is tightening up its mobile OS.

Improvements to SMS

Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 allows you to select multiple SMS messages to delete or forward all in one action. It will be available in built-in apps as well as more places like the Phone app call log. You can get to it in a messaging app by selecting more options, tapping "select messages" and checking the ones you want to delete or forward on.

Other notable improvements

  • The update will also see changes to Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone, which at the moment isn't the most enjoyable mobile browser to use. As most mobile sites are designed for Safari in iOS, Microsoft is introducing browser detection, which will automatically present the site as it would appear in Safari on iOS. Other improvements include updated support of HTML 4, interoperability fixes, support for non-standard proprietary features and more.
  • New native screen resolutions will also be available, including 960 x 540 and 1280 x 800, which will improve the appearance on larger devices with 7-inch screens.
  • Microsoft's mobile digital assistant, Cortana, which was previously only available in the US, will be extended to more countries, including China, Australia, India, UK, Canada and others.
  • High voltage charging that will support faster phone charging via the Qualcomm Quickcharge 2.0 standard.
  • Bluetooth notifications have been added that will allow your phone to communicate with wearable devices like smartwatches, fitness trackers, etc.

How to test-drive Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 yourself

if you don't want to wait for your carrier to send it your way, you too can take the update for a spin right now.

Joining the Preview for Developers program is free, and only takes a few minutes to sign up for. Not only do you get Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, but also all future updates well before the general public. Do keep in mind that some of the updates might be unstable, and that by joining the program, you can potentially void your phone's warranty.

Once you've signed up for the developers' program, you can get the update by going to Settings > Phone Update > Check for Updates. Then follow the onscreen instructions to download and install it.

Onwards and upwards

Microsoft seems to be rolling out updates on a more regular schedule than it has in the past for both its mobile OS and desktop operating system. While some of the new features included in Windows Phone have been around for a long time in iOS and Android, they are welcome additions for Windows Phone owners. If you're new to Windows Phone or are thinking of jumping to the platform, with Windows Phone 8.1 and now Update 1, the OS has matured in a quick fashion.

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