Android, iOS, Windows Phone. Each of these mobile platforms had to start somewhere, and none were anywhere near perfect on the first try. Fortunately, each OS gets better with every iteration until, at some point, it all just clicks. Arguably, Windows Phone just came of age with its latest update, version 8.1.
Even before today, Windows Phone only had a few big holes remaining and indeed, 8.1 appears to fill those gaps. In particular, the OS now has a fancy notification center in addition to those signature Live Tiles; the keyboard now allows for swipe gestures; and last but not least, it now has Cortana, a virtual assistant to take on Siri, Google Now and Samsung S Voice. The 8.1 update is a fairly significant one, and I got the opportunity to take it for a spin ahead of the official developer preview's launch. It may not be perfect yet, but it's clear Windows Phone has finally grown up.
Windows Phone included a search option from the beginning, and though it was useful at the time, rivals like Siri, S Voice and Google Now have quickly turned the tide, rendering Microsoft first "voice assistant" completely obsolete. Thankfully, the 8.1 update introduces a personal assistant named Cortana to help bring Windows Phone into the modern era.
Named after Master Chiefs trusty AI sidekick in Halo, Cortana is designed to help you do whatever you do on a phone. Think: scheduling appointments, alerting you to upcoming flights, telling you the weather, offering up directions, dictating messages, opening apps and adjusting settings. She even tells jokes and responds in humorous ways to (most) silly questions. Those are all givens these days, so let's instead move on to the more unusual things she can do.
First, much like a real-life assistant, Cortana has a notebook, which she uses to gather information about you. She learns about your dining preferences, travel needs, daily routine and news stories your keeping track of (I'm hooked on the hunt for MH370 right now, so Cortana keeps that front and center). Often, these things will even pop up on Cortana's Live Tile on the home screen.