Microsoft Talks Up Windows 8.1 Update, Lower PC Pricing

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WinLogo320A Microsoft official has confirmed that updates to Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8 will happen this spring, while corroborating that the Windows 8.1 update will include tweaks for non-touch PC users and lower pricing on Windows hardware going forward.

In a speech at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) on Sunday and a Microsoft blog post published the same day, Joe Belfiore, corporate VP of Windows Phone, also outlined new hardware initiatives around Windows Phone.

The announcements follow weeks of leaked builds of the Windows 8.1 update, revealing features like a new icon in the upper-left corner of Modern apps for splitting, minimizing, or closing the app; Power Down and Search tiles at the top right of the Modern screen; right-click contextual menus for tiles; and the ability to put icons for Windows Store apps on the desktop’s taskbar.

“We are making improvements to the user interface that will naturally bridge touch and desktop, especially for our mouse and keyboard users,” Belfiore wrote in his blog post.

“We have a number of targeted UI improvements that keep our highly satisfying touch experience intact, but that make the UI more familiar and more convenient for users with mouse/keyboard. Don’t worry, we still LOVE and BELIEVE IN touch… but you’ll like how much more smooth and convenient these changes make mouse and keyboard use!”

During his talk in Barcelona, Belfiore admitted that Windows 8’s full-screen Windows 8 titles can be disconcerting to users familiar with the traditional Windows user interface (UI). “People weren’t sure how to get out or how to get back,” he remarked.

In the blog, Belfiore also cited improvements for enterprise customers, including better Internet Explorer (IE) 8 compatibility in Windows 8’s IE 11. Many companies use custom web apps built around IE 8, and compatiblity problems have resulted in issues around HTML 5 support.

Lower Pricing on Windows Hardware

Beyond describing the tweaks to the Windows 8.1 OS, Belfiore also said that prices will be coming down on Windows hardware. “We’ll enable our partners to build lower cost hardware for a great Windows experience at highly competitive price points,” he wrote in the blog.

In both the speech and the blog, though, Belfiore steered clear of a recent unconfirmed report that Microsoft is cutting Windows OEM license costs by 70 percent.

However, the upcoming changes to the Windows UI should help to keep manufacturing costs down, because non-touch components are typically less expensive than their touch counterparts.

Belfiore also said in Barcelona that, with the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft will lower hardware requirements for OEMs, allowing them to build devices with as little as 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. With cheaper hardware, Microsoft could land in a better spot for competing against Android tablets, in particular.

Meanwhile, Intel and AMD recently announced plans to work with OEMs on producing “hybrid” PCs running both Windows and Android, although analysts are unconvinced that these dual-OS devices will get very far. “I think the hydrid devices will have very limited appeal to consumers. Consumers today have been looking to iOS or Android — and perhaps Chrome OS — because they want simplified, reliable experiences,” said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, in an interview with NotebookReview.

Windows Phone Initiatives

Also this week, Belfiore pointed to moves that might help Windows Phone in its ongoing struggles to gain more headway against Android and iOS.

“We are adding support for Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 and 400 series chipsets, with options that support all major cellular technologies, including LTE (TDD/FDD), HSPA+, EVDO and TD-SCMA. We will also support soft keys and dual SIM where our partners want it for their devices,” he wrote.”One nice benefit of these additions is that many hardware vendors will be able to use the same hardware for both Android and Windows Phone devices.”

During his speech in Barcelona, he also said that the Windows Phone update will remove the requirement for phones to include physical buttons, another measure that could make it easier for manufacturers to build less expensive devices.

The Windows Phone update will also bring improvements for enterprise customers in areas such as VPN, S/MIME, enterprise Wi-Fi, and extended mobile device management and certificate management,  according to the VP.

Belfiore also wrote that the update will “add key features for consumers,” although here, he did not elaborate. Windows Phone 8.1 has been rumored to include a new notifications center, along with a Siri-like personal assistant named Cortana.

Also this week, Microsoft announced a new Windows Hardware Partners Portal for smartphone makers, along with nine new Windows Phone hardware partners:  LG, Lenovo, Foxconn, Gionee, JSR, Karbonn, Lava (Xolo), Longcheer and ZTE.

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