Building toward One Microsoft, all the time
Although Windows and Windows Phone now have more in common than ever, Microsoft still hasn't quite nailed the "one Microsoft" experience that it's been aiming for. Spend enough time with these two operating systems, and chances are you'll be longing for features that are available on one, but not the other.
Cortana and voice dictation
In Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft stepped up its voice command efforts with Cortana, a virtual assistant that can answer questions, give directions, set reminders, and help you plan your day. Meanwhile, Windows 8.1 lacks even the most basic voice dictation capabilities, except as an accessibility feature. At the very least, we'd love to see a microphone button in the Windows 8.1 virtual keyboard (plus a keyboard shortcut for physical keyboard users), though we suspect Cortana will make her way over to tablets and laptops in due time.
Live Tiles are no substitute for a proper notification bar, where you can review all the important messages and alerts you've missed. In Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft wised up and added Action Center, accessible by swiping down from the top of the screen. In Windows 8.1, you're still stuck in notification limbo, as any pop-ups you miss simply vanish into the ether. If Microsoft were to add a full-blown notification list to Windows, the existing charms bar would be a good place to park it.
In Windows Phone 8, Microsoft introduced Kids Corner, a special sign-in option that lets parents white-list the apps and content their kids can use. That kind of feature seems even more at home on tablets, so it's surprising that Kids Corner hasn't made its way to Windows proper. While Windows users can create separate profiles for their children, limiting what they can do is a lot more complicated.
Lock screen apps
Windows Phone users don't have to see the same old image every time they turn on their handsets. Instead, they can choose an app to show information on the lock screen, such as photos from Facebook and the current forecast from the Weather app. A similar feature could help liven up the lock screen on Windows tablets and PCs.
Wi-Fi Sense is one of the new features in Windows Phone 8.1. It automatically signs users into nearby public Wi-Fi hotspots, skipping the usual sign-in screens that you usually have to wade through. As useful as this is on smartphones, it'd be even better for tablets and laptops that don't have mobile data to fall back on. It seems like a shoo-in feature for a future version of Windows.
Word Flow keyboard
As anyone who's used Swype or a similar gesture keyboard knows, it's hard to go back to tap-based typing once you've gotten used to swiping. Now that Windows Phone 8.1 includes a “Word Flow” gesture keyboard of its own, using the standard software keyboard in Windows 8.1 seems like a big downgrade. Word Flow should be on Microsoft's to-do list for future Windows tablets, pronto.
Now, onto the Windows features that could make Windows Phone even better.
One of the best features in Windows 8.1 is Snap view, which lets you run several apps side-by-side. While this may not be as crucial for smartphones, Snap view could still turn extra-large phones like the Lumia 1520 into productivity powerhouses—for instance, by running Office while referencing an e-mail.
Picture password has been part of Windows 8 since the beginning, letting you unlock your device by drawing a pattern within a photo of your choosing. This feature seems perfect for smartphones, where you probably have plenty of good photos to choose from. Hopefully Picture Password makes the leap to Windows Phone as the two platforms converge.
Ability to set default apps
Windows 8 may not look like previous versions, but it stays true to its roots in one significant way: If you don't like the built-in apps for things like e-mail, web browsing and photos, you can set a different app as the default. Windows Phone has plenty of apps that can stand in for Microsoft's built-in ones—including Simple Calendar and MetroMail—so it'd be nice to be able to set those as the default.
Deeper OneDrive integration
OneDrive integration is a wonderful thing on Windows 8.1, as it lets any app save to the cloud by default. Windows Phone's use of OneDrive is much more limited: You can still sync your camera photos and Office files to the cloud, but it's much harder to save and load other file types—such as ZIP files, TXT files, and PDF documents—directly from third-party apps. If Microsoft offered the same deep OneDrive integration across Windows and Windows Phone, it'd go a long way toward unifying the two platforms.
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