Microsoft’s annual Build conference is under way and the big announcement for Windows Phone users was that of the impending roll out of Windows Phone 8.1, the first major update to the Microsoft’s mobile OS. Over the last few months we have seen glimpses of the new version of the OS in action with a host of changes that Microsoft is hoping will close the gap in user experience between its phones and those of its rivals running Android and iOS.

The first of the major updates is the addition of the ‘Action Center’, a notification centre that pulls down from the top of the screen just as it does in Android and iOS. It finally provides a single location where your app notifications reside until you’re ready to deal with them. Action Center solves one of our biggest gripes with the Windows Phone operating system which had forced us to keep a live tile for every app on the home screen lest we miss out on a notification. The Action Center also has a set of customisable buttons at the top that allow you to quickly toggle features like WiFi on and off.

The second major addition in Windows Phone 8.1 is that of Cortana, a personal digital assistant to rival both Siri and Google Now. Cortana is activated with a long press of the Windows Search button and lets you manage basic phone functions like toggling Bluetooth, set appointments in your calendar, set location-based or context based reminders, perform web searches through and play music stored on the phone. In much the same way as Google now does, Cortana has the ability to learn from your web searches and your frequently visited locations to try and provide contextual updates like traffic conditions to meetings and the local weather.

Other smaller feature updates in Windows Phone 8.1 include the ability for the next version of Skype for Windows Phone to convert an ongoing voice call into a video call on the fly, while the Windows Phone keyboard gets a new Swype-style, sliding text entry mode called word-flow. The calendar app and the Windows Phone store will also see some tweaks to bring in alternative views and other user-requested features.

The Windows Phone 8.1 update will be pushed out to users in the next few months, however there may be phones available with the update before then.

[Image: The Verge]