Big Windows Phone Update May Add a Notification Center and a Virtual Assistant

Microsoft's underdog operating system is growing up.

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Windows Phone 8 Update 3

Microsoft is continuing its game of catch-up with iOS and Android, as it reportedly readies a new version of Windows Phone for next spring.

Citing “sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans,” The Verge reports that a Notification Center and Siri-like virtual assistant are coming to Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft may announce the new version during its BUILD developers conference in April.

We’ve been hearing for some time about a notification center and voice assistant for Windows Phone, but The Verge provides some additional details on how these features might work.

Bringing up the notification list will reportedly require a long swipe from the top of the screen, while a shorter swipe will bring up a list of quick settings. It sounds similar to how notifications work in Android and iOS, but it’s unclear what these notifications will look like.

Some Windows Phone fans have argued that a notification center isn’t necessary, because users can just look at Live Tiles on the home screen. But Live Tiles are a poor substitute, as they require users to exit the current app and scroll through all their tiles in search of new information. Being able to glance at notifications with a quick swipe will be a major improvement.

As for the virtual assistant, it’ll reportedly be similar to Google Now and Apple’s Siri, understanding conversational speech and providing contextual information such as when to leave for your next meeting. Echoing an earlier report, The Verge says Microsoft will use the name “Cortana” for its virtual assistant, in a nod to Halo’s fictional AI.

Other rumored features for Windows 8.1 include separate volume controls for things like ringtone and media playback, VPN support and Bing-powered “Smart Search” that serves results from the phone and the Internet simultaneously.

While few of these major features would be unique to Windows Phone, hopefully Microsoft can find a way to improve on what iOS and Android offer already. We’ll reportedly find out in about four months.