Microsoft guru Paul Thurrott is reporting on some new information regarding the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update aka ‘Blue’. He notes that the info comes from a single source, though he has confidence in the information revealed.

What’s discussed isn’t so much the superficial UI changes or new features but rather core user experience deviations that should cause a stir amongst the Windows Phone faithful.

We won’t recapitulate all of Thurrott’s revelations, but we will highlight a few of the more interesting ones.

  • Universal Binaries – Windows Phone 8.1 looks to have 77% overlap with Windows RT, up from the current 33%.  That will allow developers to more easily (and still optionally) write apps for both platforms going forward. That could have profound implications in the long run for Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
  • Multitasking – Though vague it notes that currently Windows Phone “notifications and background processes are a mess” and this will be fixed in 8.1.
  • Back button is going – Probably the biggest surprise is that the Back button will be eliminated from the hardware requirements. Metrics have revealed that users don’t “get” the logic behind it and that they just use the Windows key most of the time.

Other changes mentioned in the article include Microsoft pushing high-end hardware to get those higher profit margins and bigger displays heading into the 7-10 inch range. Right now, the focus is on low end devices including the Lumia 520, but Microsoft is now evidently going to try for that luxury, boundary pushing gear.

Obviously that’s a lot to chew on and it certainly raises some interesting questions. For instance, if Windows Phone runs into the 7-10 inch display range, what does that mean for RT devices? There has been a lot of talk that RT and Windows Phone would merge and those display resolution changes may be the first move into that category.


Old concept for Windows Phone 8.1 Notification tile

We’re not sure how we feel about the back button being phased out—we’re actually big users of it, but we’re very likely in the minority. If accurate, we’ll have to defer to Microsoft’s metrics on this one, much like how they changed the Search key from context-aware to universal for Bing in Windows Phone 7.5.

Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to be announced early in 2014 with a co-launch of new devices from their OEM partners. Details remain mum on all the changes, but a new Notification Center, ‘Cortana’ voice assistant, app-list sorting, actionable-notifications and other new features are reportedly on the list of major new additions.

Head to Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows for the full scoop then come back here to discuss.