Windows Phone 8.1 is also receiving some hardware support tweaks that Belfiore didn't really mention at Build on Wednesday, but he detailed at Mobile World Congress in February. When he did so, Belfiore stressed that the stated goal for Windows Phone in 2014 was to find traction beyond U.S. soil, as foreign markets have been a strong point for Microsoft's mobile growth.
That target reads loud and clear in Windows Phone 8.1's hardware tweaks.
The update adds support for Qualcomm's low-end Snapdragon 200, 400, and 400 LTE system-on-chips as well as numerous additional cellular standards, to better support Microsoft's "high-volume focus" around the globe. (Read: Cheap phones.) Continuing that thought, Windows Phone 8.1 also removes the requirements for hardware buttons, letting manufacturers opt to use virtual softkeys in Android-esque fashion-which would let those manufacturers more easily reuse the same hardware for Android phones and Windows Phones alike.
Windows Phone 8.1 also adds dual-SIM support, which is a popular feature in foreign markets, as Nokia's Stephen Elop noted when introducing his company's new phones at Build.
All in all, Windows Phone 8.1 looks pretty darned exciting, and the introduction of universal apps that span the Microsoft ecosystem should hopefully help bolster the Windows Phone Store's (rapidly improving) ranks. Look for Windows Phone 8.1 to start rolling out to current Windows Phone 8 users "in the next few months," or in new phones by the end of April or early May.
Updated to add Windows Phone hardware details.
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