Microsoft released Windows Phone 8.1 on July 15 with over a hundred new features including notifications, Cortana voice assistant as well as a wealth of new enterprise features. This is first upgrade to Windows Phone since the 8.0 release in October 2012.
I own a Nokia Lumia 5210 which I purchased without a contract for $50 (after rebate) in 2012. Last week, an over the air AT&T update for Windows Phone 8.1 was released and I upgraded. While the upgrade took several hours and involved multiple phone reboots, it was automated process requiring little interaction on my part and it didn't involve connecting the phone to a computer.
The upgrade from Windows Phone 8.0 to 8.1 implies a minor, maintenance upgrade but the 8.1 upgrade is much more than that. I understand that Microsoft settled on the 8.1 nomenclature to coincide with Windows 8.1 (PC). With the release of Windows Phone and Windows 8.1, it's possible to write applications that run on both PCs and smartphones including Sienna (beta) which uses Microsoft Excel syntax to allow anyone to develop a mobile application.
Windows Phone 8.1 is still playing catch up to iOS and Android and there isn't much new or innovative in this release. For example, the web browsing experience remains awful on Windows Phone. However, Microsoft is working on an update to 8.1 called GDR1, that should be out in the coming weeks with a new mobile IE experience, folder support and more. I was encouraged, however, by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's statements on the recent quarterly earnings call around the focus on productivity as platforms as well as devices.
Below is a recent TV commercial that Microsoft has been airing comparing Apple Siri voice assistance to Microsoft Cortana. Having used both, I'm not sure one has a clear advantage over the other. Both are programmed to answer specific questions and there are many questions that Siri will respond to, that Cortana won't, and vice versa. What I find most impressive about the commercial is that the Nokia 635 shown in the video, is available for ~$100 off contract compared to the $650 iPhone.