Is Windows Phone 8.1 Nearing Release?

Microsoft's smartphone OS update is spotted on the company's Website before an official release date is announced.

Windows Phone 8.1 may be inching closer toward release, according to an eagle-eyed blogger.

Ubergizmo's Tyler Lee spotted a reference to the mobile OS on the official Windows Phone Website. A screenshot shows the words "Windows Phone 8.1" alongside version 8 under the Features page. Microsoft has since scrubbed the page of any mention of the update.

While its official launch date is up in the air, the update's brief appearance on an official Website may indicate that the company is gearing up for an imminent release. Lee wrote, "Microsoft has made an official reference to Windows Phone 8.1, although this by no means confirms when the update will be released, but we reckon if Microsoft is already putting it on their website, they should be pretty close."

Microsoft is expected to unveil and perhaps release Windows Phone 8.1 at its upcoming Build developer conference in San Francisco (April 2-4). The move could potentially spark interest from the developer community, which has flocked to the rival mobile app ecosystems of Apple iOS and Google Android.

Windows Phone 8.1 is rumored to include several enhancements and a smattering of new features, including Microsoft's answer to Siri.

Named Cortana, after the AI character in the company's Halo video game series, the voice-enabled digital assistant will offer similar functionality to Apple Siri and Google Now. Cortana will leverage machine learning technology from the company's Bing search platform to deliver contextually driven search results.

Despite generally favorable reviews—especially when it's paired with Nokia's handsets—Windows Phone 8 has failed to set the mobile sales charts on fire. It trails well behind Android and iOS in the worldwide smartphone market, although the mobile OS has notched some encouraging gains in Europe and Latin America of late.

According to a report from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Windows Phone overtook Apple's iOS in Italy during the three months that ended in September 2013. In Latin America, Windows Phone saw its share rise to 5.8 percent during the same period, up from 4.5 percent a year ago.

IDC reported that during 3Q13, Windows Phone's share of worldwide smartphone shipments grew a staggering 156 percent year over year. IDC Research Manager Ramon Llamas said in a statement, "Android and Windows Phone continued to make significant strides in the third quarter." Both OSes compete in the low-cost handset segment. "Despite their differences in market share, they both have one important factor behind their success: price," added Llamas.

Microsoft is also apparently courting OEMs in its quest to popularize Windows Phone. Two Indian smartphone makers, Lava and Karbonn, have reportedly scored free Windows Phone licenses. In addition, the software titan is rumored to be mulling drastic cuts (up to 70 percent) to its OEM licensing fees.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...