Microsoft gets smart with data and Wi-Fi with Windows Phone 8.1

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Smart Wi-Fi connection and data trackers are among the welter of new features unveiled by Microsoft in its new Windows Phone 8.1 OS.

The software company unveiled its latest mobile move yesterday, alongside three new devices from Nokia, which is expected to be part of the company by the end of April.

[Read more: Nokia unveils new Lumia smartphones with latest Windows OS] 

Microsoft is following Google's lead in giving the operating system away for free for devices and tablets smaller than nine inches in size.

The latest version of Windows Phone includes a Wi-Fi Sense feature that automatically connects users to free public hotspots. It also gives consumers the option to allow contacts to automatically connect to their home Wi-Fi, without them having to enter account details and passwords. 

A Data Sense feature offloads data onto Wi-Fi, limiting cellular use as a consumer reaches their data limit. There is also a new "high savings" mode that increases the compression of images looked at online.

Microsoft also said it was targeting the low end of the market, with Windows Phone 8.1 supporting Intel's Bay Trail Cost Reduced options, which allows manufacturers to build devices running the OS with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. 

Terry Myerson, Microsoft Executive Vice-President for Operating Systems, said: "These steps will help our partners to deliver the rich experience of Windows plus best-in-class hardware, software and services to consumers at affordable prices."

The US company also released software to allow developers to create universal Windows apps that can be run on smartphones. It released Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 RC to help operators create apps that can be rendered across smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Further, Microsoft added support for Bluetooth LE to connect to smartphones, new software to lead to more battery-efficient multitasking and VPN so consumers can connect to their workplace. It released common APIs for the likes of accessing the file system and device specs.

CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber said: "Windows Phone 8.1 marks a further milestone in Microsoft's efforts to unify its platforms with a common code base between Windows and Windows Phone. Whilst positioned as an update, this is a significant release that sees Windows accelerating its efforts to close the user experience gap with Android and iOS.”

Windows Phone 8.1 will begin rolling out to compatible smart devices in the next few months. Registered developers can roadtest the OS as part of Microsoft's Developer Preview Program.