Windows Phone 8.1 updates are expected to roll out by August, but what comes next is even more exciting

Windows Phone 8.1 has just received its second developer preview refresh.  As we race towards the June 24 launch date, details have started to leak about when carriers will roll out that update to older devices.  At the same time, more details about the Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1/GDR1 release have trickled out, detailing how hands-free sensing will play a key role in Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) fall flagship devices.

I. Developer Preview Gets Second Over the Air Update

Windows Phone 8.1 was released as a developer preview in April, followed by a minor update (Build 8.10.12382.878) in May.  On June 2, Microsoft issued a second update to its developer preview (Build 8.10.12393.890).  The freshly updated preview reportedly includes:
  • Further improvements to the battery life
  • Better performance/responsiveness, across a broad range of devices
  • Bug fixes pretty much run of the mill, but welcome improvements.

Windows Phone 8.1 Blue

Microsoft has officially pegged June 24 as the deadline for delivery of the finished Windows Phone 8.1 update, which will be (eventually) made available for all users of existing devices with Windows Phone 8, as well as being flashed into all new Windows Phone devices.

Lumia 630
The fine print for Microsoft should be familiar to Android users -- Microsoft must rely on carriers to deliver the update to non-developer users.  It writes:

The distribution of these incremental updates may be controlled by the mobile operator or the phone manufacturer from which you purchased your phone, and installation will require that your phone have any prior updates. Update availability will also vary by country, region, and hardware capabilities.

In other words, don't expect to receive Windows Phone 8.1 in June if you're a non-developer user who isn't buying a new handset.

II. Update Roadmap Leaks

Top Windows Phone leaker @evleaks has released an official-looking timetable for when part of Europe -- the so-called "BeNeLux" (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) region -- will receive Windows Phone 8.1 updates.

Unfortunately, based on the BeNeLux roadmap... looks like most users will have to wait until late July to receive updates to their existing Windows Phone 8 devices.

It's unknown if U.S. carriers will follow a similar schedule in updating their Lumia X2X/XX2X devices (which currently run Windows Phone 8).  AT&T, Inc.'s (T) Jeff Bradley, Senior Vice President of devices in April wrote:

AT&T offers the largest selection of Windows Phone devices with access to the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network.  The launch of Windows Phone 8.1 will bring innovative new features and capabilities to Windows device users and we are proud that AT&T will be among the first to offer this to consumers.

But it is unknown if that simply indicates AT&T is planning to feature a bigger stock of new handsets, or also take the lead in terms of updating older Windows Phone handsets. Either way, the general expectation from various sources appears to be that most Windows Phone handsets in the U.S. and other regioons will be updated fully by August.

III. McLaren and 3D Touchless Tech

Looking ahead, The Verge is reporting that "McLaren" -- a flagship handset expected to hit multiple U.S. carriers this fall -- will feature sophisticated hands-free controls.  These controls are similar to the touchless gestures offered by Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 smartphones.  However, where as touch-free tech on Galaxy smartphones has been dismissed as a somewhat "gimmicky" feature, Microsoft's version is reportedly significantly more advanced and more tightly integrated.

The Verge piece states that the technology is internally codenamed "3D Touch" or "Real Motion".  It is expected to be included with the Windows Phone 8.1 ("Blue") GDR1 (Update 1) release.  While The Verge did not specify many details about the hardware, it's probable given the "Kinect" ties, that Microsoft is using "Capri".  "Capri" is the new mobile sensor unit from Apple, Inc. (AAPL) subsidiary PrimeSense, the Israeli firm that manufactures the sensors for the Xbox Kinect and Kinect 2.
Primesense Capri
Primesense's "Capri" sensor for smartphones

Among the touchless features described by The Verge's sources include:
  • The ability to answer calls simply by holding your phone up to your ear
  • The ability to hang up calls by putting the phone in your pocket
  • Mute by holding phone to chest or covering with your hand
  • Smart orientation switching, that prevents mistaken switching when lying down in bed
  • Zooming by hover fingers up and down over edge of phone
  • Air tap on Live Tile to see subtiles representing actions for that app
    • Uses exploded view similar to Zune "Mix View"
The "Goldfinger" device, which was expected for midyear, has reportedly been shelved as Microsoft aims to perfect the new tightly integrated touchless features.  While "Goldfinger" handsets are being used internally as test devices, they reportedly won't be released as a consumer product.

Sources: Microsoft, @evleaks, The Verge

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