Rumor: Windows Phone 8.1 Coming 2014, Will Support Larger Screens

Microsoft will release the Windows Phone 8.1 smartphone operating system update in 2014, according to a report Wednesday by SuperSite for Windows' Paul Thurrott.

While Microsoft is expected to update its Windows 8 and Windows RT desktop OS with Windows 8.1 next week, details on whether the mobile OS would also receive an update of the same scale have been scarce until now. According to Thurrott, an anonymous source inside Microsoft has confirmed that Windows Phone 8 will receive the 8.1 update, currently code-named "Blue," sometime next year with the aim of increasing the platform's developer popularity.

According to Thurrott, Windows Phone 8.1 will feature:

  • Support for bigger screens: The new phone update is rumored to increase support from 5- to 6-inch screens to 7- to 10-inch screens.

  • Universal binaries: This would allow developers to create apps that would run on both Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT. Thurrott said that Windows Phone 8 currently has a 33 percent application programming interface unity with Windows RT. The goal with Windows Phone 8.1 is to bring that up to 77 percent, he said.

  • Back button removal: New devices designed for Windows 8.1 will no longer have the Back button, a feature that Thurrott said "just doesn't make sense." Instead, users will be able to leave an app by pressing the Start button.

Microsoft wants to position the next generation of Windows Phone devices as high-end smartphones to directly compete with Apple's iPhone, according to Thurrott.

"Obviously, they're not going to walk away from market share gains, but low-end phones have technical limitations that harm the platform's forward progress," Thurrott said. "And this is what sank Windows PC sales when the netbook arrived. The push to 1080p screens and bigger devices will determine whether Windows Phone can break out of this mold."

Many Microsoft watchers, including Redmond magazine and ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley, view the rumored Windows Phone 8.1 updates as a chance for Microsoft to continue its push to unify the Windows tablet, smartphone and desktop OS interfaces.

"I'm thinking this could mean Microsoft ends up dropping the Windows RT name and instead goes for a single unified OS brand across devices," Foley said in a recent ZDNet column. "Whether this ultimately is called 'Windows Phone OS' or just 'Windows' (or something else all together) will be interesting to see. Whatever it's called, this branded OS should, I'd think, work on ARM-based phones and ARM-based tablets."

Whenever Windows Phone 8.1 does arrive -- Thurrott does not give a more specific date other than sometime in 2014 -- it likely will not interfere with the already planned General Distribution Release 3 (GDR3) update to Windows Phone 8. While Microsoft has not provided many details on GDR3, a leaked changelog discovered by Windows Phone Central surfaced online this week. Microsoft is expected to make an announcement on GDR3 later this month.

The last update, GDR2, has been rolling out to Windows Phone 8 users since around late July.

Microsoft has declined to officially comment on either the Windows Phone 8.1 or the Windows Phone 8 GDR3 rumors.

About the Author

Chris Paoli (@ChrisPaoli5) is the associate editor for Converge360.