With the rollout of Lumia Denim expected to start literally in days, I thought it would be a good idea to post a guide of what you can expect in the next major release of the Lumia OS that runs on Windows Phone. Lumia Denim is a firmware update that will eventually make its way to every Windows Phone running 8.1. This update is sometimes referred to as Update 1 although it is unclear if Microsoft will actually call it that when the time comes to release it. Regardless of the naming, Lumia Denim is a big update for Windows Phone users and brings forth a significant number of improvements to your Windows Phone experience.
From a feature point-of-view, here is a summary of what we will see in Lumia Denim. These features are what you can expect regardless if you have a Microsoft Lumia device, HTC, Samsung or LG Windows Phone.
The personal digital assistant will be coming to an ever increasing number of users globally. Initially only in the US, Cortana is now
available in the UK, China, Australia and a few other countries. Technically still in beta, Cortana has been maturing exponentially over the course of the last two quarters as it is smarter and provides richer content. Other improvements you can expect to see come online is improved natural language (which if you are in the Windows Preview for Developers program you can already see), car kit integration via Bluetooth for contacts, snooze reminders and calendar improvements.
Because the Lumia 730, 735 and 830 shipped with Lumia Denim, many of you who have these devices will already have access to Cortana. I have it view the Preview program and I’m nothing short of impressed. It trumps iOS’ Siri handily and certainly gives Google a run for the money when it comes to getting relevant content to me on my searches by voice.
When I returned from iOS to Windows Phone back in August, one of the things I initially missed was folders to organize my apps on my Start screen. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I meticulously organized my apps on my iPhone in folders. It’s how I roll.
Lumia Denim brings this same functionality to Windows Phone but with a twist. First, to create a Live Folder you simply tap-and-hold an app then drag it onto another app on your Start Screen. This will create the folder for you and you can even rename the folders (such as Games, Travel, etc) so you can easily identify them if you have multiple folders.
Now here is the cool bit. As the name suggests, the folders are essentially Live tiles meaning that apps in those folders you will still be able to see that content update at the main folder level. This is really handy for things like travel apps where you can see your flight information from the Start screen without having to actually open up the folder to see that update.
If you don’t use folders today then the Live Folders feature may not be that big of a deal to you. However, for those of us who have come from iOS or Android, this is a big deal.
The Apps Corner feature of Lumia Denim is a somewhat smallish feature but can prove to be
particularly handy for families or businesses. Essentially what it does is it allows you to create a customized Start screen where only specific apps or games are accessible by the user. For example, you could create a Start screen where only games are available for your kids or you could hide Internet Explorer from users if you so chose.
Now move to a business where Lumia devices are being deployed. With App Corner businesses can issue them with a custom Start screen to give employees only access to certain apps. More advanced features even allow you to disable the camera button or back button on the phone.
App Corner is probably the least sexy feature of Lumia Denim for the consumer but has big implications for the enterprise.
SMS Merge & Forwarding
The SMS Merge and Forwarding functions that are in Lumia Denim are another example of Microsoft bringing their mobile platform on par with iOS and Android. The feature allows you to select an individual text message and delete them from the thread simply by doing a tap-and-hold of
the particular message. When you do this, you will have the ability to delete the message, copy it or forward it to someone else in a new thread.
This is a minor feature in Lumia Denim but is handy for those of you who use the Alarm feature frequently. In this release you will now have the ability to create custom snooze times within the app instead of the default 5 minutes.
Okay, I’m sorry. I said earlier in this guide that the App Corner feature may be the least sexy feature of Lumia Denim to consumers. I lied. Consumer VPN probably wins this title. All jokes aside however, this is an important feature but one that most people – like 95% of you – will never use.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Think of it as an encrypted, secure tunnel from your Windows Phone to a server when you are connected to a public WiFi network (or private for that matter).
Mobile Website Improvements
If Consumer VPN is not so sexy, the improvements in Internet Explorer around mobile websites is certainly higher on the sexy scale. Microsoft has been slowly and steadily improving the user experience with IE on Windows Phone and this is another step in that direction. First, even now in Lumia Cyan, mobile websites render far better than ever on the platform. Just visit http://www.clintonfitch.com from your Windows Phone. It will automatically detect your on a Windows Phone and render the mobile version of the site.
Sounds like a no brainer right? Should have done this already right? Well…
To be fair it has certainly improved over the course of Cyan and now it is going to detect when a mobile site is available and render it over the full site. Some improvements still to be made here but certainly better than were things were even six months ago.
With Lumia Denim, Microsoft continues to improve upon this and improves the connection and browser speeds of IE on Windows Phone devices. Download speeds should also see an improvement.
Store Live Tile
For those of you in the US, the Store Live Tile will now display featured apps and games in Lumia Denim. Cool, yes. Earth shattering, no.
Lumia Specific Updates in Lumia Denim
As I said early on, these are all features that every Windows Phone user can expect when Lumia Denim is released this quarter. With it however, there are specific features that will be coming that will only be available to Microsoft Lumia phone owners. Here is a rundown of those features.
The Lumia Camera app is the rebranded Nokia Camera app and while there have been improvements to the app that is available
today as Lumia Camera in the Windows Phone store, the bulk of the big updates will come with Denim. That said, if you haven’t tried the Lumia Camera app yet, give it a go. I personally find it to be excellent and it is my default camera app on my 1320 and 635.
When Lumia Denim is released, the Lumia Camera app will get several new features. First, the app will be faster and be able to go from shot-to-shot in milliseconds. This is something you can experience today already but it will continue to be improved. Second will be a Moment Capture feature. By doing a long press of the camera button, 4K quality video recordings start at 24FPS and, with each frame, a 8.3MP photo is taken so you can save individual, high quality frames from the video. Not all Lumia’s will be able to do this so how much of the Moment Capture you will be able to use is a bit of a mystery at this point. One note is that on the Lumia 830, it will not capture in 4K but in full 1080p HD.
Rich Capture is another new feature coming to Lumia’s. This is where Auto HDR and Dynamic Flash will join the features of Lumia Camera and you can access these features in the app. You can also add these features to a photo after the fact. Couple this with improved image processing algorithms and you should see clearer photos, especially in low light.
Following in the steps of “OK Google”, Microsoft will be adding voice activation to Cortana for certain devices that have SensorCore technology. When your phone is idle you can say “Hey Cortana” and the personal assistant will start. No more need to push a button on your device to get Cortana to activate. This feature will be available on the Lumia 930, Lumia Icon, Lumia 1520 but interestingly not on the 635 which possesses SensorCore.
If your Lumia device is compatible with it, the Glance screen will bring you more information such as MSN Weather or Health & Fitness information to your screen. This will be in addition to the time and date, notifications and other application data.
When is Lumia Denim Coming To Your Windows Phone
The most obvious question for everyone is when will Lumia Denim be available. Microsoft has stated that it will be available in the 4th quarter of 2014. So that means roughly in the next four weeks it will be released to partners for testing and release. That means that your carrier or mobile provider will get their hands on it and will release it after they have tested it themselves. How long with that take? It completely depends on the carrier. Poor Lumia Icon owners on Verizon are still waiting for Lumia Cyan.
This is the one area that Microsoft desperately needs to improve their distribution. These updates should be pushed out by them, not by the carriers. It is one of the key, clear advantages Apple has over Microsoft and Google. I appreciate there are a lot of different devices out there but the months it can take for updates to come from carriers is unacceptable.
There is a lot to see in Lumia Denim and personally I can’t wait to get my hands on it. What about you? Are you looking forward to these updates?