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What's New in Windows Phone 8.1

This article describes key new features and improvements in Windows Phone 8.1.

Developer documentation

To provide documentation that is consistent with the converged Windows Runtime developer platform, we have created a single set of developer documentation on MSDN that serves you whether you're building a Windows Phone Store app, or a Windows Store app, or both. It's easy to determine at a glance which platform each piece of content applies to. For example, you can quickly determine by looking at the icons beneath the title of a conceptual topic or an API reference topic whether the API is available to use on Windows, on Windows Phone, or on both.

The icons represent the Windows and Windows Phone operating systems, using a PC and a phone image respectively. In most cases, both a Windows and a Windows Phone icon will appear to indicate that the topic applies to both operating systems. In exceptional cases where a feature area or API is Windows-only, a PC icon will appear alone. If a feature area or API is Windows Phone-only—such as this topic—a phone icon will appear alone. In all cases, hover text on the icon images spells out their meaning.

API reference topics have more platform support details in their Requirements section.

Platform convergence with Windows Store apps

Windows Phone 8.1 introduces an important change in the Windows Phone developer ecosystem. In this release, Windows Phone converges with the Windows Store apps platform into a single developer platform that runs the same types of apps—Windows Runtime apps. Platform convergence began in Windows Phone 8, which supports a small subset of Windows Runtime APIs, but which differs from Windows in many core areas. In Windows Phone 8.1, there’s so much more in common—a much larger API set, a similar app model and life cycle, a shared toolset, a common UI framework—Windows Phone and Windows Store app developer platforms truly have become one, single development platform.

Of course there are still some small differences in behavior and supported features between Windows Phone and Windows Store apps. Some of these are the result of timing of the different product cycles, and they may not appear in future releases. Some differences are the result of the different natures of phones and computers, their sizes, and the way people use them. We encourage developers to think in terms of Windows app development—developing for a single Windows Runtime, but targeting two different platforms on phones and computers.

Areas of convergence

App model and app life cycle

A Windows Phone 8.1 app goes through the same app execution states as a Windows Store app and uses the same events to handle launch, activation, and suspension. This means that you can reuse most of your code for saving and restoring state on both Windows Phone and on Windows. The programming model for background tasks also is the same for Windows Phone and Windows Store apps.

For more information about app life cycle, see Application lifecycle.

For more information about using background tasks, see Supporting your app with background tasks.

Manifest, Build, Deployment

Windows Phone 8.1 adopts the Windows 8 .appx and Windows 8.1 .appx bundle deployment formats, as well as the app manifest file format of Windows Store apps. The Windows Phone 8.1 app manifest file is named Package.appxmanifest. When you build your project, the build process creates an .exe file. When you deploy your app, the app is packaged in a .zip file with the .appx extension. For more information, see App packages and deployment and App package manifest.

To prepare your app for publishing, you now use the Windows App Certification Kit. For more info, see Windows App Certification Kit tests for Windows Phone.


Windows Phone 8 apps use XAML to define their UI, but in their XAML they use UI types from a different namespace than those used in the XAML of Windows Store apps. Windows Phone 8.1 adopts the same XAML UI framework as Windows Store apps. So, although we recommend that you tailor your app UI for the appropriate form factor, the design tools, language, and many of the built-in controls are the same.

Windows Phone 8.1 features


The Windows Runtime geolocation APIs available in Windows Phone 8 continue to be supported in Windows Phone 8.1. Some new classes have been introduced to support better interoperability with other features, such as the new geofencing feature.

For more info, see Detecting Geolocation.


Windows Phone 8.1 introduces a set of geofencing APIs through which your app can receive notifications when the device enters or leaves an app-specified geographic region. This makes possible app scenarios such as displaying a reminder when the user arrives at home or their workplace, or notifying the user of deals and specials at stores in their area. For more information, see Quickstart: Setting up a geofence.


Windows Phone 8.1 maps add more features, support for offline tiles, better support for more complex gestures, and improvements in routing. For more info, see Maps and directions.

Background transfers

Windows Phone 8.1 supports the Windows.Networking.BackgroundTransfer namespace, through which you can queue uploads and downloads that will be completed by the system in the background even when your app is no longer running. These APIs replace the background transfer service APIs in Windows Phone 8.


Microsoft Media Foundation is the Microsoft next-generation multimedia platform for Windows. To help developers create media apps that run on Windows Runtime and Windows Phone 8.1, we expose the same Media Foundation APIs in Windows Phone 8.1 as in Windows Store apps, assuming that the API makes sense on a phone. In addition, in Windows Phone 8.1 developers can sync and access media files on the device, even if those file types are not supported in the default Windows Phone 8.1 media player. These two features help developers create unique media apps on Windows Phone 8.1, and support being able to move media apps from Windows 8.1 to Windows Phone 8.1. For more information, see:


Microsoft Media Foundation

Media Foundation Programming Reference

Media editing

Windows.Media.Editing provides a set of Windows Runtime APIs you can use to create a simple or rich editing app for the phone. This can be a simple video trimmer or a more complex timeline editing app that allows effects to be added via Microsoft Media Foundation Transforms (MFTs). A core concept of the editing API framework is that editing a media file doesn't alter existing source media files. The goal of the APIs is to create a new composition, called a Clip, which contains defined chunks of source clips for audio and video. The properties of a clip are defined by capturing a set of user input. A simple example of this the basic trim operation in which a source clip is loaded and the user picks a new beginning and endpoint in the video, which defines a Clip or MediaClip.

Windows Push Notification Services (WNS)

Windows Phone 8.1 also supports the Windows Push Notification Services (WNS) used in Windows Store apps to send toast, tile, and raw updates to the device from a cloud service. For more information about WNS, see Push notification overview. The Microsoft Push Notification Service in Windows Phone Silverlight apps will continue to be supported for backward compatibility.

Managing toast notifications in action center

Windows Phone 8.1 introduces a new action center, along with a set of capabilities developers can use to manage toast notifications through local API calls or by using push notifications. Through these APIs and mechanisms, an app can manage the toast notifications they send to users. Operations include add, remove, replace, and expire. All notification classes are in the Windows.UI.Notifications namespace.

For more info, see Managing toast notifications in action center.

Tiles, toasts, and badges

The Windows.UI.Notifications and Windows.UI.StartScreen APIs can be used to create toast notifications, create and pin secondary tiles, and keep these experiences updated and fresh for your users. For example, we've also added the capability to update a tile from a background task using XamlRenderingBackgroundTask. For more info, see Working with tiles, badges, and toast notifications.

Background audio

In Windows Phone 8.1, the Windows.Media.Playback.BackgroundMediaPlayer class supercedes the Microsoft.Phone.BackgroundAudio.BackgroundAudioPlayer class in Windows Phone 8. The new class is intended to support the two-process background media playback feature that uses a foreground process for hosting UI and a background process for media playback.

The Windows.Media.Playback.MediaPlayer API is a thin Windows Runtime wrapper for the IMFMediaEngine API, and exposes various events, methods, and properties. The MediaPlayer API provides background access to media playback functionality such as play, pause, stop, fast forward, and rewind. Through this API an app can:

  • Be notified of media playback states via a set of events.

  • Play audio in the background process when the app navigates away from the foreground process. The foreground process can be suspended or terminated.

  • Use XAML for UI without MediaElement in the foreground process, and play media in the background process using MediaPlayer.


Windows Phone 8 introduced DirectX support for phone apps. In Windows Phone 8.1, support for DirectX is improved with the inclusion of several features previously available only for desktop apps. These include:

  • Direct2D APIs
  • DirectWrite APIs
  • Windows Imaging Component APIs
  • Runtime shader compilation and reflection
  • GPU access to YUV shaders
  • GPU performance counters
  • Graphics diagnostics support

Windows Phone 8.1 has adopted SwapChainBackgroundPanel and SurfaceImageSource, already available to Windows Store apps, so apps can combine DirectX graphics with XAML. This replaces the XAML and Direct3D project templates you use for Windows Phone 8 apps. For information on using XAML and Direct3D together, see DirectX and XAML interop.

Screen recorder

Windows Phone 8.1 provides APIs that you can use to create an app that records images or videos of the phone’s screen activity. This way games can upload and share in-game activities. This feature is enabled through enhancements to the Windows.Media.Capture APIs. For more information, see Quickstart: recording the screen with ScreenCapture.


Windows Phone 8.1 supports the Windows.Media.Capture APIs, which provide advanced camera capabilities. These are the same APIs that are used for Windows Store apps. This release includes the ability to capture variable photo sequences. These are multiple frames captured in rapid succession, with the option to specify different focus, exposure, and ISO settings for each frame. This feature enables scenarios like generating High Dynamic Range (HDR) images. For more information, see Quickstart: capturing a variable photo sequence.

UI automation

This feature helps you develop automation peers for your UI elements. Screen readers depend on automation peers, and so does automated testing.

For information about using automation peers for accessibility, see Making your app accessible. Note that some information, such as Implementing keyboard accessibility and the tool links in Testing Tools, does not apply to Windows Phone.

The API reference documentation covers the following namespaces:



Windows Phone 8.1 uses the same XAML UI framework as Windows Store apps. This is a very significant improvement over Windows Phone 8, because your Windows Phone Store app and Windows Store apps can use the same set of controls, and you can share a lot of UI code. We still recommend that you tailor the UI of each app to the form factor it targets to deliver the best possible customer experience. The same intrinsic controls, such as Button, TextBlock, CheckBox, are available on both Windows Phone and on Windows. Controls introduced in Windows 8 such as FlipView, GridView, ListView, RichEditBox, PasswordBox, and SemanticZoom are available on the phone in Windows Phone 8.1. The Panorama control has been renamed Hub because it’s now available on both Windows Phone and on Windows. Some controls, such as Pivot, are phone-only. They are available in the Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls.dll assembly and are now under the Windows.UI.XAML.Controls namespace. In a Windows Phone Store app, instead of using the LongListSelector control, you use the ListView and SemanticZoom controls.

For a list of all controls available to Windows Runtime apps, see Controls list (XAML).


Phone developers need to be able to create apps that have fast and fluid animations to match the Windows Phone design, look, and feel. We expose all Windows Phone 8.1 signature animations through new classes so that XAML developers on Windows Phone 8.1 can apply them to their apps.

Large text

Windows Phone 8.1 provides automatic text enlargement. That means that the text size responds automatically when the user changes Text size in Settings > Ease of access. You don’t need to add any code to your app to support this feature, but you can set the IsTextScaleFactorEnabled property on an element to false if you want to opt out of the behavior. You call TextScaleFactorChanged and TextScaleFactor members of the Windows.UI.ViewManagenent.UISettings class to query or react to the user changes to text enlargement settings. The large text feature is only available to Windows Phone apps and is not supported on Windows Store apps.

App bar improvements

In Windows Phone 8.1 you can use a Binding or a Static (or Theme) Resource reference in an AppBarButton inside the new CommandBar. This is an enhancement from Windows Phone 8.

High contrast

Windows Phone offers black and white, high-contrast color schemes, depending on dark or light theme. With Windows Phone 8.1, you can create a “HighContrast” ResourceDictionary in your custom control that automatically applies when the phone’s high-contrast setting is turned on. APIs are provided to detect when the phone is in High Contrast mode, and when the high-contrast settings are changed.

Brushes and text color are not the only elements that you can set up to automatically be updated while in high-contrast mode. You can also switch image resources, and other objects that can be instantiated in XAML.

In-app navigation

When the user exits a Windows Phone 8.1 app by using the Back button, the app is suspended but not terminated. In Windows Phone 8, the app is terminated when a user exits the app by using the Back button. For information about handling the Back button in a Windows Phone 8.1 app, see Handling the Back Button in a Windows Phone app. For information about the app life cycle for Windows Phone 8 apps, see Launching, resuming, and multitasking.

Monetization: Trial experience and in-app purchase

The trial app and in-app purchase features in Windows Phone 8.1 are largely the same as in Windows Phone 8. One change is that, to offer an app for purchase, instead of using Microsoft.Phone.Tasks.MarketplaceDetailTask you can use the converged Windows.ApplicationModel.Store.CurrentApp.RequestAppPurchaseAsync method. Most of the APIs from the Windows.ApplicationModel.Store namespace are available to Windows Phone Store apps.

For the API reference for Windows Runtime apps, see Windows.ApplicationModel.Store.


Wallet on Windows Phone allows users to store their reward cards, tickets, deals, and payment cards in a central location. Using the functionality provided by the Windows Runtime APIs for Wallet in Windows.ApplicationModel.Wallet, you can increase your app's reach by adding items with your unique branding to Wallet. You can also import Wallet cards into Wallet.

For more info, see Wallet for Windows Phone apps.


Proximity is enhanced in Windows Phone 8.1. Both your Windows Phone app and your Windows Store app can use the same package full name so you won't have to manage different IDs in your code.

In Windows Phone 8.1 we also expand the supported NFC tag scenarios so you can make your tags read-only, write to unformatted tags, and communicate with other contactless cards. Support for these scenarios requires NFC hardware that's using a PN547 chip.

For more info, see Proximity and tapping.


Bluetooth support has been enhanced in Windows Phone 8.1 using the Windows.Devices.Bluetooth APIs to provide LE support for GATT Client, RFComm, discovery of paired devices and more. We've also added background capabilities for use with LE and RFComm. For example, you can use a Bluetooth background task with an app such as a heart rate monitor or use triggers to launch an app’s background agent when a Bluetooth event occurs. For more info, see Supporting your app with background tasks.


Security features for Windows Phone 8.1 are tightly converged with existing Windows Store apps security. Improvements to security include support for several standard cryptographic algorithms which are not currently supported, enabling third-party apps to use certificates for common operations, and support for virtual smart cards for enterprise scenarios such as S/MIME, Secure Browsing, and VPN.

For more information about virtual smart cards, see Understanding and Evaluating Virtual Smart Cards. For an overview of the current Windows Store app security experience, not all of which are supported in Windows Phone 8.1, see Security.


Windows Phone 8.1 works toward globalization convergence with Windows. Windows Phone 8.1 supports many new Windows locales. Additionally, Windows Phone 8.1 enables Modern Resource Technology (MRT). MRT is a technology introduced in Windows 8 that implements the dynamic loading of app resources at run time in the Visual Studio design surface. For more information, see Globalizing your app.


Windows Phone 8.1 supports many of the Windows.ApplicationModel.Appointments APIs that provide calendar capabilities. These are the same APIs that are in Windows Store apps. Windows Phone 8.1 also introduces the ability to create app calendars. These are calendars that are owned by your app but that can be displayed and modified by the built-in calendar experience or even other apps, if you allow it. For more information see Quickstart: Managing app calendars.


Windows Phone 8.1 supports the Internet Explorer 11 platform, exposed via the WebView control. This includes advanced performance for HTML5-based apps with enhanced layout and runtime capabilities, which support the next generation of web-based apps, gaming, and media consumption. This includes the Windows implementation of WebGL that you use create dynamic 2D and 3D graphics for games and interactive content. For more information, see the Internet Explorer 11 Preview guide for developers.


Windows Phone 8 games have native programming support to raise and lower the software input panel (SIP), also known as the on-screen keyboard. In Windows Phone 8 there is a property on CoreWindow called IsKeyboardInputEnabled. If a developer wants to create a game that easily targets both Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1, the Windows Runtime platform would seem like a great way to accomplish this. Unfortunately, the support to programmatically raise and lower the SIP currently is not available for Windows Runtime apps. Windows Phone 8.1 apps can programmatically show the SIP to support raw text input through CoreWindow events.

External display support

External display features would allow a user to share their phone screen from their Windows Phone 8.1 device to a nearby device, either wirelessly or using a cable, without having to understand the complexities of the technologies leveraged to accomplish it. With Windows Phone 8.1, a developer or RSP can mirror the phone screen to a PC via USB cable.

File access and file pickers

Windows Phone 8.1 fully implements the Windows.Storage API, except for some methods related to stream-based files. For more information, see Accessing data and files.

Windows Phone Store apps can now use file pickers to open or save a file or choose a folder. For more info, see Working with File Pickers. However, a Windows Phone Store app calls different methods than a Windows Store app. For more info, see How to continue your Windows Phone app after calling a file picker.


Windows Phone 8.1 adds support for roaming data. A Windows Phone app opts in to roaming simply by storing data in the Roaming folder. Roaming only happens when the lock screen is engaged and the device is not busy.

For info about how you can roam data between different versions of your app, see How to roam data between a Windows Store app and a Windows Phone Store app.

Taking full advantage of roaming requires keeping in mind several design considerations:

  • Roaming data for an app is limited to 100 KB. Rather than roaming actual content, use references to content.

  • Arrange data as a group of settings or as a single file if it needs to be internally consistent and automatically synced.

  • Handle the DataChanged event, which indicates that the roaming data has been updated as the result of a sync operation.

For more info, see Quickstart: Roaming application data and Guidelines for roaming application data.

Share contract

Windows Phone 8.1 implements the Share contract but with a different user experience than in Windows Store apps because Windows Phone doesn’t have charms flyout. Sharing supports URI, file, text, and bitmap (with a size limitation yet to be determined); sharing may not support HTML and RTF formats. For more information, see Sharing and exchanging data.

SD card access

Windows Phone 8 supports read-only access to the SD card; Windows Phone 8.1 provides read/write access. An app can only see and work with files when it has registered as a handler for that file type. For more info, see Access the SD card in Windows Phone apps. To test your app with this new feature, the Windows Phone Emulator now includes support for a simulated SD card. For more info, see Test app features in Windows Phone Emulator.

App installation on SD cards

Windows Phone 8.1 lets users opt to install apps on the optional SD card, or move apps that are already installed to the SD card. If you don't want your app installed on the removable SD card, select Prevent installation to SD cards on the Application page of Manifest Designer.

Development tools

Windows Phone Emulator

Windows Phone 8.1 emulator adds support for different physical screen sizes and for multi-touch input with the mouse. It also adds improved networking support to simplify setup, configuration, and access to network resources and to reduce troubleshooting. In particular, Windows Phone 8.1 emulator uses the network connection of the host computer, unlike the Windows Phone 8 emulator. For more info about the emulator, see Run Windows Phone apps in the emulator.

With the emulator's Additional Tools, you can test many features of your app and simulate many run-time conditions. You can use a simulated SD card, drive a route virtually, disable sensors, send notifications, and test a slower network speed. For more info, see Test app features in Windows Phone Emulator.

Windows Phone Developer Power Tools

Windows Phone Developer Power Tools are three powerful testing and debugging tools for app developers packaged in a single user interface. Use the Power Tools to monitor your app's responsiveness and resource consumption and to debug its crashes. For more info, see Test and troubleshoot apps with the Windows Phone Developer Power Tools.

Other Visual Studio tools

Windows Phone 8.1 adds support for many of the debugging, testing, and profiling features built into Visual Studio. For more info, see Debugging and testing with Visual Studio.

Existing Windows Phone 8 command-line tools – Isolated Storage Explorer, the deployment tool, and the phone registration tool – are still included in the installation. The Simulation Dashboard is not supported or updated for Windows Phone 8.1.

Backward compatibility

Apps created to target Windows Phone 8 continue to function on Windows Phone 8.1 devices without being republished. The Windows Phone 8 developer documentation continues to be hosted on MSDN to support developers who target that platform. In addition, there are several new features introduced in Windows Phone 8.1 that can be used by Windows Phone 8 apps when they are running on Windows Phone 8.1 devices. For more information, see Silverlight 8.1 apps for Windows Phone.



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