Last week Microsoft staged BUILD event in the tech epicentre of the earth, San Francisco, where all Microsoft developers congregated to talk about the future of the Windows platform.

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At the very heart of the announcements was one exciting piece of news, the Windows phone update to Windows Phone 8.1! Those of you who have previously been using a Windows phone will know that its beauty lies in its malleable personal design, which enables you to choose your favourite apps and tiles, colour schemes, layout and photos for your start screen. This has been great for educational purposes, as teachers and students have been able to pin any important Office 365 documents to their start screen for easy access, to edit or check work on the go. For example, students might want to access notes on the way to an exam, for that final revision push.

So what's different about the new Windows Phone 8.1 update?

It's all about being even more customizable to your personal preferences. There are many new features but I'm going to pick out a selection for you today. For more info, take a look at the Windows Phone blog.

1. Third Column

The Windows phone now has a third column, enabling all Windows phone users, no matter the size of your phone, to have even more personalised tiles on your start screen. This could be really useful for educators and students who want to be able to quickly access a larger variety of apps for working and having fun on the go. Just think, in an instant touch a student could be Skyping their friends, to reading their maths notes, to calling mum, to checking out their Asos app for that dress they need for Saturday's party!

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2. Start Background

I love the new Start Background feature - it enables you to choose your favourite picture which runs through all of your tiles. A nice little feature for educators during a stressful class or exam time, to quickly glance at their phone and take themselves back to that peaceful Summer afternoon sipping an aromatic red on the beach in South of France.clip_image004

3. Lock screen

The lock screen can now ingeniously be personalised. You can download an app which will enable you to choose between a wide range of interesting "Lock Screen Themes" which will instantly differentiate your phone from anyone else's. Just think how useful this could be for helping students to avoid losing their expensive phones. How many times have you heard students whimpering "Miss/Sir, I left my phone on the bus"? As the Windows phone 8.1 enables you to instantly differentiate your phone lock screen, they would easily be able to inform the bus driver of their phone's personalised distinguishing feature, helping them to retrieve it. Likewise, on a school trip, there would be no problem with students going home with the right phone.

4. Cortana!

You're probably asking yourself, what on earth is Cortana? Well the real question is Who is Cortana. Cortana is "the world's first truly personal assistant" who was inspired by the breath-taking digital assistant of Master Chief on Halo. Who knew the Microsoft Windows developers had such a romantic side!

Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behaviour and checking in with you before she assumes you’re interested in something. She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day, and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you.

When will Cortana reveal herself?

The second half of 2014! So hold tight to get yourself your very own personal teacher's/student’s assistant.

Let's take a closerclip_image005 look at Cortana

In Windows Phone 8.1, you get to Cortana by either a Live Tile on your Start screen or by pressing the search button on your device. This will take you to Cortana Home. To interact with Cortana, you can either speak or type—if you’re in a school meeting, just type and Cortana won’t talk out loud, embarrassing you in front of your head teacher and colleagues. But if you ask her a spoken question, she’ll answer verbally and even carry on a natural conversation. Fabulous for that lonely drive home :)

Once she’s learned a bit about you, Cortana’s home populates with information that is curated just for you. You’ll see things like flight information she’s found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and even traffic information once she learns your commute routine, such as from work and home.

What’s more, because Cortana is powered by Bing, some of the interests in Cortana’s Notebook will light up on Bing.com when you sign in on the web. Bing.com will give you and your students access to the things Cortana tracks for you, like students' UCAS application status - a nail-biting time!

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The Windows developers have also designed Cortana to be able to interact with 3rd Party Apps installed on your phone. You can ask Cortana to help you or your entire class make a video call in Skype in the Classroom, help students look up relevant news articles to research for an essay, look up a news feed on Facebook when you're driving or send a tweet using the Twitter app.

And finally, Cortana isn’t just a dry computer returning search results. Just as she has in the game Halo, Windows Phone’s Cortana has a bit of personality. But you and your students will have to talk to her yourself to see what I mean by that. Or… I bet you’ll be able to find some videos on the web pretty soon to see what I mean.