cortana640_verge_medium_landscapeA new version of the Windows phone operating system, Windows Phone 8.1, is on the way. And the good news for you Windows phone users is that there are a number of big improvements over the version running on your phone right now.

What's changed?

Well, firstly Microsoft has added its own virtual assistant to rival Apple's Siri and Android's Google Now and she's called Cortana. Cortana's still in beta but shows plenty of promise - apparently, Microsoft spent lots of time with real personal assistants when designing it. In a nutshell, you can use Cortana to create reminders, track news articles related to your interests, send messages and lots more besides. And the more you use Cortana, the more she learns about you (just like a real PA) and she anticipates your needs. For example, if you search for the weather often, Cortana will begin displaying that information ahead of time.

Let's be frank, the fact that Windows Phone doesn't have a single notification centre has been a bit of pain. Microsoft has recognised this and has responded by adding an 'Action Center' to this new version. Why 'Action Center' rather than 'Notification Center'? Well, because you don't just get the heads up about new emails and messages but also can carry out 'actions' like turning wifi on and off, going into Airplane mode or turning on the rotation lock.

One of the features of the existing Windows Phone operating system which is in no way deficient is the excellent keyboard. However, not content to rest on their laurels, Microsoft have made the latest version even better. The new Word Flow keyboard allows you to either tap each letter or swipe between them to type, making it officially the fastest keyboard to type on (it's the holder of the official Guinness World Record.)

Another couple of handy features are Battery Saver and Wi-Fi Sense. The former turns off non-critical functions that are taking more than their fair share of your battery. The latter will connect your phone to wifi hotspots without you needing to agree to terms and conditions - a useful time saver.

Other improvements include the ability to update a normal phone call to a skype call, weather reports appearing in your calendar (if you've shared your location) and custom volume settings which allows you to crank up your music volume without affecting your ringtone.

All in all, one big (Cortana) and lots of little improvements mean Windows Phone 8.1 is a significant improvement on its predecessor. Is it enough of an improvement of start to tempt some Android or iOS users as Microsoft hopes? We shall see...