With the deminse of Blackberry (RIM) from the mobile phone market the way has become clear for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 to become the third player behind iOS and Android.  As such their updates are considerably more interesting and the recently announced GDR3 update is more interesting than most due to accessibility features.

The update which has also been called Bittersweet Shimmer adds:

  • A bigger start screen with more support for larger phablet style devices.  This is to include devices of up to 6″ initially, although code leaks have indicated up to 10″ in the long run.
  • A new driving mode with multiple customizations.  This can automatically limit distractions by limiting notifications, auto-replying to texts and is designed to trigger automatically when linked to a car’s bluetooth.
  • Improved connection sharing making the hotspot features more compatible with Windows 8.1 on the PC and allowing bluetooth pairing and NFC security startups.
  • More built in ringtones.
  • A built in rotation lock.
  • Multiple changes to Bluetooth to support Bluetooth LE and general quality

We have frustratingly little information about the accessibility changes but it is a systemic change rather than a new feature or two.  Microsoft says:

… which include a screen reader, make it easier for blind and visually impaired users to manage calls and contacts, send texts and emails, browse the web, make Skype and Lync calls, and hear notifications like alarms, calendar events, and low-battery warnings.

The update will ship with new Nokia devices from later this month and to older devices as carriers approve and ship it.  In addition Microsoft have announced a preview program for developers that allows users to bypass the carriers and install it themselves.  It will cost $19 (around £11) a year but has the disadvantages of potentially voiding your warranty and of having no rewind built in – once you’ve upgraded you cannot go back.

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