Windows Phone 81 rumors hint at Cortana assistant, notification center

Windows Phone's future may involve more than just a few more home screen tiles. Elaborating on rumors from the summer, ZDNet claims that the next version of Windows Phone (possibly 8.1) will focus on Cortana, a personal assistant that goes beyond the likes of Google Now or Siri. The Halo-inspired component is reportedly more of a shell than an app, and would integrate the OS with Microsoft services like Bing. Ultimately, Cortana would find its way into versions of Windows and the Xbox One's Dashboard.

The assistant might not be the only major feature in 8.1. Windows-Phone.pl has posted what it says are photos of the OS running on a smartphone. They suggest that the previously leaked notification center would reside in a Live Tile, and that users could group-select tiles like they can with Windows 8.1. There's no guarantees that the images or the Cortana rumor are authentic, although they're consistent with Microsoft's publicly stated desires for both a notification center and a "service-enabled shell." We may not get any official details for a while, however -- if real, Windows Phone 8.1 might not ship until sometime in early 2014.