Windows watcher Paul Thurrott claims that Windows Phone 8.1 "Blue", slated to be released in Spring 2014, will support 7 to 10 inch screens, possibly laying the groundwork for the supposed merger of Windows Phone and Windows RT in the future. Windows Phone 8 GDR3, which is supposedly going into testing next month and made available in December, is expected to support 5 to 6 inch screens.
The news arrives by way of an unnamed source claiming that Microsoft is preparing a universal binary so that developers can create a single app for Windows RT and Windows Phone. However, due to size issues, this will be opt-in for now, but the Redmond company may eventually decide to make using its universal binary a requirement.
The source also claims that Windows Phone 8.1 will supposedly see the removal of the hardware Back button. Typically users navigate away from an app by pressing the Start button, and then open a new app, just like iPhone owners. Users also don't seem to realize that by repeatedly hitting the back button, they're "stacking" apps. Thus the source claims that Microsoft now believes the Back button just doesn't make sense.
Currently the Back button is also used to access the multitasking user interface, so without a physical button, it's unclear as to how this interface will be accessed in Windows Phone 8.1. The GDR3 update slated for December will supposedly fix some of the technical issues multitasking currently faces (such as manually closing running apps), while the 8.1 update in the spring will supposedly resolve everything, including adding a new Notification Center.
"The biggest contributing factor in Windows Phone user dissatisfaction, and in returns, which is apparently quite high, is the lack of apps," he writes. "I'm told that Microsoft believes it is only 10-12 key apps away from being where they need to be. But you may recall that Microsoft has been trying to fix this issue for almost two years now, and it's not clear how they plan to get there now."
As it stands now, Microsoft is gearing up to launch Windows 8.1 next week. After that, the company will release the Xbox One in November, and supposedly Windows Phone 8 GDR3 in December. After that, a number of releases are expected to arrive in Spring 2014 including Windows Phone 8.1 "Blue", Windows 8.1 GDR1, Windows RT 8.1 GDR1, a new Windows Store, the Surface 2 4G LTE tablet, the Surface Mini tablet, and Modern UI apps for Office 2013.
Sources recently said that it may take two years for Microsoft to merge Windows RT and Windows Phone. Led by Microsoft's new executive vice president of operating systems, Terry Myerson, the merge will supposedly be accomplished by releasing three regular General Distribution Release (GDR) updates per year. This could possibly begin, if not in December, during the spring with the release of Windows Phone 8.1, Windows RT 8.1 GDR1 and the supposed new Windows Store.