Cortana arrives in China and the UK, "alpha" markets announced, plus details of Windows Phone 8.1 update
That wait is now over as Microsoft announced that the beta program for Cortana has expanded is now officially available to users in the UK and China. In addition to that, there is an opt-in alpha program available in Canada, India and Australia. We also got more details about the first Windows Phone 8.1 update.
Not only in the US anymore
The significance of Cortana in China is not to be underestimated, it works the same way, generally, but the Chinese Cortana has some additional features. For starters, there is an option to change the visual appearance of Cortana, the animations, and sounds. There are also enhanced social items tracked and provided, such as air quality advisories and driving restrictions. Cortana in China will also look up English words for translations, Mandarin is the supported language. Cortana has a nickname in China too, Xiao Na.
For the UK, Cortana adopts all the nuances for the Queen’s English, spelling, pronunciation, and obviously a more “British” demeanor. Cortana’s functionality continues to work off Bing and provides local relevant data.
This also translates to some enhancements for Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1 developer preview in the US as well. For those that are on the developer preview, new language scenarios have been added, a few new Easter Eggs added (ask Cortana to “do an impression”), and expanded hands-free operation when in the car. Cortana will also integrate with in-car systems in a clever way. Simply tell your connected system to “call Cortana” and then you can interact normally.
On the Windows Phone 8.1 front, details about the first update reveal all sorts of goodies. Xbox Music has been enhanced to deliver better performance when launching the app as well as scrolling through lists. Some Xbox Music features returned too, like background synchronization, swipe to advance, and there will be a “quickplay” feature added.
Messaging will have the ability to select multiple SMS messages so they can either be deleted or forwarded en masse. The Store Live Tile will refresh every 6 hours to show off information about the latest and greatest apps. An Apps Corner has been added for business users, giving more control over how apps can be accessed in certain environments.
Most significant however is the new way to organize tiles on the Start screen. Called Live Folders, apps can be organized into folder groups the same way they can be structured on the Start screen of a Windows 8.1/RT machine. More than that though, the apps that reside within that folder still provide individual tile updates. You will be able to label and arrange the folders any way you choose. They are created by simply dragging one app on top of another and then naming the folder.
New Cortana "alpha" program
Few beta programs have generated as much enthusiasm as the Windows Phone Developer Preview, particularly Cortana. For that, Microsoft is expanding Cortana’s availability and is starting a new “alpha” program for Canada, India, and Australia. It is an opt-in program and will us the language sets for the US and UK.
The update for Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview, which will have all these new features, should begin rolling out next week. An official update for the masses will follow in the coming months.
sources: Windows Phone Blog via WPCentral and Neowin