Windows Phone 8.1 is getting an update that includes live folders — essentially groupings of live tiles on the Start screen — while digital voice assistant Cortana is now headed to Windows Phones in China and the UK.
The Windows Phone 8.1 update, which will be available in preview form for developers next week and is expected to roll out to customers in the following months, also includes a live tile for the Windows Phone Store, an apps corner that allows businesses to provide access only to specific apps in a sandboxed mode, and the ability to select and mass forward or delete text messages.
In addition, Cortana is going in beta form to China (where it goes by the nickname “Xiao Na”) and the UK, and in alpha form to Canada, India, and Australia.
While Cortana functions similarly in those countries in many ways — with the ability to set reminders and quiet hours and searching the Internet — there are differences tailored to each country.
Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft vice president in Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group, said in a blog post today:
Our team in Microsoft China developed a number of additional features specifically for China. She has an alternative form which has a different visual appearance, animations, and sounds. She supports Chinese (Mandarin) in voice, text, and speech. She also has specialized suggestions tuned specifically for people living in China, like air quality information in weather cards, information about driving restrictions, and the ability to track local TV shows and celebrities. She can look up English words in the Bing Dictionary for people looking to brush up on their English.
Of course fitting a local-market isn’t specific to China! For the UK, Cortana has been tailored to support UK spellings and pronunciations and Bing-provided local data on sports teams (for the EPL), the London Stock Exchange, commuter conditions, and more. The voice and accent is, of course, local, and Cortana’s personality in the UK has also been tweaked to be more locally relevant.
Some improvements for Cortana in the U.S. are also in the update, including the ability to call up Cortana hands-free for phones connected to car Bluetooth kits that are integrated with the user’s contact list, and “a number of neat additions to her personality (try asking “do an impersonation” and see what happens),” Belfiore wrote.