updated 09:18 am EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Cortana available in beta for UK, Chinese markets, alpha in Canada, India, Australia
Microsoft has formally announced its upcoming update to Windows Phone 8.1, one it will be releasing to developers next week. The GDR1 update, leaked earlier this week, introduces a number of new features and other improvements to the mobile operating system, as well as expanding the beta program for the Cortana virtual assistant to five new countries after its initial United States launch.
Just as previously rumored, Cortana will be made available to use in China and the United Kingdom as a "beta," while users in Canada, Australia, and India will receive it as an "alpha" version. The UK version includes support for British spellings and pronunciations, data for local sports teams, and other regional information, while the voice and personality has also been "tweaked to be more locally relevant."
The Chinese-specific version of Cortana has more significant changes, including a rename to "Xiao Na." Visual and audio aspects have been changed to suit the Chinese market, as well as supporting Mandarin in voice recognition, text, and speech. Air quality information in weather cards, driving restriction warnings, and tracking of local TV shows and celebrities are also included. The US Cortana gains the ability to invoke the tool hands-free, with those using car kits able to use Cortana by treating her as a contact.
Live Folders for the Start Screen, an improved Xbox Music app, a Store Live Tile, app sandboxing with Apps Corner, and the ability to merge and forward SMS messages also makes an appearance in the update, which should start rolling out to users "in the coming months."