Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) unveiled its Windows Phone 8.1 update on Wednesday, adding Mandarin-language support to Cortana, the virtual personal assistant developed by the company.
Microsoft also introduced a version of Cortana for users in the UK, while an “alpha” version of the software was announced for users in Canada, India and Australia. According to Microsoft, users of the Windows Phone 8.1 preview for developers will get the update by next week, while the new software will roll out to consumers with devices running Windows Phone 8.1 in coming months.
“This update has some great new features for everyone around the world, and in particular we also included some that were completely customized for and by people in China,” Microsoft said, in a blog post.
Cortana, nicknamed “Xiao Na” in China, will feature a different interface, animations and sounds. Cortana will also have specialized suggestions aimed at people living in China, such as air-quality information on weather cards, information about driving restrictions, and the ability to track local TV shows and celebrities. The software will also be able to look up English words in the Bing Dictionary.
In the UK, Cortana has been tailored to support UK spellings and pronunciations, and information on local sports teams from the Bing database. Cortana users in the UK will also have access to English Premier League scores, London Stock Exchange information and various transport updates.
However, users in Canadian, India and Australia will have to choose a U.S. English or UK English version of Cortana, which means that the service will not be fully localized for these regions just yet.
With the Windows Phone 8.1 update, users will be able to organize apps into folders on the Start screen. To create a Live Folder, users can drag one tile over another and then name the folder, which can be renamed later. Users can also arrange and resize the tiles however they want.
Other visual improvements added to the Windows Phone 8.1 update include a change to the “Store Live Tile” -- refreshed every six hours -- allowing users to see information about new apps. The update also allows users to select multiple SMS messages for forwarding or deletion, while also adding improvements to the Live Tile for Xbox Music.
Microsoft has also enhanced privacy and security features in the Windows Phone 8.1 update. For example, the company has added the ability for users to send and receive data through a virtual private network when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots, allowing for an additional layer of protection.
“If you’re on your home wireless, creating a VPN provides anonymity to help shield your device from being identified by other devices on the network,” Microsoft said in the blog post.