Microsoft has announced the first update to its Windows Phone 8.1 mobile OS today, bringing Cortana to new markets along with other new features and tweaks.
Referred to simply as 'Windows Phone 8.1 Update', despite the fact there will likely to be a second update, the main new feature is the localised beta version of Cortana, allowing the smartphone assistant to work in China and there's a version tailored for UK users' spelling and pronunciation too. An alpha version of Cortana tailored for Canada, India and Australia will offer a useful but less extensive set of services.
Since smartphone enthusiasts who use Cortana worldwide now are changing their settings to 'US' in order to access the feature, bringing Cortana (or 'Xiao Na') to China is a smart move from Microsoft, with the Chinese being the largest smartphone market in the world. Microsoft has taken its time to carefully modify Cortana, tailoring the features to the China's culture and language with an optional new UI for Chinese users, where the program will support Mandarin Chinese in voice, text and speech.
Other than China, Cortana has also been improved in the US where it debuted. New features including more natural language scenarios, snooze times for reminders, personality additions and hands free access in the car are incoming.
Take a look at the recent video Microsoft has made, below, comparing its Cortana voice assistant's capabilities to those of Apple's Siri.
Other new features coming with this update include Smart Cover support, new native screen resolutions and screen sizes which will help OEMs build bigger-screen devices, live folders, an Xbox Music update, SMS improvements, increased VPN support and the addition of Apps Corner to allow better apps control on your device.
The update is scheduled to become available to developers early August, and it will follow a similar roll-out pattern to Window Phone 8.1.
Microsoft's Selfie Phone
According to Reuters sources, Microsoft is prepping a new selfie smartphone and has given its employees a sneak peek at the new device. A key highlighted specification allowing this smartphone to excel at its role is its 5MP front camera.
This 4.7-inch selfie phone is expected to be launched soon alongside another high-end Windows Phone and was shown off by Stephen Elop at an annual employee meeting in Seattle on Monday.