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Expanded Cortana Support Coming in First Windows Phone 8.1 Update

The first update to Windows Phone 8.1 will expand Cortana's availability to more countries and introduce Start screen folders, Microsoft announced on Wednesday.

Windows Phone 8.1 Update is the first of two platform updates that are expected this year, with reports suggesting a third update may arrive in 2015. The update will be released as a developer preview sometime next week, Microsoft said in a blog post, with general availability expected "in the coming months."

As for Windows Phone 8.1 itself, that is still in the process of being rolled out to users worldwide.

Cortana Improvements
One of the update's functions is to expand Cortana's language support and availability in other markets. Microsoft will launch beta versions of Cortana in China and the United Kingdom with the update, and Cortana will feature customizations that are geared specifically for users in those countries. For example, the Chinese version of Cortana, dubbed "Xiao Na," will support Mandarin Chinese and be able to offer geographically specific suggestions, such as information about air quality. Its appearance will also be different.

The Chinese version of Cortana. (Source: Microsoft)

The version for the United Kingdom will follow U.K. spelling and speaking conventions.

Microsoft also plans to launch an "alpha" program for early-adopter Cortana users in Canada, Australia and India. The program will let users in these countries try the U.S. or U.K. versions of Cortana.

Other Cortana improvements coming with the update include the ability to add Cortana as a phone contact, thereby letting users whose Windows Phone devices are Bluetooth-linked to their cars access Cortana hands-free.

Other Changes
Microsoft outlined a few other tweaks coming to Windows Phone 8.1 Update in its announcement. One of the most notable is the ability to organize Start screen apps within "Live Folders." This feature has been rumored to be in the works since late June.

Live Folders in Windows Phone 8.1 Update. (Source: Microsoft)

Other additions include the ability to connect to a VPN over Wi-Fi, the ability to delete and forward SMS messages in bulk, a new "Apps Corner" feature that lets users set restrictions on the accessibility of certain apps, improvements to the Xbox Music app, and a new live tile for the Windows Store.

Microsoft also recently leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs to hardware partners, which SuperSite for Windows' Paul Thurrott summarized on Monday. In those leaked details, Microsoft revealed that the update will support resolutions of 800x1280 and qHD 960x540, as well as devices with screens up to 7 inches. The update will also let users equip their phones with "smart cases," which interact directly with devices.

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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