Windows Phone’s virtual assistant, Cortana, is finally breaking out of the U.S.
As part of the first Windows Phone 8.1 update, which will be available to developers next week, Microsoft will be launching beta support for Cortana in China and the United Kingdom, as well as alpha support in Canada, India, and Australia, according to a blog post by Windows Phone head Joe Belfiore.
Cortana, Microsoft’s competitor to Siri and Google Now, is also getting a slight facelift for China. It can also alert users in China about things like air quality and driving restrictions. The Chinese version of Cortana supports Mandarin, and it can also help people brush up on their English vocabulary.
In the UK, Cortana will get a local accent and support British spellings and pronunciations. Windows Phone 8.1 users in Canada, India, and Australia will be able to select U.S. or UK Cortana language profiles.
The update also brings a few new additions for U.S. Windows Phone users, including snooze times for Cortana reminders, different language scenarios, and the ability to command Cortana in your car hands-free (if your Windows Phone is connected via Bluetooth and your car has access to your contacts list).
As users spend more time with their smartphones, the importance of truly intelligent virtual assistants will likely rise over the next few years. Microsoft is playing catchup to Apple and Google, but Cortana at least gives it something to compete with.
Microsoft also finally added the ability to nest Windows Phone apps into folders (top image), which should help your Start screen look a bit neater. Among other new features, you can now batch forward and delete text messages and connect to VPN networks when on Wi-Fi networks. A new “Apps Corner” mode allows businesses to control how specific apps are launched, which could be used to create things like retail demos.
Belfiore says the update will make its way to general Windows Phone users in the coming months.