Microsoft has announced the first update for Windows Phone 8.1, and that it will be made available to developers, and anyone else running the pre-release version of the OS, next week. Known as Update 1, the new version concentrates on bringing the Cortana virtual assistant to new markets, and added a few cool new features in for good measure too.
Cortana gets the most attention inside Update 1. She will be officially available in both the UK and China, and has been localized to provide relevant information. In the UK, Cortana will get a British accent, and support British spellings and word pronunciations. She’ll know more about UK-specific sports, understand the London Stock Exchange, and help users keep up to date with local traffic reports. According to Microsoft, Cortana’s personality has been “tweaked to be more locally relevant” too.
The Chinese version of Cortana has been given the nickname Xiao Na, along with an entirely new alternative look, complete with a cute face, new audio and special animations. Again, local relevancy is important, so Cortana will help out with air quality updates, report on any driving restrictions, and keep users up to date with local television shows. She understands Mandarin, and has an English dictionary on hand too.
America’s Cortana has also been treated to an update. You’ll be able to use her through your in-car hands-free system, provided it can access your phone contacts, plus her natural language ability has been improved. These changes include some fun hidden features, and Microsoft says you should remember to ask Cortana to do an impersonation. Finally, Cortana will also be visiting Canada, India, and Australia, but only as an opt-in “alpha” program with UK or U.S. English language support.
There are a few cool new features elsewhere in Update 1, with one of the standouts being the introduction of folders on the Start screen. Drag a Live Tile over another and like iOS and Android, a folder will automatically be created, ready to be given a name of your choice. Microsoft has updated Xbox Music, reinstating several older features, and generally improving performance. Other small tweaks in Update 1 include a new Windows Store Live Tile which will display the latest Store news, plus SMS merging, SMS forwarding, and security updates relevant to VPN and Wi-Fi Hotspot connections.
Microsoft will send Update 1 out to developers in the coming week, but hasn’t confirmed which day, while those without access to Windows Phone 8.1 Preview will have to wait several months for it to arrive on their phones. Windows Phone 8.1 was officially revealed in April, and you can read about all the other changes in our full report here.