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July 31, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 update: More features and Cortana in China and UK

As the Lumia Cyan update rolls out to Lumia owners around the world, news comes from the Windows Phone Blog that the first update to  Windows Phone 8.1 is already planned and includes a number of improvements – it also brings Cortana to China, the U.K, and other countries.

Windows Phone keeps getting better

The Windows Phone 8.1 update will be available for people participating in Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers. For others with Lumia and other smartphones running WP 8.1, it will be available in the coming months following the Lumia Cyan update.

This first update includes Live Folders for your home screen, enhanced privacy and security, and updates to the Xbox Music app. But first, let’s take a closer look at what’s new with Cortana, your new personal digital assistant.

ChinaCortana280Ni hao, Cortana!

In China, Cortana (nicknamed “Xiao Na”) supports Mandarin in both speech and text. Her special features for the “Middle Kingdom” include animations and sounds that are different from the U.S version of the virtual assistant.

Xiao Na will also provide news specifically for China, such as information about air quality, driving restrictions, and the latest pop culture news on Chinese celebrities and television shows. Another difference: China’s Cortana can help folks wanting to brush up on their English by looking up words in the Bing English Dictionary.

In the U.K., Cortana will have an English accent, of course (though whether she will sound more Mary Poppins than Margaret Thatcher is yet to be seen), and will support British pronunciations and spellings. She will also provide information tailored just for the U.K. audience. That includes news on the London Stock Exchange, commuter conditions in London and other cities, and Bing-sourced news on the teams in the English Premier League and other sports teams.

Via this 8.1 update, Cortana will also be available in an “alpha” version in three other countries: India, Australia and Canada. This early-preview edition will give people in those places a chance to test out Cortana. By doing so, they’ll help us to improve her capabilities so that in future, Cortana will be even better when she’s released in “beta” version in those countries.

U.S. Cortana: New and Improved

Not to be outdone, the American version of Cortana will also get some upgrades. New features include natural-language scenarios, snooze times for reminders, and the ability to chat with Cortana safely in your car via Bluetooth. Here’s how to add that last feature: If your Bluetooth car kit is integrated with your contacts list, simply add Cortana as a contact. Then, when you want to talk to her, just say “Call Cortana” aloud, and she’ll answer.

The U.S. version of Cortana will also have some pretty cool additions to her personality via the update to WP 8.1. For instance, ask Cortana to “do an impersonation,” and see what happens!

But wait, there’s more!

Let’s delve a little deeper into the WP 8.1 improvements I mentioned earlier. One is that you will have more ways of customizing your Start screen with the addition of Live Folders.


Let’s say you want to see all of your favorite must-read news apps in one place. All you have to do is to create a “News” folder and pin it to your home screen for ASAP access. You can always edit the folder name and arrange and size the tile however you want.

The Xbox Music app will also be more intuitive and smooth to operate. More features have been added every two weeks for the past few months, and one on the way is a “quickplay” feature to see recent playback activities. Another feature you’ll see soon is support for Kids Corner.

Enhanced Security

Do you find yourself using public Wi-Fi hotspots from time to time with your Lumia? Well, your information and identity will now have more protection via the WP 8.1 update. For instance, you’ll be able to connect to a virtual private network (VPN) to securely send and receive data.

Last but not least, with the coming update, it will be easier to manage your SMS text messages via batch deletion and forwarding.

What do you think of these new improvements coming to Windows Phone 8.1?

In the meantime, keep an eye out for the Lumia Cyan update to kickstart your journey into the wonderful world of Windows Phone 8.1.