From the official Windows Phone blog:
Today I am in China to talk about how we’re continuing this vision in the very first update to Windows Phone 8.1, which we’re making available in preview form for developers next week. This update has some great new features for everyone around the world, and in particular we also included some that were completely customized for and by people in China. I’m going to tell you about a couple of the new features in this update.
We have been thrilled by the excitement around Cortana in Windows Phone 8.1. And we’re excited to make her available for people in China and the UK with this update as a “beta” and in Canada, India, and Australia as an “alpha”.
Wait, what? Does Joe mean that 'WP 8.1 Update' will be the official introduction of Cortana to the UK and China? Meaning that UK users have now got to wait months more before the Halo helper is truly official? Disappointing, though anyone impatient can leap on the Developer Preview programme, of course.
The huge Chinese market has a bunch of different expectations and needs than the US or other countries—so while Cortana (nicknamed “Xiao Na”) generally works the same way in China as the US and the rest of the world, China did get some “special features”. As you’d expect, in her notebook, she displays what she is tracking for you, so you can see and control it. You can set reminders and quiet hours with her. She understands the whole internet so she readily helps you find anything you need. But our team in Microsoft China developed a number of additional features specifically for China. She has an alternative form which has a different visual appearance, animations, and sounds. She supports Chinese (Mandarin) in voice, text, and speech. She also has specialized suggestions tuned specifically for people living in China, like air quality information in weather cards, information about driving restrictions, and the ability to track local TV shows and celebrities. She can look up English words in the Bing Dictionary for people looking to brush up on their English.
Enough with China, Joe, what about the UK and other English-speaking markets?
Of course fitting a local-market isn’t specific to China! For the UK, Cortana has been tailored to support UK spellings and pronunciations and Bing-provided local data on sports teams (for the EPL), the London Stock Exchange, commuter conditions, and more. The voice and accent is, of course, local, and Cortana’s personality in the UK has also been tweaked to be more locally relevant.
We know there has been a lot of enthusiasm about Cortana in many other markets, and we wanted to give more people the ability to start using Cortana. Therefore, we’re also starting a new “alpha” program in three countries: Canada, India, and Australia. This early adopter program will be opt-in and give people the ability to try Cortana using English language models from the US and the UK.
Joe also noted that Cortana has had improvements in recent months, especially for motorists:
We’re also bringing some improvements for Cortana in the U.S., including new natural language scenarios, snooze times for reminders, and a number of neat additions to her personality (try asking “do an impersonation” and see what happens). We’ve also added the ability to invoke Cortana hands-free in your car for phones connected to car Bluetooth kits that are integrated with your contacts list. If your car kit is integrated with your contacts, you can now treat Cortana as a contact to invoke her, simply saying “Call Cortana” and then talking to her as you normally would.
The features of Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 then:
You asked for it! You can now organize your apps into folders on your Start screen! We call this Live Folders because the live tiles of apps appear in the tile of the folders—you won’t miss tile updates because you group apps in a folder! To create a Live Folder, just drag a tile over another tile and then name the folder. Open the folder to change the folder name and arrange and size the tiles however you want.
So a much more sophisticated implementation than Nokia's token 'App Folders' then.
Xbox Music: Faster and with more features
The Xbox Music app has been updated to deliver much better performance in areas like app load and list scrolling. It’s also brought back features that were missing in the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers. From background sync of your collection, to swipe to advance, the product has been continually adding features in every two weeks for the past few months. And in the coming month, there will be a “quickplay” of recent playback activities, and support for Kids Corner. Some of these features/improvements are already there in the latest Xbox Music app with the Windows Phone 8.1 release, but some (Live Tile in particular) are specific to the Windows Phone 8.1 Update. More to come!
Store Live Tile:
We made it easier for you to see the latest info about the latest apps and games available in the Windows Phone Store through its Live Tile. If you have the Store pinned to your Start screen on your device, you’ll get updates on the newest titles – refreshed every 6 hours – streamed dynamically to you throughout your day.
SMS merge & forwarding:
We have added the ability to select multiple SMS messages for deletion and forwarding, making it easier to manage your text messages.
With Apps Corner, you can specify which apps are displayed in a special “sandboxed” mode (like a protected Start screen) that restricts which apps are used. This feature is for businesses so they can allow access to select apps in cases where a full MDM solution isn’t required. Apps Corner can also be used to boot straight to an app. An example of where this scenario would come in handy might be with employees at a distribution center using Windows Phone devices that go straight into an inventory app they use to scan products in the warehouse when they turn on their phone. Apps Corner can also be used to setup retail demos. Retailers can export the profile of Apps Corner on one device and import it on to other devices. And developers can get data on usage from inside Apps Corner too.
Enhanced privacy and security:
We’ve made some improvements in the Windows Phone 8.1 Update to keep your data and identity more protected on public networks. For example, we have added the ability for you to send and receive data through a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots giving you another layer of protection. If you’re on your home wireless, creating a VPN provides anonymity to help shield your device from being identified by other devices on the network.
When can I get the Windows Phone 8.1 Update?
If you’re already on the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers then this update should be rolling out next week. The Windows Phone 8.1 Update will roll out to consumers with devices running Windows Phone 8.1 in the coming months. As always, keep sending us your feedback here on UserVoice! Enjoy the update!
A little galling for 8.1 itself to only be rolled out to a tiny fraction of users while Joe's on stage talking about the version after 8.1 - I do wish Microsoft would accelerate its Lumia Cyan rollout!
How do you read Joe's wording? Will Cortana for the UK now not arrive officially until Windows Phone 8.1 Update? Sure sounds like it to me, unless you want to live on the Developer Preview programme.