Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 update takes Cortana to China, UK, and three other countries

The new versions of Cortana come as part of the Windows Phone 8.1 update

Microsoft's voice-activated digital assistant Cortana is coming to China in a beta version nicknamed "Xiao Na", as part of several new functions packed into a Windows Phone 8.1 update.

The company announced the features on Wednesday, including beta versions of Cortana customized for China and the U.K. In addition, Microsoft's digital assistant will also be arriving as an alpha version in Canada, India and Australia.

The Windows Phone 8.1 update is first launching as a preview to developers this week, and then to consumers in the coming months, according to Microsoft. With Cortana, the company is trying to play catch up with Apple and Google in the mobile digital assistant race.

The update also includes new security functions such as the ability to secure data transmissions using a VPN when connecting via a public Wi-Fi hotspot, and a sandboxing tool, Apps Corner, that can be used to restrict the apps used on a phone without resorting to a full enterprise mobile device management platform, Windows Phone head Joe Belfiore wrote.

Other new features include a live tile for the Windows Phone Store, highlighting new apps available right on the phone's start screen, and "Live Folders" allowing the organization of apps (and their updates) into folders on the start screen. There are also improvements to the Xbox Music app, he wrote.

In China, the arrival of Cortana could help Microsoft bring some brand awareness to the Windows Phone OS, which has struggled to compete against iOS and Android, said Wang Jingwen, an analyst with research firm Canalys.

By offering Cortana to the market, Microsoft hopes to offer consumers a convenient way to look up data on driving conditions, weather, and the English translation for Chinese words, among other functions.

But it's doubtful the digital assistant will translate into device sales, Wang added. In this year's first quarter, Windows Phone had less than a 1 percent share of the Chinese smartphone market, according to Canalys.

Apple has offered a Chinese version of Siri since 2012, but digital assistants are more of a nice novelty than an actual application users frequently rely on, Wang said.

"It's not that important for Chinese consumers," she added. "Like consumers in other countries, most of the time we just try them to see what reaction we get. But in normal life, people will just type in the text to find the answers."

Wang hasn't used Cortana, but she has tried Microsoft's Chinese chatbot known as "Xiaobing", an artificial intelligence program available on local social networking Sina Weibo. She was less than impressed with it.

"Some of the answers I got were not related to my questions," Wang said. "I tried to chat with her, like a normal person, but its replies are not like that of a human being."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags mobileMicrosoftsoftwarevoice recognitionMobile OSesWindows Phone

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?