Microsoft uses its Windows Phone 8.1 update to add Start screen folders and new security features while pushing Cortana to new parts of the world.
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Microsoft announced the first update for Windows Phone 8.1 on Wednesday. Simply labeled "Windows Phone 8.1 Update," the new package includes the ability to categorize apps into folders on the Start screen, several new security options, and a range of enhancements to tailor Cortana, the OS's digital assistant, to different geographies and cultures.
What can you expect from the update, and when can you get your hands on it? Here are seven things to know about Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 Update.
1. Cortana is an international citizen. Microsoft and other big technology players consider China one of the world's most important smartphone growth markets, so it's no surprise Microsoft is tweaking Cortana, its competitor to the iPhone's Siri, to appeal directly to local culture.
"The huge Chinese market has a bunch of different expectations and needs than the US or other countries," Windows Phone boss Joe Belfiore said in a blog post.
Special features for China, where Cortana will be called "Xiao Na," include a different appearance, different sounds, support for Mandarin voice and text controls, and specialized regional content that includes information about air quality, driving restrictions, or local TV shows and celebrities.
The Chinese version of Cortana includes locally relevant features and a somewhat different interface.
Along with China, the UK will get Cortana as a "beta release" in this update. The British version will feature a locally inspired accent and personality and will feature information on UK sports teams, the London Stock Exchange, and nearby travel conditions. Canada, India, and Australia will get Cortana as an "alpha release."
2. Windows Phone 8.1's Start screen folders act like Live Tiles. Windows Phone 8.1 Update's Start screen folders were rumored to be just like the ones in iOS. Now that Microsoft has pulled back the curtain, it's clear the rumors were mostly correct -- but with one major exception: Windows Phone 8.1 Update's "Live Folders" can display updates themselves, just like the Live Tiles those folders contain. "You won't miss tile updates because you group apps in a folder," Belfiore promised.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update's Live Folders.
3. Improvements are coming to Xbox Music, SMS messaging, and the Windows Store. Windows Phone 8.1 Update restores several Xbox Music features that vanished when Microsoft moved from Windows Phone 8 to 8.1, including background syncing of the user's music library and the "swipe to advance" control. The update also allows users to select multiple SMS messages for deletion or forwarding. It includes a dynamic Windows Store Live Tile that, if pinned to start, will display updates about the newest apps, refreshed every six hours.
4. Cortana will be easier to use while driving. Windows Phone 8.1 Update supports hands-free use of Cortana when the user's smartphone is connected to a car Bluetooth kit integrated with the user's contacts list. "If your car kit is integrated with 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," Belfiore said.
5. Apps Corner is a new way to control app access. With Apps Corner, Windows Phone 8.1 Update lets users select whether an app runs in a sandboxed mode that restricts its interaction with other apps. The feature could help
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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