Tonight in Beijing, China, corporate vice president at Microsoft Joe Belfiore announced new Cortana rollout plans for Windows Phone 8.1 users, including a new 'alpha' program to speed up the deployment process. Furthermore, full details about Update 1 for Windows Phone 8.1 were also released, including early access starting next week.
As expected, China and the UK are now getting access to Cortana on a beta status, with substantial customization done for both countries, especially in China where some significant changes to the UI of Cortana have taken place. Additionally, India, Australia, and Canada are now part of an "early adopter program" where users can "opt-in andtry Cortana using English language models from the US and the UK."
China is a unique testing ground for Cortana and presented some unique cultural challenges for the development team. Cortana, nicknamed "Xiao Na", works the same way as the current US version, but there are some unique customizations to better suit the Chinese populace. One instance of this change is an optional "alternative form" where instead of being a bouncing blue ball, Cortana has two eyes and "face". Microsoft tells us this has to do with eye contact being necessary in that culture for these types of applications. Moreover, Cortana has some other unique abilities in China, including:
The UK is also now getting its own customized version of Cortana, with regionalization implemented to better suit the British market, including:
Not to be left out, those in the US are seeing some recent changes to Cortana, which we have documented over the last few days. Besides references powered by Foursquare and app recommendations, Microsoft is announcing the following new additions to Cortana:
It is clear from Microsoft actions that Cortana is a high priority release for them, and community feedback is a driving factor in that decision. Users demanding access to Cortana is causing Microsoft to shift resources to speeding up deployment globally and the more customers opt-in, the more data and feedback the Cortana team can absorb, ensuring that those programs continue.
Further release plans for Cortana going forward are currently unknown, but it is evident that if these alpha scenarios see high user-adoption, Microsoft could continue to rollout Cortana on a provisional basis in more regions.
Stay tuned for more coverage on Cortana, including answers to your questions to the Cortana team about the challenges in going international!
Source: Windows Phone Blog