Microsoft to roll out new Cortana beta and alpha releases in more countries

Microsoft to roll out new Cortana beta and alpha releases in more countries

Summary: Microsoft is releasing Cortana, its personal digital assistant for Windows Phone, in beta in China and the U.K., and in 'alpha' form in Australia, Canada and India.


Microsoft is rolling out beta versions of its Cortana personal digital assistant in China and the U.K. the week of August 4, as part of its Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 release, officials disclosed on July 30.


The company also is rolling out Cortana to a few other countries -- Canada, India, and Australia -- earlier than planned. It will make Cortana available in "alpha" form in these three regions as of next week. Alpha means Cortana will be opt-in for these "early adopter" users and will use U.S. and U.K. English at this point.

The U.S. version of Cortana, which Microsoft initially released as part of the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system developer preview in April 2014, also was designated as a "beta." Cortana is still classified as "beta" even in the final versions of the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system rolling out to existing Windows Phone users.

The Chinese version of Cortana, nicknamed "Xiao Na," will work like the U.S. version does. However, the Chinese version does include some features customized for the Chinese market, such as the option for a different visual appearance (a face-like oval with eyes), animations and sounds.

The Chinese version supports Mandarin Chinese in voice, text and speech, as well as customized suggestions for those in China, like the ability to track local celebrities and weather cards with air quality information. (The U.K. version likewise includes customizations specific for those in that market.)

Microsoft also will be adding some new features to Cortana in the U.S., according to company officials. Earlier this week, Microsoft execs noted that Cortana now shows local Foursquare recommendations. Beyond that, the U.S. Cortana beta, will get "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)."

With Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 -- a developer preview of which will be out the week of August 4 -- Microsoft is adding 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," explained company officials in a blog post.

Currently, Cortana is a feature of Windows Phone only. Microsoft officials have hinted Cortana is coming to Windows, as well (possibly as part of the "Threshold" release in the spring of 2015, tipsters have said). Cortana also is expected to come to the Xbox One platform at some point, too. Microsoft execs have left the door open as to whether and when Microsoft might also make Cortana available on non-Microsoft operating systems.

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Windows Phone


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Any news on Europe?

    Still waiting to hear when we will get it (Germany).
  • Canadian version is alpha?

    Can't be that hard to get Cortana to add an "eh?" to everything, can it? :)
    • take off eh!!

      You hoser!! That is such a stereotype, I am sorry. I am goin to be out and about drinkin my double double and using Cortana eh! :)
      • Correction

        You will be out and aboot.
    • The problem in Canada is spellings and pronounciations

      In general, Canadians mostly pronounce stuff like Americans, and spell like the British - but not always. Some US spellings are used as are some British pronunciations.

      I've been in the US more than 20 years now and I'm still realizing that there are words that I've been pronouncing in Canadian fashion all these years without knowing it.
  • Spell like the British?

    Flydog57, just to clarify, there is US spelling and Rest of World spelling! Or, more accurately, there is (English-language) spelling and then there is US spelling...
  • Cortana for Windows

    I want it now. Some of us old guys aren't glued to our phones, and I think it would be awesome on the Win8 tablet.
  • Hopefully..

    ..we in New Zealand (where WP is actually quite popular) will actually get Cortana some time this Century.

    I'm praying they at least give people the option of using Jen Taylor as the voice though. The whole local voice-talent thing is somewhat patronizing, most of us English speaking countries grow up on American movies/tv/music, so we're all quite capable of understanding an American accent Microsoft!

    With no visual link, and then no audio link to's not really Cortana any more is it.