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 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.