Big things are coming to Windows Phone users. Microsoft today announced a bunch of new features as part of its upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update, not the least of which is a personal digital assistant of its own called Cortana. It's similar to Siri and Google Now in function, but named after the Halo character and powered by Bing.
Microsoft says Cortana will get to know users over time by asking questions based on their behavior and checking in with users before assuming they're interested in something. There's little chance Cortana will form a romantic relationship like in the movie Her, though Microsoft does envision it developing a personal relationship of some sort, one in which Cortana will eventually learn about the things users care about so that it can filter out the noise and focus only on the things that matter.
"Once she’s learned a bit about you, Cortana’s home populates with information that is curated just for you. You’ll see things like flight information she’s found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and even traffic information once she learns your commute routine, such as from work and home," Microsoft explains.
Cortana is also able to interact with third party apps, such as Skype and Hulu Plus. You can have Cortana look up a news feed on Facebook, send out a tweet via Twitter, and more.
Your Windows Phone will look a little different with Windows Phone 8.1. To make it more customizable, Microsoft is adding a third column on devices with 5-inch or larger displays, like the Lumia 1520. You'll be able to customize your Start background with a favorite picture or one of the options Microsoft provides, and choose from a new set of themes for the Lock screen.
Microsoft is also adding an Action Center so that you can see notifications from any app, whether it's pinned or not. This will also give you quick access to popular settings such as Wi-Fi, toggling Flight Mode, Bluetooth, and Rotation Lock.
There's quite a bit to digest, more of which you can read about in Microsoft blog or via the nearly 17-minute long video above. Or you can wait and experience the changes for yourself. Microsoft said it will begin rolling out the Windows Phone 8.1 update to existing Windows Phone 8 users over the coming months. It will also come pre-installed on future Windows Phone devices, some of which figure to be more affordable. As was previously rumored, Microsoft said it's dropping its Window Phone license fee for OEM and ODM partners who build devices with screens under 9 inches.