Microsoft announces Cortana for China, UK with 'alpha' status for India, Australia, and Canada

Cortana heads to UK, China in beta, while India, Canada and Australia get opt-in alpha program

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 and…try Cortana using English language models from the US and the UK."

China and "Xiao Na"

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:

  • Chinese (Mandarin) in voice, text, and speech
  • Specialized suggestions like air quality information in weather cards, information about driving restrictions, and the ability to track local TV shows and celebrities
  • Cortana can look up English words in the Bing Dictionary for people looking to brush up on their English

UK and Cortana finally meet

The UK is also now getting its own customized version of Cortana, with regionalization implemented to better suit the British market, including:

  • UK spellings and pronunciations
  • Bing-provided local data on sports teams (for the EPL), the London Stock Exchange, commuter conditions, and more
  • Localized voice, accent and personality for the UK

Minor updates coming to US users too

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:

  • New natural language scenarios
  • Snooze times for reminders
  • Additions to her personality e.g. impressions
  • Now answers 'Where am I?' and related questions
  • 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.)

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

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

331 Comments
  • Xiao Na looks cute. Would be great to have that as an option for Cortana. Stoked to see Microsoft keep pushing the envelope with Cortana!
  • Why Microsoft prefer China to others country?
    China government is totally against Microsoft.....
  • What makes you think they prefer China?
  • The market share is higher in Germany and yet there isn't even an alpha. (Yes I know the potential in China is quite different ;)) Posted via Windows Phone Central App
  • Yeah thats a total wonder. They are banking hard on Cortana to increase market share in China which is around 1%. I think someones smoking too much crack if they think thats gonna boost the numbers into double digits.
  • That's right, China only has 3.5% market share in a country with a population of 1.36 Billion. Instead, it makes sense to concentrate on say, Germany with a 5.9% market share in a country with a population of 80 million? Right. Makes total sense....
  • Yes because we in Germany speak German... Btw evry German can speak English (everyone up to 40 xD)
  • Is all about the money, money, money. And politics of course. Xbox into China, big market, Cortana to match.
  • No, not aganist, just for some securities of the government.
  • Sam, will Cortana UK get Formula 1 under SPORTS TEAMS?
  • Yeah I hope so cause if not its a huge fail!!!!!   They sponsor Lotus F1 under the MS Dynamics banner so it remains to be seen if they actually have a clue!
  • It shows how good the MS marketing team is when: a) They put out ads showing their links with Lotus just as they turn crap (partially Renault fault admittedly, not fully Lotus) b) They decide to have that waste of space called Maldonado, not Grosjean, as their driver representative in said advert. PS good might be the wrong word .......
  • that's the question of the year, even in the US. I don’t know how much more of Hams bad luck I can take. Its driving me nuts.
  • Future looks cortana..... Patients does pay.. :)
  • can any1 tell if I change back the region of my phone to India will I have access to use cortana on my phone..?? Like m havin currently using US region ..!
  • No. At least for me it's not working. She will then disappear from your phone. All data will be kept though. So of you turn it back to U.S. she might be unpinned but all data and settings are still there.
  • Okkk thnx for the reply :)
  • No, it will turn back to bing search
  • Big country? Haha
  • Although I live in the US my phone is set to the UK so I'm looking forward to Cortana next week. Which, by the way, has been delayed yet again... Here's hoping it's out next week. :S As for the others, I can only say that I don't see why they can't flip the switch for the whole world... Sure they may experience some scaling issues and may possibly offer a sub-par version of Cortana but most people have been generally happy with Cortana's performance when setting their region to the US.  
  • + a finnish 920 in Germany!
  • Can you elaborate the term Alpha please.....???
  • It's the stage before Beta release.
  • Cortana coming soon to India.
  • ओए कोरटाना, क्या कर रेली हैं।
  • अभी हाथो पर मेहन्दी लगा लगा रखी । रच जायेगी तब इन्डिया आयेगी।
  • Like i will fuck you now what indian say.. ए कोरटाना चू* दे दे।
  • So for other countries its in the gamma status?? :-p
  • Omega status!
  • Gamma status, if exists, would be after beta. Alpha is the lowest stage for a product that is being tested by users.
  • Is there any registration fr alpha cortana?
  • Cortana for India...Awesome news !! MS has finally started giving India what it deserves. :)
  • what it deserves... alpha version?
  • lmfao
  • lol  
  • Shit?
  • There is three stages: Alpha & Beta & Gamma
  • Software doesn't have a Gamma stage. It's called 'release'.
  • It's four! Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta! Lol
  • If i'm not mistaken. Alpha is the preliminary stage for Cortana. Here for India they've already written a basic code for cortana so it works. But cortana only gets info from all the apps and the web and is only available in english. All other dialects and languages have not been tapped into. this phase is where the ideas are just begun. beta phase is where they test what is made and also let users experience it and give back feedbacks. in beta improvements and additions still come into play. This is just my thoughts. Any one can give a much clear idea, like technicaly please do explain. Interested in knowing. Wpcentral editors?? +920
  • These are software testing concepts. Alpha is testing done at microsofts offices under controlled conditions. Beta is tesing done in real world through end users.
  • You can choose the US or UK version of Cortana, so you'll get most of the features without hacking and just lacking some regional content.
  • कोरटाना आज बारिश होगी या नहीं ?
  • For non-Hindi speakers, Vinit just said "Cortana, will it rain today or not?" :D
  • I think MS prioritizes the countries that have a unique culture or language. Such as China with its mandarin and UK with British accent.
  • Then here in Canada where literally everyone speaks English, we get the Alpha... *sigh*
  • Not everyone! Some speak French, others speak both at the same time. I hope Cortana can understand multiple languages at the same time or at least have a button to swap language like I can do with the keyboard.
  • True, but even in Quebec most people speak English. Honestly, it has to be because of the ridiculous east coast accents as well as the Quebecois English accent.
  • Wrong. That statement would be right for Montreal area only.
  • But you can say that New York state also have there accents. some speak Dutch English right together. 
  • There are huge parts of Quebec where most people are monolingually French speaking. There are parts of New Brunswick that are the same. There are allophone pockets in every major cities where most people speak neither French nor English. There are areas in the north where little English is spoken. Canada has very high rates of immigration- almost twice the rate of the US per capita and second in the world only to Australia, per capita, but with far more diverse sources of immigration than Australia has- and is incredibly linguistically diverse.
  • @Iarus Surai  -  Your comment made me laugh mate, That was funny :) lol
  • It basically means you can access the US (or UK if you prefer since you have the same head of State) version without any regional hacking. It's not so much alpha, as beta without the localisation. It's good to see MS listening and giving people this option, better than their usual "US only" stance.
  • You must forget that French is our second language...
  • every year I go to Montreal for Formula 1 and we come across people in restraints that have to get someone to translate what we are saying. so no not everyone speaks English in Canada.
  • Is this available in Hong Kong?
  • I really don't know when HK will get it, or "if", indeed. In many international things nowadays Hong Kong is simplistically just bundled into the Greater China, so therefore... China market. 7 million is not a big number for a language group, especially when expected to use English or Mandarin anyway.
  • Good stuff must about to try it moving from US version.
  • How do I get cortana in the UK?
  • Nope, I don't see it either. We have to wait a little longer I guess.
  • Just read elsewhere that it comes with Update 1... One week!
  • Yes, next week. Update 1 is going to be released with Cortana in both UK and China.
  • Where did you read that as the article doesn't mention it at all and I would expect wp central to have mentioned it as well!!?!
  • Cortana is at the top of the release notes of GDR1 preview. Look for engadget.com's report on this. She will arrive next week with GDR1.
  • Well that just plain sucks considering that for the UK and China we were told "within 2 weeks", looks like that turned out to be a complete steaming pile of BS then!!!!
  • Ok, well whatever... On another note, this is pretty exciting!
  • The last 'official' comment (albeit twitter) was in less than two weeks, which would mean latest by THIS friday. I knew I should have taken the bet that it wouldn't materialise till later. There must have been an 'unforseen event' :)
  • Does this mean Cortana UK will get to show Formula 1 under Sports?! Cortana US doesnt have a clue what F1 is, and what makes it worse is that I'm in the Philippines. lol
  • In China, it is said to be coming along with the update 1 preview next week, guess it is similar in UK
  • when?
  • Next week
  • How do we opt-in?
  • Update 1 next week
  • no love to Brazil-- what a shame
  • yeah, being the third biggest market I had some hope, but it's as always, our unique variant of language is too much of a hassle to localize.
    at least with UK Cortana I can finally use temperature and distances in an unit system that makes sense.
  • Aye
  • India only gets English and not Hindi. So many people in India do not know English well, so we are in the same boat. The more involved you get with Cortana English version and give suggestions, the earlier you will get Cortana localized to your language.  
  • I love Brasil!
  • Ok so how do we turn her on! ;)
  • Wait for Update 1
  • You obviously don't get the joke. LOL.
  • I see what you did there.
  • Well, it's quite simple really.  All you have to do is press the... waaaaaait-a-minute!
  • Lol
  • Make me come alive come on and turn me on..... Turn me on.......tur.tur.tur...
    ..turn me on !
  • Rub in the right spot?
  • How do you opt in the alpha? Canadian user.
  • It will arrive with GDR1 preview.
  • I hope that this 'alpha' program will soon be expanded to other countries and languages and that Xiao Na will be intensively marketed in China and boost Windows Phone sales. At least Windows Phone isn't a 'monopoly' there.
  • hmmm, would be nice to get some Aussie Cortana in this end of the world... even in Alpha, it'll beat getting the weather in Fahrenheit... Hangin out for those details on how to "opt in" :D
  • I hear ya bro!
  • +925 ;)
  • Coming soon to INDIA means indian users changing region to either UK or US?
  • guess you don't need to. But they may provide the service based on that in UK or US
  • No need to change. It will be a sort of keep-your-own-region but use Cortana's UK version (in India) or US version (elsewhere)
  • It means that you can keep the region as India, but change the language to English(US) or English(UK)
  • This is very good news, looking forward to final public release in UK
  • Nice! Lots of news today
  • Now, I can't help but go back to Dev Preview again. ;)
  • Awesome :D So... Is there an OTA update to enable this or?
  • next week preview
  • What will be the name of Cortana for India
  • Cortana obviously.
  • Haha they better keep Cortana. Any other name will suck.
  • Cortinda :D
  • hahaha
  • And Courtney for UK :|
  • Cozza for Australia? :D
  • Savitha
  • Katrina? (voiced by Katrina kaif) .... Ooh *^^*
  • Oh hell noo. Let it be Jen Taylor.
  • Hahaha.... Awesome....
  • I hope not. Can't stand her.
  • why not RAJNIKANTH   or CHITTI
  • +520
  • Nagina :')
  • Lol
  • Wp8.1 update 1 is the better news
  • Sucks that the UK people will lose Jen Taylor's voice. At least for the Halo fans I know in that population. And why is the BPL for the UK only? I would love that hear in the States.
  • Its not that BPL for UK.. It is that Cortana now knows what BPL is.. Wish she also knows what IPL is..
  • Sorry but I'd much appreciate it if you could tell me what does BPL and IPL mean please? Thanks.
  • *inform=indian
  • ?
  • BPL = Barclays Premier League or English Premier League (English league for Soccer clubs) IPL = Indian Premier League (Indian league for T20 Cricket) They are the top domestic sporting events in the respective countries.
  • Ah... thanks! :D
  • I guess British premier league for football and inform premier league for cricket sports
  • Cheers bud!
  • The 'using language models from the US and UK' for those in Canada, India and Australia should hopefully mean it's switchable. Unless they've just decided Canada gets the US Cortana while India/Aus get the UK one.
  • It will be switchable. We will have the option to change our language to English(US) or English(UK) and Cortana will work accordingly. At least that is what I think.
  • Seems legit
  • UK: replace all punctuation with 'innit' Canada: replace all punctuation with 'eh' Australia: replace all punctuation with 'mate' There, all done.
  • C姐居然变猪鼻,强烈愤慨! I've decided to keep using the English Cortana in regards of the ugly snout-like Chinese Cortana.
  • U can choose the image of Cortana or Xiao na actually