Microsoft unveiled the latest update to its Windows Phone mobile operating system on Wednesday. The update includes an “Action Center” which combines the functions of the iOS Control and Notification Centers, a new keyboard input method similar to Swype, and Cortana, their Siri-like personal assistant.
The feature of the Windows Phone 8.1 update that most iOS users will be interested in is Cortana, Microsoft’s new digital personal assistant. The new feature allows users to search the web, send messages, and schedule appointments by using their voice.
The Verge reports that when developing Cortana, Microsoft spoke with a number of human personal assistants and found that they kept notebooks with all the key information and interests of the people they assisted.
That inspired Microsoft to create a virtual “notebook” for Cortana to use which store personal information, and anything else that the user approves for Cortana to see and use.
Microsoft says Cortana will learn from users, in an effort to deliver more relevant information. Cortana will use Microsoft’s own Bing search engine for her search results.
In a move sure to turn iOS developers green with envy, Microsoft will provide an API for integrating applications with Cortana. This feature is still lacking for Siri.
Microsoft is reportedly planning to bring Cortana to their Windows and Xbox platforms next year.
Windows Phone 8.1 will also include a new Action Center, where situational information, such as notifications and the device’s battery percentage left will be displayed.
Other features include custom backgrounds, a “high density” option to show more tiles on the screen. and a new keyboard input method that Microsoft calls “shape writing.” The new method will allow users to swipe across the keys to type, similar to Swype, and other third-party keyboard on the Android platform.
Microsoft says Windows Phone 8.1 will be available to consumers sometime “in the next few months.”