Microsoft is preparing to deliver a new version of Windows Phone 8.1 that will be available in preview to developers as of next week.
Company sources said the update will feature enhancements to the Cortana virtual assistant as well as a new feature called Apps Corner, new VPN capabilities, Live Folders and Xbox music improvements, among other things.
The new version, expected to be called Windows Phone 8.1 Update, includes Apps Corner, which enables users to select which apps are displayed in a special “sandboxed” mode--like a protected Start screen--that restricts which apps are used. This feature is for businesses so they can allow access to select apps. Apps Corner can also be used to boot straight to an app. Moreover, from an analytics perspective, developers can get data on usage from inside Apps Corner, too.
Another feature that will excite businesses is the new VPN capability in Windows Phone 8.1 Update. Microsoft has made some improvements in the new version to keep users' data and identity more protected on public networks. The company has added the ability for users to send and receive data through a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots, providing another layer of protection. And for users on their own home wireless, creating a VPN provides anonymity to help shield them from being identified by other devices on the network.
Meanwhile, Microsoft announced that Cortana will be available in China–where it is known as “Xiao Na”–and the UK as a beta and in Canada, India and Australia as an “alpha” release.
The Chinese version has special features including support for Mandarin voice, text and speech, in addition to air quality information in weather cards, information about driving restrictions and the ability to look up English words in the Bing Dictionary for people looking to brush up on their English.
Not to be outdone, the UK and the U.S. also get new Cortana features such as tailored support for UK spellings and pronunciations and Bing-provided local data for the UK. The U.S. gains new natural language scenarios, snooze times for reminders and several new additions to Cortana's personality, among other enhancements.
Other enhancements include Live Folders where users can organize their apps into folders on their Start screen. With Live Folders, the live tiles of apps appear in the tile of the folders. To create a Live Folder, a user needs only to drag a tile over another tile and then name the folder.
Regarding Xbox, the Xbox Music app now provides improved performance in areas such as app load and list scrolling. It also brings back features such as background sync of your collection and swipe to advance, which were missing in the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers.