China

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."

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There was rumor before, that the Chinese Xbox One will sport a whopping $800 (4,999 RMB) price tag. But a picture leaked yesterday seems to put consumers at ease, bringing down the price of Xbox One "limited edition" to 3,499 RMB ($565). I should mention that every price tag in China is the after-tax price. For something labeled $500 pre-tax in the United States, $65 extra for tax and tariff isn't bad at all. The price even competes well against Xbox Ones smuggled into China (how the majority of Chinese consumers are buying game consoles in the past decade), which are mostly in the 3,100 - 3,700 RMB range on Taobao, China's most popular online shopping site.

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For those who travel around the world, Bing Translator is an indispensable app for not feeling lost amongst the crowd. The useful app is perfect for translating foreign text to your native tongue, either by typing, scanning the text with your camera or speaking directly into the app.

Today, version 3.0 of Bing Translator is now available, and although it is a big version-number update, the changes in the app itself are singular: Voice translation for Chinese.

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Microsoft's Cortana is currently limited to only those in the United States, but the team behind the personal assistant are working hard to quickly bring it to other regions. Top on that list is the UK and China, two regions that are officially getting Cortana soon. Cortana was originally teased as coming in July, but Microsoft later backtracked on that as the date was pushed back.

Now, Marcus Ash, Group Program Manager of Cortana, has responded to a user's question about the UK, noting "Barring an unforeseen issue, down to less than 2 weeks for the developer preview." This is certainly good news, as many in the UK can finally take advantage of a proper regionalized Cortana, including metric and Celsius data. As to the reason for the delay, Ash explains that he and his team have "…learned a lot about scaling. Now we need to finish" observing that it has been a "tough project".

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Before the formal debut which is planned for September this year, Microsoft and its Chinese joint-venture partner BesTV just brought the Chinese version of Xbox One to China International Cartoon & Game Expo (July 10 - 14, in Shanghai), for a brief demonstration. A quite lengthy commercial for the console was revealed, highlighting the Chinese Xbox One's, um, for lack of better words, let's say "highly localized functionality and marketing strategy".

Here is the video itself, in Chinese, for your enjoyment. There are English subtitles, but sadly they are blocked by all those human heads. I'll try to explain what exactly happened in the video below.

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Microsoft will be the icebreaker in China’s previously prohibited video game industry with the introduction of the Chinese Xbox One later this year. We have voiced our concerns about that bizarre adventure, like pricing, and the rigid content censorship for game software. The ridiculously high price might be a placeholder, but the frustration on the game content front seems to be very true.

As we have mentioned earlier, the problem of China as a game market is that there are no rules to follow. The country doesn’t have a game rating system like the ESRB. Every game is to be reviewed separately by multiple government organs, led by the Ministry of Culture. In this process a game could be condemned improper, harmful, or politically incorrect, and banned for all sorts of reasons.

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Ever since Microsoft removed the licensing fee for the Windows Phone operating system, we have seen a healthy number of new OEMs joining the ecosystem in a pretty short time. Now Hisense, a relatively low profile Chinese smartphone maker that previously has been focusing on Android, is about to announce their first ever Windows Phone device on June 26. That is the 26th day of June in China, which means by the time you are reading this story, the device would have already been unveiled, and our follow-up story will be almost ready.

News of such an announcement by Hisense came yesterday, though we have more details to add to the story today.

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Microsoft’s Cortana is certainly a work in progress, even here in the US where it’s officially available. China and the UK are on the immediate horizon for rollouts, with other regions to follow soon. With all of that work ahead, it makes sense that the Cortana team will want to have a regular update schedule, and much like the Xbox Music app, it looks to be bi-monthly.

In an interview over at Engadget with the Cortana team, updates to the Cortana system will evidently happen twice a month with the possibility for off-cycle updates “for things that are timely, urgent or especially badass." The ability to update Cortana dynamically will ensure that her chitchat (small conversations pieces, voiced by Jen Taylor), will be current and relevant, reflecting any significant cultural happenings.

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Windows Phone and Android have a lot in common. Both are competing for second place in app revenue against the juggernaut that is Apple, and both types of handsets/tablets are more affordable than iOS devices. Although Android has a leg up over Windows Phone worldwide, Microsoft’s mobile platform has a great opportunity to surpass Android in a number of emerging markets like China and Brazil.

There are many factors at play in the ongoing mobile battle between Microsoft and Google. To get a better idea of how each side stacks up, we spoke with Martin Koppel, COO at mobile payment specialist Fortumo. If Martin’s predictions are correct, Windows Phone’s continued growth in developing markets will soon put it on much more even footing with Google’s mobile OS.

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