Windows Phone 8.1 Update is headed to developers as early as next week, with some new features and – get this! – Microsoft’s digital voice assistant, Cortana.

We’ve been hearing about the supposed Windows Phone 8.1 Update that’s imminent upon Windows Phones. Today, Microsoft announced the arrival of its digital voice assistant via Windows Phone 8.1 Update that’s on its way next week for China, and UK developers/users via a Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview program.

Windows Phone 8.1 Update brings the following features:

  • Live Folders
  • VoLTE (voice over 4G LTE) support
  • 1280 x 800 screen resolution support
  • 7-inch tablet/phablet support
  • Network Time Protocol (NTP) support
  • HTC Dot View Case support
  • Apps Corner
  • Store’s Live Tile
  • Improved Messaging
  • Cortana’s expansion in the UK and China

Live Tiles have always been a trait feature of the Windows Phone experience, but the Windows Phone 8.1 Update will allow live tiles to be placed within folders natively – a feature that’s been present on iOS and Android for some time. Unlike either Android or iOS, however, Windows Phone’s live folders will allow you to see snippets of information from the live tiles themselves.

windows-phone-8.1-update-live-folders

Voice over LTE (or VoLTE) will allow Windows Phone users to make phone calls over 4G wireless connections. Up until now, users have only been able to make calls over Wi-Fi or 3G, but this’ll soon change.

Network Time Protocol support’s been thrown into the update as well, designed to help regulate internal clocks in Microsoft devices. Even when clocks are set to feature the same time, it is sometimes the case that device lag results in each clock turning to a new minute or hour at different moments (some phones turn “1PM” before others, for example).

Before we get to the Cortana voice assistant support in Windows Phone 8.1, let’s look at some of the other support updates that’ll arrive with the new update. First is the 1280 x 800 screen resolution support for devices.

We don’t know if Microsoft’s issuing this update because of current Windows devices such as the Lumia 1020, Lumia 925, the new Lumia 930, the phablet-sized Lumia 1320 or Lumia 1520, or if the new update looks to bring support for this particular screen resolution because of future devices.

What we do know, however, is that 7-inch tablet (or phablet) support arrives with Windows Phone 8.1 Update, so it could be the case that Microsoft’s got a 7-inch tablet or phablet in the pipeline for a future release (perhaps later this year). Since Microsoft’s only dabbled into 6-inch display smartphone territory so far, we could see Microsoft emerge with larger devices.

If Samsung still designs Windows Phones such as the Samsung ATIV, it’s not a stretch to expect that devices will indeed turn larger. Samsung just emerged with its Samsung W (or Galaxy Tab Q) phablet in China that is designed as a tablet but can make phone calls. Samsung looks to bring the device to other markets, but the Korean manufacturer may have a special Galaxy Tab Q for Windows in mind later this year. Microsoft may also be interested in manufacturing seven-inch phones that can be used as tablets for work and play.

HTC Dot View case support is involved in the Windows Phone 8.1 Update. This is not surprising, in light of the HTC One M8 for Windows device that’s rumored to emerge for Windows users sometime soon. The Dot View case would allow to view the time and weather on their smartphone without the need to open the case.

Apart from all these things, Cortana is likely to be the best thing about the Windows Phone 8.1 Update for users. The Siri-like digital voice assistant allows to get quick access to information such as sports scores and the weather by way of voice command – a feature that iPhone users have had by way of Siri, and Android users by way of Google Now. With the rollout of update, Cortana will be available in the US, UK, and China, Australia, Canada, and India.

In China, Cortana will be called “Xiao Na,” while UK users will get a “British-accented” Cortana that keeps their English Premier League scores up-to-date. US users will be part of the initial test mode of Cortana along with UK and China users. Australia, Canada, and India users will have to wait until the initial test mode ends to access Cortana.

We don’t have an exact date for the Windows Phone 8.1 Update, but we know that it’ll roll out to developers through developer preview program before hitting all Windows Phone devices later this year.

Are you excited about the Windows Phone 8.1 update? What new feature excites you the most? Are you interested in a seven-inch Lumia phablet somewhere down the line, or do you think that displays have turned chaotic?

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