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New Features Arrive with Windows Phone 8.1 Update

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore updated the Windows Phone blog with news that the company is gearing up to release the platform's first update. The changes include adding Cortana in other countries, live folders, an update to Xbox Music, the Store live tile and more. Those on the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers should see it next week, whereas average customers should see the update in the coming months.

Belfiore reports that North American customers will see some improvements in Cortana such as new natural language scenarios, snooze times for reminders, and "a number of neat additions to her personality." For phones connected to car Bluetooth kits that are integrated with the user's contact list, the customer will be able to activate Cortana hands-free by saying "call Cortana" and then talking to her as usual.

"You can now organize your apps into folders on your Start screen!" Belfiore wrote in the blog. "We call this Live Folders because the live tiles of apps appear in the tile of the folders—you won't miss tile updates because you group apps in a folder! To create a Live Folder, just drag a tile over another tile and then name the folder. Open the folder to change the folder name and arrange and size the tiles however you want."

As for Xbox Music, the service will provide faster app loading and list scrolling. There will also be a "quickplay" of recent playback activities, support for Kids Corner, the ability to sync the music collection in the background, and swipe to advance. There is also a change to the Live Tile, although additional information wasn't provided in the blog.

Belfiore indicated that the Store live tile will be easier on the eyes, revealing the latest info about apps and games available in Windows Phone Store every six hours. The update will also provide SMS merging and forwarding, an Apps Corner feature for displaying apps in a special "sandboxed" mode, and enhanced privacy and security.

"We've made some improvements in the Windows Phone 8.1 Update to keep your data and identity more protected on public networks," Belfiore explained. "For example, we have added the ability for you to send and receive data through a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots giving you another layer of protection. If you're on your home wireless, creating a VPN provides anonymity to help shield your device from being identified by other devices on the network."

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