Microsoft is currently testing and readying a Windows Phone 8.1 update that is believed to include a new personal assistant. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley reports that the Siri-like feature, codenamed "Cortana" after the Halo character, will let Windows Phone users interact with a handset through voice commands. Windows Phone already includes basic voice commands, but Cortana looks to be a step further with a system that will learn and adapt.
Steve Ballmer has promised a "service-enabled shell" for Microsoft's devices, and Foley claims Cortana is central to this new shell for Windows Phone, Windows, and Xbox One. It's not clear exactly how Cortana will work on Windows Phone, but screenshots of Windows Phone 8.1 earlier this year revealed that Microsoft is already testing the technology. The Verge has obtained additional screenshots of Cortana in action. It looks like Microsoft is testing the ability to pull in weather information, notifications, and calendar events into a single central interface. The interface also includes location information, and access to Bluetooth controls. Microsoft has previously shown concepts of a voice-activated personal assistant for Windows Phone, and it could be ready to now make it a reality.
The screenshots show an early test version of the app, and Microsoft's Cortana UI and features are likely much more advanced now. The software will likely ship with Windows Phone 8.1, an update that's also set to include a notification center and several UI changes. Alleged screenshots leaked earlier this week that show the notification center in action alongside some Start Screen tweaks. Microsoft is expected to roll out its Windows Phone 8.1 update in early 2014.