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many ways. You can use voice commands to search for information, set alarms and make calendar entries, for instance. Although Android devices have had Google Now since 2012, and iPhones and iPads come with Siri and can get a free Google Now app, Windows phones haven't had as robust a voice assistant until now.
Cortana tries to go further than both by warning you of conflicts when you add items to your calendar. It will also remind you to ask about the new dog your sister just got the next time you communicate with her, whether that's by phone, chat or email.
Cortana also promises to give you more ways to customize it. While Google Now will alert you to upcoming travel by scanning your email, Cortana will ask whether it should offer you such alerts. That might reduce unwanted alerts, though it will require more work to set up.
Microsoft said the feature is in a ''beta'' test mode as the company tries to improve its voice recognition capabilities. In fact, during Wednesday's presentation, Cortana made numerous mistakes, including offering weather in Celsius when the request was for the Kelvin temperature scale.
Microsoft plans to remove the beta designation in the second half of the year, when it will formally launch in the U.S., Britain and China.
The company also announced a new Action Center for the Windows Phone system as a hub for app notifications and information such as remaining battery life. Other new phone features include automatic connecting to free Wi-Fi hotspots to save on cellular data.
Microsoft provided more details about how the company is making the Windows Phone system more useful in business settings. Companies will be able to restrict apps that can run on phones issued to employees or prevent sensitive documents from being saved locally.
To bridge the divide between the phone system and Windows 8.1 for larger devices, Microsoft unveiled tools to let software developers adapt apps for the various devices more easily. App developers will also be able to sell apps once across the board; currently, customers must get apps for phones and for other devices separately.
As for Windows 8.1, Microsoft previously said the update will add search, power and settings buttons to the tile-based Start page, so people don't have to figure out how to pull those functions from the right side of their screens.
New features announced Wednesday