Microsoft reveals Cortana, Windows 8.1 Start Menu, new Kinect

Microsoft has unveiled a range of new products and services at its Build 2014 developer conference
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Microsoft has unveiled a range of new products and services at its Build 2014 developer conference.

One of the revealed services is the long-rumoured ‘Cortana’, a voice-controlled virtual assistant rival to Apple’s Siri.

Cortana, named after the fictional AI in the Halo series of games, uses Microsoft’s Bing search engine and locally-stored data to provide personalised search results and execute tasks.

Cortana will be added to handsets running Windows Phone 8.1 via a software update. The functionality will go live in the US first, followed by the UK and China, before arriving in other countries.

Another popular and long-anticipated announcement was the re-addition of the Start Menu to Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 operating system.

The replacement of the traditional Start Menu by the full-screen tile-driven Start Screen in Windows 8 was one of the most radical and discussed changes in the OS.

Microsoft had previously responded to complaints surrounding the removal of the Start Button by reintroducing it in the Windows 8.1 update, and also added a preference allowing users to boot to their desktop view, rather than to the Start Screen, which was originally the default setting.

Now it seems that a similar remedy will be provided for Start Menu purists, as an updated version of the menu will be added back into Windows in the future.

The Start Menu won’t completely recall the past, however, as it will feature live tiles similar to those found in the full-blown Start Screen.

Microsoft was also shown to be moving into the Internet of Things market, with the announcement that Windows would be offered for free on devices with screens measuring under nine inches – such as those found on mobiles, tablets and home automation devices.

In addition to software, Microsoft also revealed some new hardware set for release later this year.

One such announcement was the news that the new Kinect included with the Xbox One would be making its way to desktop computers.

The Kinect for Windows v2 sensor would release alongside a software development kit, meaning that new and existing games and software could utilise the motion-detecting camera.

Improvements over the original Kinect include enhancements in colour fidelity, video definition, field of view, depth perception and skeletal tracking. Kinect for Windows v2 will also include 1080p HD video for improved precision, accuracy and responsiveness.

Another hardware reveal came courtesy of Nokia, which is currently finalising its partial acquisition by Microsoft.

Former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who is now head of Microsoft’s devices division announced a new flagship phone for the company – the Lumia 930.

The 930 features a 20 megapixel camera, five-inch screen, wireless charging and four microphones, which Elop claimed would provide “rich recording” capabilities.

Elop also showcased a budget Lumia 630 model which supports the use of dual SIM cards.

The two phones would also be the first two handsets to offer support for Cortana out of the box, Elop added, saying that the devices bring "an un-compromised Microsoft experience and an un-compromised Lumia experience to more people at much lower price points."

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