Cortana for iOS, Android now features quick access to common actions

Microsoft's virtual assistant is getting a facelift and launching in the UK on non-Windows platforms

Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant is getting a facelift on iOS and Android aimed at making it more useful for users, and also bringing a bit of brightness to what's currently a rather dour interface. 

The app's biggest change is the launch of a button that lets users quickly choose between a suite of common actions, like viewing their calendar at a glance, checking reminders, or getting a weather forecast. The app itself looks friendlier, with a purple gradient background replacing a stark black, white, and blue color scheme. 

On top of that, Microsoft also announced on Thursday that the iOS and Android versions of Cortana are coming to the U.K., so that Brits will be able to use the virtual assistant. Microsoft has been slow to expand Cortana's geographic reach until the assistant has been set up to work with local social norms and other expectations.

The Cortana app is a key part of Microsoft's strategy with its virtual assistant. Windows smartphones are an extreme minority compared to the iOS- and Android-powered devices that overwhelmingly dominate the market. If Microsoft wants its virtual assistant to be ubiquitous, it's important to invest in a mobile app that works on other platforms. 

The virtual assistant is a major feature of Microsoft's Windows 10 push, along with its larger ambitions around powering intelligent assistants. Cortana is competing in a crowded market, against the likes of Siri, Alexa, and the Google Assistant. 

In addition to the redesign, Microsoft also said that the app is faster than its previous version, which will be helpful for competing against other assistants. 

The update is rolling out to Android devices this week through the Google Play Store, and the iOS app will get updated "in the coming weeks," according to a Microsoft blog post. 

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