By Anick Jesdanun at Yahoo Tech:
Microsoft unveiled a new virtual assistant for Windows Phone devices Wednesday as it seeks to gain traction in a highly competitive and lucrative market for smartphones.
The assistant, Cortana, is named after an artificial-intelligence character in the company's "Halo" video games. Cortana tries to be chatty like Apple's Siri, while anticipating information you might want, like Google Now.
Cortana is among the new features coming to a Windows Phone update called 8.1. The updated operating system will come with new phones in about a month, including three that Nokia announced Wednesday. It will also be available as a free download for existing phones a few months later.
Microsoft is also updating its Windows 8.1 system for tablets, laptops and desktops. Although Microsoft has been pushing touch-screen controls, the new update is designed to make it easier for those with traditional keyboard and mouse controls. The update, simply called Windows 8.1 Update, is available starting next Tuesday.
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