Did you use the Xbox? Remember that interface? Are you laughing? It was pretty bad, as was the first Xbox 360 one. Blades gave way to a mess of boxes, bringing us to the point we're at now. I'm sure you'll agree we're not at a good place now when it comes to Xbox 360's UI.
From what I've seen of the Xbox One interface, it seems that Microsoft has been listening to our gripes. I'd almost call the new one elegant. It's certainly clean and well-thought-out, and not unlike something you'd see on a mobile device.
Microsoft's Albert Penello gave us a demonstration of what they've been working on at Tokyo Game Show this week. He is with the product planning team now, and has been with the company for 13 years, starting even before the first Xbox was released. If there's someone that has seen it all, it's Penello.
Working with full production Xbox One hardware, we saw the UI running on what was essentially a final hardware unit. Content was being populated in real time from Microsoft HQ. They ran full test code in front of us, so no canned demos here.
Penello signed into the dash by just waving his hand. Actually, work went on to do so in the background before he even did that, as the Kinect was already seeing and trying to recognize everyone in the room. Waving was more of a confirmation that he was the one that wanted to sign in. From that confirmation, Xbox One pulls down all of Penello's settings, just as he had set up in Redmond, including all of his saved games, apps, and settings.
This is how it works on any Xbox One. Using someone else's Xbox 360 to sign in was next to impossible with required recovery work. No more of that now. Just pop in your ID and it'll immediately start pulling down your content and settings from the cloud. This works from anywhere in the world, too.
Speaking of signing in, Xbox One is friendly to multiple users. The previous systems were not. Now, six users can sign in at one time. Kinect is always watching to know who is in the lead in this case. It sees who is holding the controller and recognizes your voice among others. You could be in a room with five other people logged in and call out to launch a game, and it would do so with your settings and saves intact.
The new dash is clean and simple. You have pins of your choosing, settings, and a home screen to pick from and interact with when scrolling from left to right. Gone are the second screens and guides and other nonsense. It's just one small set of simple black and green boxes that make up the dash, with everything you'd need right in front of your eyes. This is a UI for usefulness, not for flashiness. Bravo.
The home screen will populate with whatever Microsoft chooses to promote, which will usually be news for the platform as well as new store items. We did not have a chance to see how content will be navigated from this point. Here's hoping we'll see that soon
The friends limit is now 1,000, up from the original 100 setting on the Xbox 360. But you can also have followers on the Xbox One, much like you would on Twitter. For this, you can have unlimited followers. This means you can follow someone's gaming activity without taking spots in your feed. You can imagine how neat it will be to follow game industry personalities or celebrities to see what they're up to.
A favorites list lets you pick your closest buddies to keep up with. They show up first, prioritizedby the system.
The Xbox One can run four apps at the same time in the background. Switching between them is not unlike how it would work on your mobile phone. It's instant. Hitting the X button on the controller takes you back to your home screen, where you'll see four boxes that represent the apps or games running. Pick from any of them to jump right in.
While you can run multiple apps, only one game can be run at one time. Switching games is really easy, though. A voice command will have your current game shut down in 10 seconds, ready to load another.
The apps you have loaded can be snapped to the side of the screen, keeping them visible while you do other things. Imagine having a FAQ pulled up in Internet Explorer while playing a dungeon crawler, or Xbox Music running while you check up on your friends list. For game capture, pinning will be especially handy.
Game capture is pretty slick. We saw a marble maze game get instant capture of the last 30 seconds of buffered frames from a simple voice command. Xbox One's Upload Studio had a 720p 30fps clip waiting immediately after. Users can quickly edit, save, or share this clip with further commands. Another voice command can have you back in the game just as quickly.
Penello says that these clips will only be able to be shared on Xbox Live at launch. They'll have social sites like YouTube and Facebook set up for sharing by next year.
The Kinect does neat things for living room connectivity. It acts as a IR blaster on steroids, sending out so many IR beams that it completely fills a room. These beams bounce off walls and other surfaces, reflecting back at any exposed device in the room. This means that your electronics on shelves, even behind glass, will be able to be controlled by the Xbox One.
Microsoft has set up control schemes that work like Logitech's Harmony system. Your television, receiver, set top box, and other devices will work from your voice commands. We saw a television's volume change from voice commands in a demonstration.
The Xbox One does a lot with its new additions, but the UI to control these new features is not complex. From what we saw, Microsoft has done a nice job of getting back to something simple for their front end. Let's hope they can keep it that way as the Xbox One grows and expands.
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