Microsoft has announced that the “new Xbox One experience”–i.e. the Dashboard update that includes Windows 10 underpinnings–has begun rolling out to Xbox Preview Program participants. Here’s what you can expect.
First, this is an early release, and it’s likely that things will evolve before the public release, which is set for the November system update. And while Microsoft has clearly been over-selling the Windows 10 stuff here, the Xbox team just refers to this as “the new Xbox One Experience,” which is a pretty terrible name in its own right.
What this thing is, really, is a monthly system update that also happens to include a Dashboard UX (user experience) overhaul. This is something that Microsoft did a number of times over the lifetime of the Xbox 360, but this is the first major UX change to Xbox One.
So what can we see in this initial release, which is limited to the now-closed Xbox Preview Program? The following:
Major UX overhaul. The new Dashboard is simpler looking but it bears almost zero resemblance to Windows 10, beyond the flat tiles which we already saw in the initial Xbox One UX.
New navigation. Navigation is now longer overtly horizontal. Instead, there are tabs on the top, as before, but more of them. Only the Home tab remains from before: Pins is gone (as a tab), Friends has morphed into Community, What’s On is now OneGuide, and Store has been split into separate Games, Apps, Movies & TV and Music tabs. When items are selected, they scroll off the screen vertically, not horizontally. And there are new controller-based shortcuts for getting around in this new vertical UX: The left trigger, for example, works like Home on a keyboard and jumps you back to the top. Right trigger jumps you to the bottom of the current view.
Guide. A new Guide UI works like a vertical hamburger menu/slide-out menu on the left, giving you quick access to many of the same options you see in the Xbox app on Windows 10, including Search, Friends, Party, Messages, Notifications, Settings, and Snap Center. Microsoft describes the Guide as the main focus for this first preview, because it provides faster access to those things that users often want to get to while they’re playing games and doing other things. If you’re familiar with the Guide on Xbox 360, this is similar, but “reimagined” for Xbox One and with a more modern UI. There are two ways to access the Guide: By scrolling to the left from the Home view, or by double-tapping the Xbox button from within an app or game. (Today, that brings up the Snap UI.) In either case, Guide appears as overlay over the current display.
Home view. As you scroll down the Home view, you will see recently played games and apps, and your pins (in a new section called “My Stuff”). Super-simple.
Friends improvements. The Friends view in the Guide can toggle between the standard Friends view and Recent Players, which is consistent with how Friends works today. But since the Guide UI is apparently so fast, this will be a quicker way to access information about the players with whom you are currently competing.
Party improvements. When you access a friend in the Friends list, you can send them a party invite, and doing so will create a new party if there isn’t one ready already. But you can also access a new dedicated Parties view in Guide.
Notifications. As with Windows, the Notifications view lets you easily access notifications you previously received. This way you don’t have to leave a game when something else happens: You can just check back later and see what it was all about.
Settings. The Settings item in Guide gives you quick access to the system settings you might need to access while you’re in a game. It links to All Settings too, which has likewise been revamped for the new vertical navigation.
Snap improvements. You access snap through a new Snap Center in the Guide, and snapped apps now appear on the left side of the screen instead of the left. Microsoft claims this is more natural.
What you don’t see on the list, of course, is “Windows 10.” In previous discussions about this new experience, the Xbox team has said that Windows 10 will essentially provide performance improvements to the system only, though I suspect there will be some integration advantages coming too, for those who use Xbox One with Windows 10 PCs and other devices. Time will tell: This is just the first of what should be several preview releases.