This week, Xbox One Preview members will gain access to the first pre-release version of a summer update for the console. It’s the first of two major updates planned for 2016 that will bring Windows 10 Anniversary Update functionality to the Xbox One, Microsoft says.
Microsoft was kind enough to brief me on its plans for rolling out the Anniversary Update in stages in 2016, and to let me see the updates in action a few weeks ago. What I saw was a set of changes that in many ways equals or exceeds the New Xbox One Experience that arrived in late 2015. And as many have hoped, they combine to make the Xbox One look and behave more like Windows 10.
Note: As part of this summer update, Microsoft is also updating the Xbox app on Windows 10, starting with the Xbox (Beta) app. I am writing about those changes separately. –Paul
“We’re really excited about this update as it lays the foundation to bring together more people and more games across devices through Xbox Live,” Microsoft director of program management Mike Ybarraexplains. “These updates are crucial to giving our fans around the world a great gaming experience wherever and whatever they play.”
The second update, which I assume will be called the Fall Update, isn’t 100 percent locked down yet, Microsoft told me, but it will have its own preview window in the fall before it heads out to the wider base of Xbox One users. We’ll learn a bit more about that at E3, I was told, but for now it makes sense to focus on the first update, called the Summer Update. If you’re on the Xbox One Preview program, you should see it appear starting today (Monday) or tomorrow.
Here’s what’s new.
Cortana. As expected, Cortana is coming in preview form to preview program members, but will be limited at first to the U.S., U.K., France, Italy, Germany and Spain. It will be identical to Cortana on PC and phones, minus any device-specific functionality, and will even include Xbox One specific features. With this update, Cortana becomes your personal digital assistant for gaming too, so you can ask her questions, get and set reminders, invite people to parties, and the like. (In the Fall Update, Cortana will be updated with more Xbox features like game interfactions (“Cortana, who just shot me?”) and posting Achievement clips. It works with the Kinect microphone, if you have that peripheral, or a controller-based microphone.
One Store. The Store experience on the Xbox One is being completely overhauled. First up is a “converged” store that brings the best of both Xbox Store and the Windows 10-based Windows Store, which offers a streamlined shopping experience, new channels and more. And the Store is now a standalone app and not integrated into the Dashboard, so it can be updated more quickly and easily going forward.
Updated Games collection. The Games collection interface—which is the Games view in My Games & Apps—is dropping the panoramic interface and will now display a denser collection of vertically-scrolling tiles. There’s also a new Ready to Install view that will display any games you’ve queued up to install from a PC or other device. (Such as when you snag Games with Gold games.) And downloads will provide more information about progress status.
Win32 game integration. This is a big one, in my opinion: Starting with the Summer Update, Win32 PC games will appear in Xbox Live, both on the console in in the PC app. That means you will see PC games you play in your Activity Feed, PC games will have their own Game hubs, and you can share PC game screenshots and video clips. You’ll also be able to chat with your friends who are playing PC games. (This feature will roll out over time, and Microsoft tells me that the goal is to ensure that the top 1000 PC games will appear on Xbox Live.)
Easier access to My Games & Apps from Home. Xbox One power users know that all they need to do to jump to My Games & Home today is tap once on the Right Trigger button on their controller. But that doesn’t help most users, since you can’t see this tile from the default view. Now, you can: The My Games & Apps tile is moving to the top right of home. (And it’s still one button push away, in this case by pushing right on the d-pad.)
Facebook Friend Finder. After debuting first in the Xbox app for Windows 10, the Facebook Friend Finder is now coming to the Xbox One as well. This solution helps you find Xbox One-owning friends on Facebook and will improve the game suggestions functionality.
Improved sharing. You can now share screenshots, GameDVR clips, and achievements on Xbox One using fewer steps.
Activity Feed customization. Now, you can choose what content is posted to your Activity Feed, and not just have it automatically post everything.
For testers eager to dive right in, the preview of the Summer Update will work just like the New Xbox One Experience preview: Using an opt-in program, fans can choose how they want to participate, starting first with those on the Xbox One Preview program. “The features are a work-in-progress as we refine them before they launch to the broader community, and some features can stay in Preview for extended periods of time,” Microsoft explained.
Additionally, Microsoft is merging the Windows Insider program with the Xbox One Preview program to streamline feedback and updates, it says. As part of this change, the team will focus all of its efforts on the next two updates and won’t be releasing an update every month as it has in the past. It’s not clear whether this will change again after the Anniversary Update is fully deployed on Xbox One.