The Xbox One dashboard has had problems since the console first launched in late 2013. Sorry, that was putting it too mildly. The Xbox One dashboard has been an out-of-control trash fire since the console first launched. Huge improvements didn't arrive until last year's Windows 10-powered New Xbox Experience – but the dash is still far from great.
As Windows 10 nears its first birthday, Microsoft is preparing a major Anniversary Update across its platforms, including new improvements coming to the Xbox One dash. At an event held at Microsoft's London headquarters, IBTimes UK was shown some of the changes that will soon be tested by those signed up to the Xbox One Preview Program.
Before we get into the improvements, here's what happened after the preview. Able to pose a few questions, I asked the Microsoft representative whether the update would address two of the biggest problems with the current dashboard: lag and sharing screenshots and video. In response to the latter query, the rep danced around the subject, essentially confirming nothing is set to change. In the case of the former, the rep feigned ignorance – even claiming he hasn't encountered any sort of lag on the Xbox One dashboard.
Most Xbox One users will disagree. The dash is sluggish and apparently it's set to stay that way. As for sharing media, it seems users will suffer the complicated rigmarole of Microsoft's OneDrive and its patchy Game DVR app. Compared to the gloriously simple sharing functionality on Sony's PlayStation 4, Xbox One's options are appalling.
On PC however, it will be easier. The update will allow users to find and edit the raw file, and then either put it back into Game DVR or upload it separately. This is just one of the new updates.
The biggest new feature Microsoft is pushing is the introduction of Cortana, which replaces the old voice commands of the now-defunct Kinect sensor which the Xbox One was once built around. The Kinect won't be necessary to use Cortana, as voice commands will soon be active through any headset. Users, if they want to use it, will have to address the console with "Hey, Cortana" rather than "Xbox", which hopefully leads to less confusion.
Users will also be able to ask Cortana more general questions about the weather, other general questions, routes from location to location (using the user's own data, if they wish) and so on. If you want to know what a friend is up to, you can address them by their gamertag and the new system allows for vaguer commands. So, if you just say, "Hey Cortana. Play Forza", Cortana will either play the only Forza game you have or bring up the options if you own more than one.
On the PC side of things, Xbox is unlocking frame rates on top of allowing universal apps to support 4K (which we've seen with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Quantum Break and Forza Motorsport 6: Apex. As one would assume, the Xbox app on Windows 10 is also getting the same changes as the Xbox One dash.
The Games & Apps section now occupies the top right of the dash homepage, making it simpler to access a complete list of games and apps on the system. A download/installation bar will also appear below it when there's a game being downloaded or installed, or a queue. Inside the app itself, everything now scrolls up and down rather than left and right – a much more intuitive approach – and users can change the size of the tiles – which represent each game and application – and re-order them. There's also a separate tab labelled 'Ready to Install' for new purchases, or newly available backwards compatible Xbox 360 games.
The in-app download bar now lets users know the download speed in terms of data per second, but unfathomably, there's no estimated completion time.
The Community app lets users control what they share, find Facebook friends and includes the achievements of players on PC. This works in the other direction as well, with PC players saying the Xbox One achievements of their friends.
In the Store, the 'Use a Code' option is now more prominently displayed and overall the layout is far simpler and less cluttered. Xbox Live Gold members can now see discounts available through their subscription and the store will tell you whether or not you already own a game. Versions of the same game will also now be grouped together, so the latest Ubisoft game will no longer litter the place with its 37 special edition variations.
Universal apps will also appear on the Xbox store soon, and those who use their Xbox One as a developer kit (something available to everyone) will soon be able to submit their apps to the store – though details were scarce regarding how this will work.