This November, Microsoft will be updating the Xbox One's user interface with what it calls the New Xbox One Experience. The new UI will be powered by Windows 10, bringing Microsoft's new PC operating system and its home console closer together. The company claims that the new interface will be 50 percent faster than the old UI and will offer up improved social features, allowing players to start parties and see what games their friends are playing much easier. Most importantly, the update will bring Xbox 360 game backward compatibility to the Xbox One.
That latter change will allow players to enjoy "over 100" Xbox 360 games on Xbox One (the available games list is still much smaller), while also allowing the use of features like Game DVR, screenshots, and streaming. Microsoft has also confirmed that multiplayer will still work on those 360 titles, letting you play with friends who haven't upgraded to an Xbox One.
The Home page has an all-new look with a few refinements since we saw it at E3 2015. It adds a new Community section, letting you see what your friends are up to in the Activity Feed and a Trending section to highlight what other Xbox Live players are doing online. GameHubs are also improved and revamped, looking a bit more like the similar concept on PlayStation 4. Microsoft has implemented a new Guide, so double-tapping the Xbox button on your controller takes you Friends, Party, Settings, System Notifications, or Messages much quicker. I assume this means Snap has a new button combination to access.
"These are the top tasks Xbox fans do most often, so we focused on making them faster and easier to get to without disrupting your game," wrote Xbox director of program management Mike Ybarra.
These are good changes and the layout already looks much better than the Windows 8-inspired current user interface. Sadly, Microsoft is still missing a few key usability features.
At the top of the list is any type of folder system. Currently, if you have items installed, the only way to differentiate between all your games, apps, and other services is to pin certain items to your Home Page. There's no way to create a folder for say "Sports" or "Adventure" games. The New Xbox One Experience pulls from Windows 10, but it lacks a key Windows feature for organization. To be fair, Sony's system has the same problem.
The Xbox One also sits far behind the PlayStation 4 when it comes to handling screenshots and videos. The Xbox One's March update added the ability to capture screenshots for the first time since the console's launch, but the feature is limited. You can either share your screenshots directly in your Activity Feed, upload them to Twitter, or put them on OneDrive. If you want your videos or screenshots in the best quality, your best bet is to use third-party websites or hope that OneDrive sync works like it's supposed to. I've found occasionally that certain screenshots don't give me the option to sync at certain times, making the feature spotty at best.
As someone who uses game screenshots for work, the Xbox One's clunky handling of them has been one of my biggest issues, outside the system requiring Kinect voice commands to easily access to certain features. Microsoft has fixed the latter, so I'm hoping they think more about the former in the future. Even allowing us to plug in a USB drive to simply copy the pictures off would be a big improvement.
I'm also waiting for the ability to play music - either from local MP3s, my PC, a local server, Spotify, or Xbox Music - in the background. The custom soundtrack feature was one of the best things to happen to my personal gaming on previous Xbox platforms, so its lack of inclusion of Xbox One is a miss. Xbox boss Phil Spencer confirmed that Xbox One's Windows 10 rollout was needed before background music would make an appearance, so we're at least moving closer to the feature seeing the light of day.
Microsoft is rolling out the update to members of the Xbox One Preview Program now, with a final release planned in early November.