In One's Sights: A Look at the Xbox One's User Interface and Features
It's exactly two weeks until the Xbox One releases, and if the excitement wasn't boiling over already, Microsoft has released a full rundown of how the user interface will look and the features that the console will have. We'll be taking a look at the most important bits, whilst weighing in with our opinion on each.
Get That WinDOHs 8 Look!
The first thing you notice is that the Xbox One home screen looks a lot like Windows 8. It's not really surprising though, as it is a Microsoft product after all! But Windows 8 is by no means a popular operating system (OS) with PC users, so why Microsoft has deemed the Xbox One a good platform to pay homage to the ridiculed OS, is beyond us.
But seeing as utilising a games console should, in theory, be more straight forward than managing a personal computer, hopefully the user interface won't be as bothersome and counterintuitive as its PC counterpart. However, if you're easily horrified by Windows 8's cubist aesthetic, you'll find no respite here.
Our verdict - Hmm.
One of the big features that Microsoft has been touting, is the Kinect's ability to have you control the console with your voice: a seemingly utopian vision of technology. By shouting commands such as "Xbox, what's on the Discovery Channel?", "Xbox, mute," or "Xbox, go to music", your new loyal servant will execute your every whim quicker than a butler on drugs.
Whilst it purports to make the system "easier to use than ever", we're still not convinced. Voice recognition technology is always hit and miss, especially if you happen to forget the phrase, not say it exactly as you're supposed to, or speak too quickly. Plus, varying accents and pronunciations often result in executing the wrong command, or incomprehension. If Siri can't handle it perfectly, what hope does Kinect have?
If it does work, it will make for switching between apps and screens, volume control, and recording game footage using Xbox Upload (assuming there will be command for that) a lot quicker. But is eliminating a few extra taps on the controller really worth it? Just to be on the safe-side, you might want to start taking elocution lessons.
Our verdict - Hmm.
Multi-tasking and the ability to switch between apps and screens, without loosing game progress, is probably the most exciting feature. You can go and watch TV and come back to your game without having to reload it. This means you can catch a spot of tea over at Downtown in-between blowing the brains out of zombies, with minimal fuss.
Oddly, Microsoft's example seems to assume that it's customers have incredibly short attention spans, saying that,
"You can literally jump from a game to live TV, music, movies, sports, Web sites and back again in seconds, just by using your voice."
We don't think you'll need to make as much use of this feature as Microsoft suggests, but it's nice that it's there none the less.
Furthermore, the ability to snap apps to the side of your gameplay screen, such as music, Machinima, or Twitch, is a nice little luxury. You can smack your own soundtrack on to a game, or read a walkthrough whilst playing. But from the official screenshots, this does look like this will be at the sacrifice of about 1/5 of your beautiful HD graphics.
Our Verdict - One Up!
Hey Niko! Let's Go Bowling.
One of the features the Xbox One will have will be the ability to "get a multiplayer invite, while you are watching a movie or live TV." To us, that sounds terrible. Television stations have been flamed by angry viewers because of promotional inlays bursting on their screens during climactic or poignant moments, decimating the atmosphere and hook that a show or film can have over you. Why you'd want such a thing pinging up during something like the Reservoir Dogs Mexican stand-off scene, seems mad. We really hope there's an option to turn such notifications off.
Our Verdict - DO NOT WANT!
Hey, Don't I Know You?
One of the other features of the brand new Kinect is that it will be able to identify you "biometrically" and even differentiate between you and other household members. This means that the Xbox One will instantly bring up your own personalised account, and no-one else's when you step in front of it and turn it on.
As there doesn't seem to be a function to take fingerprints or feed it a sample of your DNA, we can only assume that the Kinect does this by scanning your height and body shape. Therefore, we do wonder how failsafe it is. God forbid you put on or lose a significant amount of weight, and if you have a twin or triplet, you probably should avoid using this feature altogether. And what happens if there's several people, each with an account, in the room at the same time? Will they have to wait outside until you're logged on?
It's great that you can have your own account to keep track of your achievements and separate your friends lists etc, but this seems like a potentially problematic way of accessing these. Given then track record of how difficult it was to get the Kinect to work properly on the Xbox 360, we're not holding our breath on this one.
Our Verdict - DO NOT WANT!
One of the bigger songs and dances Microsoft has been making is its catering to the umpteen active player communities on Xbox Live. Xbox One will include built-in software for users to directly capture in-game footage and record commentary over it without the hassle of external hardware, and upload these straight into the throng of the Xbox gaming community. You can also add fun filters to the videos and make them look super snazzy.
However, there's still no clarification on whether players will be able to export these videos onto YouTube or only onto Xbox Live. With YouTube being the go-to of let's players and video walkthrough gurus, if you can only post to such an insular circulation the feature will be pretty pointless.
Our Verdict - Hmm.
Keeping it Glassy
Xbox SmartGlass is an external app that links into your Xbox One account. This means that you can view your achievements wherever you go, chat to friends whilst out and about, and even set things to "pin" whilst you're away meaning they're waiting ready for you upon your return.
If it sounds very similar to PlayStation Mobile, that's because it is. But the ability to take your gaming with you is actually quite an interesting and exciting concept, and it's nice to see Microsoft meet Sony here at the same level.
Our Verdict - One up!
"At the end of the day it will be the games that convince people to buy their console, not biometric log-in, voice commands, or the ability for your friends to spoil a good movie."
There does seem to be a gaggle of features being given plenty of pomp and circumstance. However, only a handful of them look like they might actually be useful, whilst the others seem to pose potential sticking-points or just don't seem worthwhile.
Either way, at the end of the day it will be the games that convince people to buy their console, not biometric log-in, voice commands, or the ability for your friends to spoil a good movie.
The Xbox One will be released worldwide on November 22nd 2013. For more information about the console, visit www.xbox.com.