Hint: A much different ‘experience’
The tens of millions of people who own an Xbox One are finding a brand-new user interface that Microsoft says, is a “complete transformation” to the way users will interact with the popular console.
This morning, Microsoft started rolling out what it calls the New Xbox One Experience, a fancy term for the new software coming to the console. In a statement to gaming-news outlet Gamespot, Microsoft’s Xbox chief marketing officer Mike Nichols said that the update is possibly “the most significant (software) release” ever offered on a console.
The software previously running on the Xbox One, which was tile-based, similar to the design of Windows 8, which featured several blocks containing apps, and relied heavily on voice gestures from the Kinect sensor that connects to the console, was divisive, to say the least. Some gamers liked the software, while others (including me) thought it lacked intuitive design and made features too hard to find.
“We put fans at the center of everything we do and the New Xbox One Experience is a complete transformation of Xbox One inspired by fan feedback,” says Mike Ybarra, director of program management for Xbox. “We made some big changes to improve how gamers interact with Xbox One, focused on making tasks they do every day faster and easier.”
While that may sound nice, many current and prospective Xbox One owners are still wondering what they’ll get with the new update.
Ybarra issued a blog post on Thursday to shed a bit more light on what consumers will expect to find in the Xbox One update. The overhaul, after all, is a major one, and those who don’t know what to expect may find it jarring to see just how much has changed.
“Our initial findings suggest there have been a number of improvements to functionality and usability,” says Piers Harding-Rolls, director and head of games at market researcher IHS. He added that the software also responds more quickly to user inputs.
At the center of the Xbox One’s new software is Microsoft’s Windows 10. The Windows 10 integration, Ybarra says, is a critical feature that will make the software far more responsive than the previous version and add a level of “versatility” that Microsoft didn’t previously offer. It’s a feature that Harding-Rolls argues, is crucial to improving the overall user experience and making it easier for developers to bring more apps and games to the console.
“For Microsoft, the roll-out of the new system software sees Xbox One come into line with its other Windows 10 devices, which is important in supporting its vision of universal apps and cross-platform integration between console and Windows PC,” he says.
When users boot up the software, they’ll find an entirely new design that, Ybarra says, will make it easier to find everything from games to apps. The new Xbox One homepage has relevant items listed and a new guide feature is now accessible that lets users access their profile and settings.
The new Xbox One software also features a slew of updated social features, including a community section to see what friends are up to on their own devices. Users can also share achievements and game clips via Xbox Live and access a Game Hubs feature to see “news and updates from game developers and the Xbox Live community.”
“It’s expected to completely revamp the console experience with a much more focused intent on pleasurable gaming experiences,” says IBISWorld industry analyst Andrew Alvarez.
The look and feel of the Xbox One platform, in other words, is completely different. But arguably its most sought-after feature is backward compatibility, or the ability to play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. Thanks to some modifications under the hood, users will be able to play over 100 Xbox 360 games on their Xbox One—a feature that has been long desired but never delivered, and was one of the reasons the Xbox One is still trailing the PlayStation 4 in total sales.
“Backwards compatibility of select Xbox 360 titles…is a significant value-add to the offer,” Harding-Rolls says.
So, like it or not, the Xbox One is getting a new “experience.” Whether gamers will ultimately like what they find remains to be seen, but industry experts seem to believe that after the rollout is complete and Xbox One owners get their hands on the software, Microsoft may just get a boost.
“Over the long-term, should this update prove to be successful and resonate with consumers, many individuals who have held out from buying a new console could shift toward purchasing an Xbox One rather than a PlayStation 4,” says Alvarez. “Similarly, Xbox loyalists who merely have not purchased an Xbox One because of poor consumer goodwill may be persuaded otherwise after this update.”
Harding-Rolls was a bit more muted in his prediction, but was similarly bullish about the Xbox One’s future.
“I don’t expect the new user experience to impact sales directly, but this, combined with the backwards capability, are likely to improve word of mouth between users and non-users and generally add to the value proposition of the Xbox One,” Harding-Rolls added. “That can only be a positive thing for Microsoft.”