On December 6th, Microsoft will officially release a new Xbox 360 dashboard update to all Xbox users. We've played around with it for a while now and can say that the Xbox has never looked so good.
And it's all thanks to Metro. What's Metro? It's the design language that's giving Microsoft software a gorgeous sheen. Heavy on typography and flat squares and live tiles and swiping, Metro lives in Xbox, Windows Phone 7 and the upcoming Windows 8. It's a fresh yet familiar take on UI; Metro looks so good because you already know how to use it even if you've never used it before.
The looks. The UI. It's better. It's Metrofied. And that's a very good thing. With Metro on Xbox, Microsoft can elegantly pack more content onto one screen. A horizontal menu details the various categories on your Xbox (Games, Video, Music, Apps, etc.) with each category getting its own hub organised neatly with independent tiles of content. For example, the Apps tab will show a Netflix tile, an ESPN tile, Zune tile, etc. Games will show tiles for games. And so on. It makes complete sense. You shift over to a tab and you'll see exactly what you want to see, all in one hub. Metro keeps everything tidy and up front, there isn't much stuff hidden beyond what's on your TV screen which means you're no longer scrolling for days anymore. Even better, there's a new Quickplay tile on the home screen that can launch recently used apps (like Netflix). So even less scrolls! There are a lot of ads though.
The new Xbox 360 dashboard places a huge emphasis on Kinect. From gestures to voice to design, Kinect has become front and center in controlling the Xbox. Or I guess, you are now front and center in controlling the Xbox (without a controller). Just wave your hand and you can swipe screens and access any tile you want without having to jump into the separate Kinect-only screen of yore. Kinect is integrated nearly system-wide now so you can Minority Report your Xbox to your hand's desire. Very cool.
What's most impressive about the Kinect controls is how well voice controls are implemented now. You can actually talk to your Xbox and it'll do things for you. And though the initial startup phrases are inelegant, it's easily the best way to navigate around the system. You initiate voice control by saying 'Xbox...' and then you can say Videos or Games or Apps etc. to navigate to that specific tab. Useful!
On top of that, you can search on your Xbox too. Not actual Bing search because that would be silly but search for movies and music and other content accessible via Xbox. Start with 'Xbox Bing...' and say something like 'Batman' and the Xbox will show you all the Batman content you can get on your Xbox (movies, shows, games) from all the various sources you can get it from. It's absolutely lovely and most importantly, fast and intuitive. I'm not touching a controller again.
What's perhaps the boldest change in the new Xbox software update is something that's been building for a long time: the Xbox is not all about the games anymore. Seriously, in the hierarchy of categories, Games comes after Social and Video. That's purposeful. Along with the new software update, there'll be a ton of great looking, Metro-inspired new 'apps' from different content partners too. In the States, it'll be from HBO Go to UFC to FiOS to Crackle to YouTube, VEVO, TMZ, MLB.tv and more; you don't even have to buy one video game to enjoy an Xbox anymore. Combine those new apps with what's already on the Xbox like LoveFilm, and the Xbox 360 is realising and embracing its potential as much more than a game console.
For gamers, that may be annoying. For the rest of us, say hello to the cable box of the future.