If you were set up a brand new Xbox 360 today, you'd have a user interface experience very different from the one those of us who bought the machine at launch had. Over the years Microsoft continually iterated on the UI in response to customer feedback.
Since the Xbox One launched the machine has gotten near-monthly updates adding features and tweaking things, but now its clear that Microsoft isn't going to be content to just polish what it has, but rather will once again re-invent its UI in order to keep customers happy.
This week the company gave us a preview of the first major revamp of the UI, coming this holiday:
One of the current features of the Xbox One is the ability to 'snap' things. When you snap an app your screen is divided into two side-by-side windows, one of which takes up about 80% of the screen, the other the remaining 20%.
I've always found this system very clumsy to use and it looks like it will be either removed or made less prevalent with the new UI. Instead of spawning a second window, many of the features that used to 'snap' (like checking your Friends list) are now held in a 'fly out' window that slides in from the left side of the screen.
It looks like it's a lot quicker and easier than using snap and I can't wait to get my hands on it.
The other big new feature is Cortana integration. Assuming you have Kinect or a headset on (basically assuming the Xbox One has some way of hearing you) you can give Cortana some fairly complex commands. One example shown in the video is having her save a gameplay clip, caption it and share it. This is all done by voice commands and the person playing the game never stops playing.
Assuming Cortana works as well as she does in this video, it's going to be a terrific feature.
I wonder if Microsoft has considered launching a device that is 'Kinect without the cameras'; a small unobtrusive microphone that lets the Xbox One listen for voice commands. We do have a Kinect on our Xbox One and we use voice commands constantly, but we almost never do anything that involves the cameras. (I realize that some users have had bad experiences with voice commands but they workreally well for us.) A "Kinect Microphone" ought to be a fairly cheap peripheral that could come in handy in households like mine and would make using Cortana easy and intuitive.