We’re only three months away from the launch of both the Xbox One and PS4, and we’re starting to get a better sense of how the consoles will actually work. We’ve seen the controllers, the cameras, and the consoles themselves, but we’ve still only seen a few minutes worth of footage of one of the most important aspects of a device: the user interface. Actual speed, ease of navigation, and the potential for annoying ads are still somewhat difficult to judge from these sparse details, but we can already see that Sony and Microsoft have learned from their previous mistakes.
The home screen on the Xbox One is extremely simple. On the left, you’re presented with the games and apps you’ve used most recently. On the right, Microsoft has some “recommendations” for you. Of course, that’s little more than just a way to present you with advertisements. Even so, the layout is very clean and basic — very inviting for people easily scared away by UI complexity. The biggest question I have about this screen is how it will populate the recently played section on first boot. Will it be filled with empty slots, or will MS take this opportunity to get some extra Netflix and Hulu Plus advertising in there?
With a familiar Metro-like grid layout, here we have the “pins” menu on the Xbox One. Just like the Xbox 360, this will serve as a favorites list for the games and apps you have installed on your console. More interestingly, the section on the right of the screen is serving as a sort of hub of frequently used features. Checking achievements, switching to live TV, and Bing-branded search are all accessible through the pins menu. Hopefully, users will be able to replace the drab black background with something more lively like the 360′s themes.
In this video, Microsoft‘s Yusuf Mehdi breaks down the interface in more detail. With voice, gesture, or the controller, you can quickly navigate the Xbox One dashboard very much like the Xbox 360′s. The standard categories like apps, games, and music are all still available, but Redmond has added a new section called “trending” in an attempt to help surface high quality content. From this menu, you can quickly see what media your friends are consuming. You’re also saddled with an aggregation of the most popular content from all users combined, so your milage may vary.
Without a doubt, the biggest improvement here is the speed at which everything is happening. Mehdi says a command, and the Xbox One almost instantly switches apps. The extremely generous 3GB of RAM dedicated to system resources really makes the interface seem properly responsive — standing in stark contrast to the sluggish Xbox 360 UI. Reportedly, the Xbox One is utilizing three separate operating systems — two of which are virtualized — to get everything working properly together. By dedicating a fixed amount of resources to specific tasks, the Xbox One should be capable of running apps and playing games at the same time with no penalty on performance. It remains to be seen if the Xbox team can actually pull it off on day one, but this demo is promising.
Next page: We can’t forget about the PlayStation 4