Xbox Dashboard 2.0 – An Analysis

So there’s a few reports and stuff coming out now about the latest dashboard, so I figured I would put my own slant on the whole thing and talk about what I find of it in comparison to the last one, which was only available about three days ago. Now before I start, I should say I do not have Kinect and, at this moment in time, do not have the capacity to get it, so there’s no coverage on it’s Kinect integration for this.

So to start off, the layout. And I can already see where this is going after seeing previews and the like of Windows Phone 7, and it seems to be a growing, developing idea in Microsoft that everything has to be in a square, or framed in a box, like there is some efficiency in doing it that way. But even in doing this, it feels a bit less user friendly – especially for new users or those who are used to knowing where they are. There’s been a few times already where I’ve wondered where I am on a menu, and that could be helped with some notification (an arrow or hand icon) of where you are. Those with any kind of difficulty could easily miss out the slightly larger box where your selection is.

One thing I do like as a concept in the new dashboard is the Beacons feature. Admittedly, I haven’t seen it being used yet and have had no reason to use it myself, but as an idea it does help fill a gap where you wanted to play a game but didn’t know who else wanted to play it with you. This will at least save on the numerous amounts of people who have either been the recipient of messages asking to join a game or have been sending them out to desperately nail an achievement. It does, however, lead to one of my quirks in the dashboard, in that it only feels like half of the dashboard feels updated – the layout changes do not extend beyond the main interface and the guide is utterly untouched. This may be updated another time, but for now it feels like a quirk that is clinging to a past dashboard installation.

At least, however, in the old Dashboard, finding content was easier. I find it’s harder to do so in the latest version, particularly in gaming. Microsoft seem that intent to make the Xbox an “entertainment console” that Games is actually 4 tabs away from the home page. And when you do get there, they’ve shoved indie games further away. While I’m hardly the biggest fan of a lot of the indie games (between the strange names of games and the lack of any content personally appealing to me, I’ve only ever come to want two indie games in the entire collection), it makes it upsettingly harder to find since it’s no longer in a more noticeable place – in a spot in the Games section labelled Game Type – which can easily be overlooked. And of the four game types, only Indie games aren’t present everywhere else in the selection. Why didn’t Microsoft think to simply label this part as Indie games and give it more accessibility and recognition? For now they have it shown for me as the second slide on the Games main page, but I’m led to believe that this will change over time, so it’s temporary.

To further the “entertainment console” theory, they now have more designs for making Xbox a hub for alternate content to gaming. While I applaud some of their work, I consistently feel like I am basically paying a subscription charge for something I can basically get off my computer for less per month. And I’m sure the names they are bringing aren’t exactly short on funding either – there’s Sky (who will also require a subscription fee next year to use), Zune (which deals entirely in paid content), LoveFilm (which is subscription based already – an additional fee), and their integrated support with Facebook and Twitter (which could be done anyway off the Xbox – and probably better). And I’m looking at the list of upcoming ‘apps’ and while I applaud their future support through YouTube, Channel 4 and Channel 5 among other things, I still do not see what I am paying my subscription fee for to gain access to these services when I can just as easily access them already without the Xbox using the PC or a Mac. If it wants to be worth the subscription fee to get these things, it has to be something different, something I can’t already get. I have yet to see this happen except with the intention of integrating Facebook and Xbox together – and frankly, I deleted my Facebook account for a reason, this has no appeal to me whatsoever.

Not to end on a sour note though, what is an amazing idea for me is the cloud storage idea. Being able to take game saves, content and the like across game systems – or even as a backup incase your Xbox memory unit decides to have a bad hair day – is something worth spending a part of your monthly fee upon. While the idea of cloud storage is a bit uneasy for me, I’ve recently suffered a blackout on one of my computers that has rather essential data stored on it that I can’t access now, which has effectively sold the idea of cloud storage for anything important. Even if you don’t use it for that, having the chance to add a second Campaign runthrough on Reach or another driver on Forza 4 makes for a rather sweet deal overall, and besides everything else, I’m a total sucker for storage space.

So overall, I like some of the ideas that Xbox are showing through the new dashboard, but I do find that there’s way too many opportunites that came knocking and were ignored, and some things that are still missing or misplaced on the new dashboard. There are some new and innovative ideas, but few of them are really improving the worth of the subscription itself. Still, there is a free Xbox Live Gold weekend (9-11 December 2011) so for those of you yet to find out what it’s like as a subscriber, you can find it all out for yourself this weekend. And if you don’t bother, at least you’ll have the computer you’re using now to access most of the content already.

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