Me on the Xbox 360 Updates

None of the stuff Microsoft is adding to the 360 is a particularly bad idea, but the implementation of most of it is kind of awful. For starters, the current 360 dashboard (the good ol' NXE) is getting more and more cluttered and it's getting harder to simply get to stuff on it. It's also a bad way to present features that should be more integrated. Like Netflix before it, all of the new stuff feels really tacked on and crammed in. 
 
Facebook: The Facebook stuff is good for looking at photos of your friends on your TV, and that's about it. The slideshow stuff is pretty good and it shows the captions. But the rest of it, which tries to use the NXE-style panes to show you different information, is a pretty poor way to convey things like your friend-based news feed. This thing should be custom-built for TV screens, not thrown together using existing Microsoft UI ideas. 
 
Twitter: Twitter is, at least, not just another NXE design with new data splashed onto it. It has a custom look that better supports what Twitter is supposed to look like. But the main screen is limited to the last 50 things your followed users have said, getting around to see your replies/mentions isn't plainly obvious, and the lack of a web browser prevents you from seeing what URLs your followed users are linking to. It's kind of a mess and I can't really envision an actual use for this. Anyone currently using Twitter is using a better interface for it (though I recommend TweetDeck if you aren't already using it), and anyone not using Twitter already probably won't have a very good experience if they're only using it on the 360. I really don't see the point beyond the obvious bullet point of "EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT TWITTER AND YOU CAN USE IT ON OUR GAME MACHINE." The whole thing stinks of suits.
 
Zune Video/Music Marketplace: The streaming tech for video downloads is a welcome change. I don't watch many movies, but since I've had the same two discs from Netflix sitting on my desk for close to a year now, I'm thinking about scaling that back to the lowest possible Blu-Ray-friendly plan, primarily using the 360's Netflix streaming for movies, and occasionally renting a movie via this new Zune-branded stuff. $6 or so for an HD movie isn't a great price when you consider the different Netflix packages, but if you rarely watch movies, it's probably cheaper to pay this on demand price than it is to pay a monthly fee for a service you barely use. It all makes me wish that Netflix had a streaming-only plan. 
 
Oh, and it's weird that these new stores launch you off into a separate application instead of letting you sift through content directly from the dashboard, and it's even weirder that the Music Marketplace is actually just a Video Marketplace for music videos. Paying $2 for an SD download of a music video feels like just about the dumbest thing in the world. Aren't music videos supposed to be promotional tools to get people to buy albums? Considering MTV has free streams of most music videos and YouTube has bootleg copies of plenty of stuff, I don't see the appeal. 
 
Lastly, the Zune branding doesn't make any sense. It comes from the same store, but it's not like you sync your Zune to a 360 or something now. It makes all of it feel like "Video Marketplace, brought to you by Zune." Maybe someday you'll be able to use a Zune Pass to actually listen to music.
 
last.fm: I mainly like last.fm from a data perspective. It's neat to see what I've been listening to broken down into charts and graphs. The streaming side of last.fm still feels like a poor man's Pandora, and the NXE-style content displays probably aren't the best way to convey last.fm's data. There also doesn't seem to be any sort of support for the social side of last.fm, like seeing other users, groups, and so on. Considering that most of this stuff also doesn't exist in last.fm's iPhone app, I can only assume that most people don't care about any of that stuff and only want to hear music. I've mainly used the site for the data and recommendations, but I'd rather sift through a lot of text and user profiles to get those recommendations and then make a decision to listen to specific tracks instead of just hitting some kind of "recommended for you" station. Oh, but the nice thing they've done is the video ads (which are mainly just Brutal Legend and a house ad for last.fm at this point) are the same volume as your music. So the ads don't blare at you to get your attention. 
 
So yeah, none of these ideas are awful, but I also feel like the 360 has already outgrown the "new" dashboard. They're trying to do too many different things and cramming all of it into the NXE's panes leads to a lot of confusing interactions. Also, I'm not really sure who the audience is for some of this stuff. Twitter especially sticks out as some kind of executive mandate to add to the Xbox 360 "story."

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31 Comments
Posted by Jeff

None of the stuff Microsoft is adding to the 360 is a particularly bad idea, but the implementation of most of it is kind of awful. For starters, the current 360 dashboard (the good ol' NXE) is getting more and more cluttered and it's getting harder to simply get to stuff on it. It's also a bad way to present features that should be more integrated. Like Netflix before it, all of the new stuff feels really tacked on and crammed in. 
 
Facebook: The Facebook stuff is good for looking at photos of your friends on your TV, and that's about it. The slideshow stuff is pretty good and it shows the captions. But the rest of it, which tries to use the NXE-style panes to show you different information, is a pretty poor way to convey things like your friend-based news feed. This thing should be custom-built for TV screens, not thrown together using existing Microsoft UI ideas. 
 
Twitter: Twitter is, at least, not just another NXE design with new data splashed onto it. It has a custom look that better supports what Twitter is supposed to look like. But the main screen is limited to the last 50 things your followed users have said, getting around to see your replies/mentions isn't plainly obvious, and the lack of a web browser prevents you from seeing what URLs your followed users are linking to. It's kind of a mess and I can't really envision an actual use for this. Anyone currently using Twitter is using a better interface for it (though I recommend TweetDeck if you aren't already using it), and anyone not using Twitter already probably won't have a very good experience if they're only using it on the 360. I really don't see the point beyond the obvious bullet point of "EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT TWITTER AND YOU CAN USE IT ON OUR GAME MACHINE." The whole thing stinks of suits.
 
Zune Video/Music Marketplace: The streaming tech for video downloads is a welcome change. I don't watch many movies, but since I've had the same two discs from Netflix sitting on my desk for close to a year now, I'm thinking about scaling that back to the lowest possible Blu-Ray-friendly plan, primarily using the 360's Netflix streaming for movies, and occasionally renting a movie via this new Zune-branded stuff. $6 or so for an HD movie isn't a great price when you consider the different Netflix packages, but if you rarely watch movies, it's probably cheaper to pay this on demand price than it is to pay a monthly fee for a service you barely use. It all makes me wish that Netflix had a streaming-only plan. 
 
Oh, and it's weird that these new stores launch you off into a separate application instead of letting you sift through content directly from the dashboard, and it's even weirder that the Music Marketplace is actually just a Video Marketplace for music videos. Paying $2 for an SD download of a music video feels like just about the dumbest thing in the world. Aren't music videos supposed to be promotional tools to get people to buy albums? Considering MTV has free streams of most music videos and YouTube has bootleg copies of plenty of stuff, I don't see the appeal. 
 
Lastly, the Zune branding doesn't make any sense. It comes from the same store, but it's not like you sync your Zune to a 360 or something now. It makes all of it feel like "Video Marketplace, brought to you by Zune." Maybe someday you'll be able to use a Zune Pass to actually listen to music.
 
last.fm: I mainly like last.fm from a data perspective. It's neat to see what I've been listening to broken down into charts and graphs. The streaming side of last.fm still feels like a poor man's Pandora, and the NXE-style content displays probably aren't the best way to convey last.fm's data. There also doesn't seem to be any sort of support for the social side of last.fm, like seeing other users, groups, and so on. Considering that most of this stuff also doesn't exist in last.fm's iPhone app, I can only assume that most people don't care about any of that stuff and only want to hear music. I've mainly used the site for the data and recommendations, but I'd rather sift through a lot of text and user profiles to get those recommendations and then make a decision to listen to specific tracks instead of just hitting some kind of "recommended for you" station. Oh, but the nice thing they've done is the video ads (which are mainly just Brutal Legend and a house ad for last.fm at this point) are the same volume as your music. So the ads don't blare at you to get your attention. 
 
So yeah, none of these ideas are awful, but I also feel like the 360 has already outgrown the "new" dashboard. They're trying to do too many different things and cramming all of it into the NXE's panes leads to a lot of confusing interactions. Also, I'm not really sure who the audience is for some of this stuff. Twitter especially sticks out as some kind of executive mandate to add to the Xbox 360 "story."

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Posted by TRega123

I've never understood the point of having consoles attempt to do features which are better done on PCs. Game consoles require to be plugged into an outlet and a television, so they aren't very portable, and chances are you probably have a computer somewhere close to the awful twitter interface on the 360, or the awful web browser on the PS3.

Posted by SamStrife

It honestly seems like both the 360's and PS3's UI's are becoming too cluttered.  The NXE (when can we stop calling it new?) wasn't all that great from the start to be honest, but the XMB was brilliant, but Sony have started cramming too much in, and pretty soon it's just going to become a mess. 
 
I also guess this type of stuff doesn't appeal to people in the know (like us) and is aimed at a more casual market...people who don't have a laptop next to them whilst playing their machines...I don't know. 
 
I would say if it doesn't hurt us, it shouldn't bother us, but it's screwing up the UI's on both machines and needs to be streamlined a bit better.

Posted by ajamafalous

Back to Blades!

Posted by BagManForHire

thing that i dont like about last.fm is that you cant play a game while its in the background 

Posted by Dan_CiTi

I agree completely. Especially on the last.fm side, I've always used it for the social and data aspects. I could care less about the streaming features.

Posted by Valkyr

MS is just going bananas tadding more features to it now that PSN is getting to be what Live is but FREE, but none of those features are for the hardcore gamer that is the main 360 consumer.
They should focus on getting some more exclusives, at least one that owns Uncharted 2/KZ 2 graphics, to be honest I'm a Sony fanboy, but I now that the 360 is more powerful than the PS3 that is a f* mess, MS just needs some dev not lazy enough to go the easy way and use the horrible Unreal Engine.

Posted by JJWeatherman

I totally agree about feeling like everything is crammed in to the "NXE" and feels cluttered. It's ironic because is that not what it was designed to prevent?

Posted by Kazona

All this makes me wonder if they really thought all this through, or if they just see it as another marketing gimmick.

Posted by Metroid545

now i can check facebook on my 360 AND my laptop right next to me AT THE SAME TIME!

Posted by Zaph

After spending the last couple days playing with the new 'features' Jeff mentioned in his post, I have to agree, how could Microsoft drop the ball like this?
 
For me the biggest dealbreaker was how everything launches its own app. Why haven't they integrated anything into the dashboard? Is this a technical limitation we're not aware of? Can the NXE only have so much 'bloat' at one time?
 
Take Twitter for example, that should of been embedded into the guide (or whatever they're calling the thing that pops up when you press the xbox button). If my phone (which is powered by a 500mhz processor) can handle twitter running in the background, why can't the Xbox360? Twitter is not something that you want to sit down and 'do', it should just be there in the background.
 
Facebook. Again similar complaints to Twitter. Why is none of this integrated into the dashboard? Ingame pop-up notifications are perfectly suited for this sort of thing. Yes, maybe with both facebook and twitter active you might get too frequent popups, but the choice should be yours. Getting interrupted too much while gaming? Just temporarily disable them.
 
Last.fm. As somebody already mentioned, why oh why isn't this just part of custom soundtracks? It's such an blatant evolution it hurts.
 
Zune marketplace. Somebody at Microsoft really needs to sit down and count the number of button presses it takes to go from console on, to actually watching a rented film. Also if they can't make their prices competitive, don't bother.
 
Eh that's all I got for now. It's such a shame that Microsoft will probably leave it in this state and call it a job well done. With the PS3 having a sales boom and slowly catching up in features with Xbox Live, Microsoft could of really taken this chance to drive it home that they are king when it comes to the user experience.

Posted by RenegadeSaint

Agreed.  Not much to get excited about in this update.  I have a phone, computer, and Netflix which do everything better than this update.  I love my 360, but this update doesn't mean anything to me.

Posted by JazzyJeff

The 360 dashboard is just a mess. I barely know where anything is anymore, and they put things in weird ass places. In a world where everything is about being slick and simple, Microsoft built a cluttered, clunky, interface that doesn't look much different than a 16-year-old girl's MySpace page.

Posted by TheJollyRajah

I'm not saying this because I'm a Sony fan, I'm just saying it because I believe it's true. The PS3 has always had a better menu interface.  
 
Anyways, I think it's a load of bull that Microsoft can get away with charging for a service that isn't too far ahead of Sony's. All PSN needs is a few more features, like cross game voice chat and Netflix (which we're getting soon), and it will be pretty much even.  
  
 IMO, if Microsoft doesn't up their game, they will lose their lead in the long-run. (Like within the next 5 years)

Edited by skrutop

I'm with you on this, Jeff.  I wasn't a huge fan of the blades, nor am I a fan of NXE's interface.  It's pretty, but not optimized to display this type of content.  I like the last.fm and Netflix streaming enough that I'll put up with the interface.  However, the last thing the world needs is another way to access Twitter and Facebook.  From what Brad showed us on the Quick Look, I will never use those features.
 
The Zune branding makes no sense to me, either.  Perhaps MS is going to do a massive rebranding effort across their product lines to bring digital media under one banner, ala iTunes, and the 360 is just the first leg?  I don't know.  Personally, I'm not a customer of the media downloads/streams, as I rarely use any VOD service other than Netflix.  However, I will say that - in the rare event that I want to rent a new release - I would probably use the 360's marketplace because of the availability of instant-on 1080p streaming.  That's better than Comcast can do.  All I need is Fios and a 1080p TV.

Posted by raidingkvatch

None of these things have hit the UK yet, so hopefully Microsoft will've improved it at least a little bit (although I doubt it), but hey I already pay my gold membership, so anything new is a + I don't have to use it, it may be poorly integrated, but I'm still getting more for my money.
 
Also I wish we had Netflix here

Posted by MmmSkyscraper

I won't use any of this stuff, it would impinge on my Forza storefront browsing time.

Posted by Pepsicolaboy

Interesting Blog post jeff, cheers.
 
I suppose my take on the entire issue is the slightly conceited, slightly brattish but-just-maybe the elephant in the room obvious point that for 1) all of these things are utilized more effectively on the platform they were designed for (a PC/Web Browser) and that 2) Its not ideal, but ive kinda always been able to do this stuff on the PS3 from day one, thanks of course to its (utterly average) browser. 
 
In fact, from that point of view, id probably find myself slightly more excited about a redesigned or updated PS3 browser (one that was, you know, fully funtional) than I am about these things. In fact, I think I'd rather crammed a browser onto the 360 than these half-baked add ons.
 
Still, if you absolutely have to use twitter and facebook......actually no, you should really keep using the way you are now.

Posted by TomA

Facebook and Twitter are pointless additions. I don't use my Xbox enough to care.

Posted by Shaunage

My 360 has been a mess since NXE. It slowed down drastically and I am always set to Appear Offline regardless of whether or not I actually have the option on. None of the updates sincve then have fixed that, either. No one has seen me online for a year or so.

Posted by Mourer

No reason for me to use these on the 360 since my computer is 3 feet away from it anyway.

Posted by OldManLight

man i totally agree. i've been using the features under preview program and i just can't imagine any other scenario in which i would want to access these apps that way.   plus in my office my xbox is on the same desk as my pc so it's a simple toggle of the video source button to get to my pc from my 360.

Posted by Sin4profit

 Remember those things called folders in windows...why the hell is all the per-game downloadable content crammed into the same space rather then separate trailers from game content from freakin avatar clothing...damn.
 
i used some Last.fm stuff today, was interesting and i found a few things i like that i haven't heard before when i went into the crystal castles channel so it's good that it's there...but would be BETTER if i could use it as my game soundtrack..so, as is, i'm better off listening to it on a computer nearby or on an iphone...i'm curious if the developer's side of things could allow for in game Last.fm access...really wish i could have done that as i painted cars in Forza 3 today.
 
And yeah, it's all kinda shoved in there...dashboard really needs a clean up.

Posted by MrRedwine

I love my Zune HD and Zune pass.  Why is Microsoft totally messing up what the Zune actually IS by presenting something it totally ISN'T to all Xbox 360 users.  This just seems like an idea that came out half baked.

Posted by foggel

Haha, I've had the same discs from Lovefilm on my desk for about a year now aswell. Pan's Labyrinth and... I don't remember the second one. I could check, but then I'd have to get up... I guess this reflects why I never go out and mail them btw.

Posted by Radar

Agreed.
 
The Zune rebranding thing makes no sense at all. They just want to artificially get people talking about the Zune brand.

Posted by markB0SS

I could nt agree more. One of the things I was really hoping for was to be able to listen to Last.FM whilst playing games.

Posted by CowsWithGuns

I think the main problem is that there are way to many advertisements on the dashboard and many of them repeat over and over again.  And the Spotlight channel!? What the heck!? It's just a big hub for every advertisement on xbox live. They could get rid of that channel completely.  As a canadian a lot of options on the dashboard lead to dead ends.  Such as the internet tv channel in the zune marketplace. So basically Fix it Up mciro$oft!

Edited by AgileNate

I hope Microsoft thinks about Windows and its user friendliness when they design the dashboard for their next console. By the way, why are their advertisement anyway if they dont offer me anything free(useless gamerpics/old themes dont count) or cheap? Sony isnt too far behind with their online network, MS better think about their decisions. Also want to add that I am happy MS is constantly upgrading their service its just its never something ground breaking.

Posted by CronoXtream

in some way i kinda miss the old style blades dashboard
Edited by FalseDeity

Anyone else remember how awesome the original Xbox green and black look and feel was before the system turned white, shiny and trendy? With NXE, I feel like now more than ever, those jerks are after my wallet anyone way can get to it with unreasonably priced micro DLC's, terrible looking avatar accessories and re-textured t-shirts, $60 for new releases (You know, back when they were the only ones doing it) and annual subscription fees on top of all of it. Worst part of it, is games are developed shorter almost intentionally by partitioning their development resources towards DLC's which is ultimately more profitable--I can't confirm that, it's only a suspicion.
 
Subconsciously, I don't feel good when I navigate NXE's slow, clunky, poorly designed interfaces. Yet, I feel the opposite when I load Steam; It's simple, easy to navigate, and has lots of deals. In the end, I'm driven not to be a console oriented gamer, as much as I like the unified online system that Xbox provides (It's a bitch to navigate the menus anyway). Why rent or buy movies on Zune at bloated prices when you can use Netflix. Why screw with the Twitter or Facebook xbox apps when it's such a chore to navigate the menus. I mean, I won't say Blades was perfect, but it was miles easier to navigate than NXE's endless rows of scrolling boxes.