I Don't Know If Microsoft Can Fix The Xbox Experience

The Xbox One User Interface is a mystery to me.

It oscillates wildly between intuitive and bewildering. Often within seconds. There have been occasions where I've praised it to the high heavens for its ability to switch rapidly between apps. But if I had to define my time spend using the UI in one image it would be this: me, sat on my couch, frustrated, angrily scrolling through options, randomly barking instructions to Kinect. Desperately trying to find that one option I've been trying to change, with little to no idea where the hell I should be looking.

The Xbox One makes it even easy to do the simple things but it makes the complicated things incredibly difficult.

Yesterday Microsoft showed off its latest user interface to a group of Australian journalists. I was one of them. As someone who has bee critical of the Xbox One's UI in the past, I watched with great interest.

The launch of the Xbox One has been a troubled one. I think most people, including those at Microsoft, are happy to recognise that. Some people didn't like always online. Some people don't like Kinect.

Key words being some people.

It was interesting to hear Microsoft talk about its user interface. The vocabulary is interesting. Microsoft is'listening', they is 'responding'. Microsoft is in the process of trying to accumulate as much data as possible on how people are using their interface and responding to that. Managing that. Microsoft is interpreting its metrics, efficiently fixing the issues most people have with its service.

Earlier this year Microsoft invited me to their offices for a personal guided tour of the 'Xbox Experience'. I suspected someone had read my tweets -- most likely posted by a bleary-eyed midnight version of Mark Serrels. Illegible tweets about the XBOX ONE UI BEING BLOODY BROKEN. URGH I HATE IT I CAN'T FIND ANYTHING. I suspect someone had read those (patently unfair) tweets and thought it might be a good idea to take me through the 'Xbox Experience', to give me an idea of what I was missing out on.

It's funny. My first reaction was negative: "I shouldn't have to be taught how to use a console user interface". But I don't mind saying that the demo I was eventually given -- the things I was shown -- were mind blowing. The Xbox One user interface -- as it exists today -- can do some pretty incredible things. As I watched Microsoft's nimble-fingered wizard deftly dance through the menus, easily navigating the options I regularly stumbled over like a drunkard in clown shoes, I thought to myself, "I'm wrong about this. I've been unfair to Microsoft."

And then I went home and turned on my Xbox One.

It was sort of like watching Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk on YouTube and then trying to do the moonwalk. It looks easy when he does it but yeah... I can't do the moonwalk.

Of course, with my accent, Kinect continues to be useless unless I put on a hilariously false English accent. But that's fine. I'm Scottish, this is my curse to bear. But the menus that Microsoft's wizard deftly danced through still felt clunky to me. They still felt difficult, like hard work. If I wanted to do something specific, like change one specific setting, finding it was next to impossible.

TL;DR: when Microsoft tells me that it's working on improving the 'Xbox Experience', when they tell me that it's going to be more user-friendly, I want to believe but I can't help but be cynical.

What was shown last night seemed great. The Microsoft menu wizard performed brilliantly. The new 'Xbox Experience' is faster. It's easier to do the things that most people want to do. They'll be able to do it even faster than they did before. This is good. This is probably the best thing for the majority of Xbox One users. This makes sense.

I couldn't help but wonder: how will this all work when I get home? What happens when I install the update to my own Xbox One and I try something really specific? How will that work? That's the real problem with the Xbox One user interface. Sure, you're making it easier to view my friends list, but that was already easy. What if I want to automatically download updates like the PS4 does? Apparently I can do that, but I've never been able to find out how. What if I want enter a code instead of scanning it using Kinect? It took me ten minutes to figure that out the first time.

But you know what? I'm ready to be enthusiastic all over again. I don't know how much of an improvement the new 'Xbox Experience' is going to be. From what I've seen so far, it looks great. It always looks great. Even when it's terrible it looks great.

It's Microsoft's commitment to metrics that gives me hope. Its commitment to listening to the majority of people and their concerns. My worry? That focus on metrics will result in a choir preaching exercise that negates broader problems with the interface.

Has Microsoft fixed the Xbox Experience in a meaningful way? That's the question. We'll have to wait until November to find out the answer.


    Obviously the metrics from people endlessly scrolling through the menus to find stuff means they will build more menus! That is where everyone spends their time!

      "Yo dawg, we heard you like menus, so we put your menus in a menu!"
      Seriously though, if you have to sit someone down and explain how to use the actual user interface, then it is nowhere near intuitive enough.

    wont be collecting any data from me, I haven't turned mine on since the Master Chief Collection disaster launch.

      Hang in there dude, only one more month and you’ve kept that tantrum going for a full year.
      Assuming you bought your Xbone at launch then you’ve spent almost half the time you’ve had that investment boycotting it!

      *You should have downloaded #idarb when it was free though. That game is great!

        Yeah, I have the day one edition (got both PS4 and Xbone on launch day)

        ...has...it....really nearly been a year.....(oh god)

        I'm not really boycotting it as such, I mainly game on PC and have the Xbone and PS4 for exclusives (and multiplayer on PS4 due to most friends on there). I really enjoyed the first couple games I played on it. Its just the last time I had an exclusive for it was when MCC came out. When that turned to shit I just haven't had a reason to return as yet. I've been busy with PC stuff mostly since then, Halo 5 should get me back to it though.

        You also just made me shudder at the thought of how many updates it is going to require when I do turn it back on.

        you are not the first person to tell me I should have got #idarb when it was free.

          Don’t worry, I think #idarb is still pretty cheap.
          And even if it’s not, it’s still good value if you’ve got mates and controllers!

          I was going to ask if you had a PS4 but figured it was pretty obvious if you’ve avoided your Xbone for this long.

          IMO the Xbone had the better exclusives for the first year and will have the better exclusives for the last 3 months of this year, but for the time since MCC came out the PS4 has had the better exclusives (probably by a Bloodborne) and continues to get better performance on the multi-platforms, so I don’t think you’ve missed much.

          If you got upset enough about MCC to avoid the Xbone for a year, then surely you’ll be turning it back on for Halo 5.
          They won’t let history repeat itself with Halo 5….. surely they can’t!

    Will it play a custom soundtrack? Like the both original Xbox and 360 could at launch?
    The fact that it still can’t says everything you need to know about MS and their priorities (ie not your priorities as a gamer).
    They’ve spent far too much time in the last two years adding semi-broken Kinect support to everything as their solution to a problem that never existed.

    I’m hoping the new interface allows you to separate games out into different sub categories too, particularly with the impending launch of BC. It’s fine being able to pin the games you’re playing regularly, but between my retail library, XBL arcade titles and the BC games from the Rare Replay alone, the ‘Games’ menu is getting really unmanageable.

    Interesting. I recently posted about this. After recently picking up an X1 and now owning a WiiU, PS4 and Xbox (as well as pc etc) I was quite surprised by some of the niggly things that Microsoft's console OS was, well, niggly about.

    With them being primarily in the software business I wasn't expecting the slow/ clumsiness of the UI and some other niggles. Install times and waiting for game updates to reach a certain amount until you can play the game with the download running in the background is annoying. At times I also feel the the console is taking away a lot of the choice from me. For example: On a PC, Wii or PS4 I can choose when to download an update, or even download it without applying it so I can still continue playing the single player portion of the game etc. But the X1 chooses that for you and makes you wait varying times depending on 'IF' the game supports play as you update and from what percentage completion it supports it from.

    I also feel that the market place is somewhat lacking. It's kinda like how I felt the first time I booted netflix and found that, to find most of the shows I was looking for, I had to search by name. There isn't a full on category system for genre or even an alphabetical list. It just seems like an odd omission.

    Sony's UI seems to put the most important things in easy to access places and the UI is faster as well. Furthermore, even the Nintendo eShop does a better job at organizing and showing off content than Microsofts (Not to mention the Adds on the dash. For shame MS).

    TLDR; I'm enjoying Halo and Sunset overdrive, but I really hope that the windows 10 update fixes the little niggles that I have.

    Nice article, Mark. I'm looking forward to the update. I don't mind the current UI but it frustrates me so much that for things that seemed so easy on Xbox 360 seem to be so difficult on X1. I think the biggest problem is no guide button menu or whatever it was called. You pressed the guide button and got a pop up menu that gave quick access to settings, friends, current downloads etc. Nice and easy. I believe that is being implemented in this new update? Or something similar anyway.

    As far as automatically downloading game updates like the PS4, I'm pretty sure as long as your console is in 'Instant On' power mode, it will automatically download updates. No extra settings needed. My console updates games automatically and to be honest it seems to be better at doing so than the PS4. I leave my PS4 in rest mode and have the auto download update option on an still find at times that game updates haven't downloaded and I am left waiting (or skipping) for the latest update. If you are looking at your games and apps on X1 and see a starburst in the top right corner it indicates that the app/game has been updated.

      I miss the guide button menu from 360. It worked so well that it makes me wonder who the people were that designed the x1 UI and if they actually had used a console to play games on before.

    I hate to say this but... Git Gud

    It's infinitely easier to tweak setting on an Xbone than it is on the iPhone (where you usually have to google a solution and look through old forum posts to accomplish anything.

    Or a PC at virtually any time in history!

    Seriously the only thing they botched was entering codes from cards and that looked like a cynical move to get you to load your credit card details

      I dunno if comparing it to an iPhone's interface is really fair, that's like comparing a quantum computer to... well an iPhone.

      PC (or better yet PS4) is a much better UI comparison and I'd argue that (personally) it takes 10x as long to do something like entering codes, finding DLC, changing simple options/settings or even just monitoring a game download on the Xbox than on either of the other platforms. Not because the Xbox is slow, but because it's just such a mess to navigate.

      Eg. I wanted to change some account settings, so I thought I'll click the account icon, obviously that only give options to look at your stats or change your picture though (another nightmare). Instead the setting were hidden away somewhere like Home>Applications>settings>personal>account>etc>etc...

      I'm not saying PS4 is perfect - they really need to make it a bit more customisable for a start - but at least there most things are kept in a logical place that's quick and easy to find.

        Have to agree here. I bought an XBox One a few months ago, having had a PS4 for a while, and the XB1 UI is by comparison shockingly obscure. Its use of wait cursors (spinning circle in the middle of the screen) at the most inappropriate of times is also a bit of a turnoff.

        That's not to say that the PS4 is perfect; for some reason it sometimes stalls in updating images in PSN, and on more than one occasion it's shown the wrong image entirely for a game in my library. However, they're pretty rare, whereas the XB1 interface is messed up all the time.

        Add that to the fact that the XB1's exclusives are heavily slanted towards shooters and I'm sort of regretting having forked out for one.

    The store is bad, just plain un-intuitive to navigate.

    Use a code with out Kinect: Store > Games > Use a code
    Turn on Auto updates: Anywhere on the home screen hit Crack lines/menu/start button > Power and startup > Change power mode to instant on. For it to work you need to make sure that when you turn your x1 off, it goes into stand-by rather than holding the power switch/light on the front of your x1, to properly shut it down.

    I think because I've had it since day 1 and used it as my primary console even though I have a ps4 and had a wiiU, I've gotten used to it. Really though, with every piece of tech that I'm unfamiliar with, I tend to look for about a minute for what I want to find and then google where the frack it is.

    Last edited 02/10/15 1:38 pm

      I think PS4 has almost the same procedure for entering a code: PS Store > Redeem Code.

      Also, mad respect for using "the frack".

        Yeah, it tends to get the msg across without being offensive... it always stood out to me when they said it in BSG.

        Last edited 02/10/15 5:15 pm

    I like my Xbox one games and have spent many good hours in the fantastic Sunset Overdrive and playing Horizon 2 and the MCC, but the xbox one OS doesn't do it for me.
    Its slow, ad filled and cumbersome to navigate.

    And don't get me started n install times, I legitimately leave my xbox on over-night when I get a new game and play my PS4 / wiiu / pc while it installs/updates.

      Agreed. It just feels like an unorganised mess of adverts and questionable attempts at being user-friendly. The exclusives are pretty much the only reason I've switched it on.

      Haha, RE the install times - glad I'm not the only one! At one point I bought a few new games for it, figured I would get in a good week's worth of PC/PS4 gaming while they installed! :p

        Glad to see I'm not alone there either!

    I dont mind the bone UI, I know where all the complicated things are now and I'm almost afraid of the new update having to find out where they've all moved to.

    Two things that really piss me off though. At the home screen, if I press "B", I don't want it to load the last game I played. That should be when I press "A" or "the equivalent of the start button" when I highlight the game to play. This is worse when its a disc-based game I played last and the disc isn't in. In all my years of Xbox experience, "B" takes me back to the previous menu/area, thats 10 years of habits to undo. I've got a great idea for B though, how about when you hold it on the home screen, it makes ALL panes fade to complete transparency so you can check out that spiffy achievement icon wallpaper you have there.

    The other thing is Game DVR. Its great. I love being able to double-tap "the equivalent of the guide button" and grab the last 30 seconds of whatever awesome thing I did, or grab a quick screenshot of a leaderboard. Its great. Whats shit is games that have automatic DVR captures that keep popping up as notifications and filling my Studio with stuff I don't want. GTA is especially guilty of this taking a capture every time I shoot or turn a corner. Get rid of this automatic game capture and let me run Upload and choose when I want to save a clip... instead of having to pause a game, enable Game DVR, return to the game, take a screenshot, pause the game disable Game DVR.

    Bonus Feature request: Instead of just dimming the screen when left idle, why not have a picture slideshow of [xb1] achievements you've unlocked.

      That "B" going back into the last game/app I had open is infuriating! Prob my biggest gripe outside of not using a similar system to the 360s guide button menu.

      And the hold "B" on the home screen to fade the panes and view the background is a fan-fracking-tasic idea.

      Last edited 02/10/15 5:21 pm

    I really think they pushed accessibility to the back of the queue thinking we'd all be talking to Kinect. My wife happily yells "record that" and "use a code" at the main console that she uses 99% of the time, but I don't even have a Kinect hooked up to mine, which is the one on the other side of the room I use to play Destiny with her.

      I use the kinect for scanning codes (my god how did I cope without that), signing in, and occasionally turning the thing on or off.

        There is auto sign in now, faster than Kinect on boot up. It doesn't turn off the Kinect sign ing either just loads your chosen profile first and asap.

        Now my kinect is used 100% of the time for voice commands (which work well for me as I've had years of experience working with voice recog systems) and the only time it's not turned around facing the tv is when I use a code. That's pretty rare as I buy most of my games digitally these days.

        Last edited 02/10/15 5:27 pm

    my main issues with the current xbone ui was poor performance, lack of avatar support, auto update only updating games with the disc in and not having the same feature set as last gen. but i still prefer it to the ps4 menu - its just this stupid scrolling bar of random game and app icons that don't seem to be sortable and the rest of the screen real estate is wasted empty space - and then you need to click on the all apps thing to actually find the game you are looking for

    Last edited 02/10/15 2:28 pm

      However, there is a certain lack of clutter to the PS4 menu that in my opinion makes it a lot more user-friendly.


    "As someone who has bee critical"
    "Microsoft is’listening’, they is ‘responding’"
    "If I wanted to do something specific, like change one specific setting, finding it was next to impossible."
    "That focus on metrics will result in a choir preaching exercise that negates broader problems with the interface." ("negates" is not the word you meant to use here).


    As I watched Microsoft’s nimble-fingered wizard deftly dance through the menus, easily navigating the options I regularly stumbled over like a drunkard in clown shoes, I thought to myself, “I’m wrong about this. I’ve been unfair to Microsoft.”

    I can never get my head around what the interface hierarchy "tree" looks like.

    For example, if I have launched a game, played for a while, exit the game (fully quit using the menu button) then browsing the UI, if you hit back (red button) when at the main home screen, it launches the game again (the last one you quit).

    Why? Why would I want to have the back button launch a game I played 20 mins ago? It's bizarre.

    EDIT: The last xbox 360 interface was awesome, easy to navigate and logical. How and why did they mess it up so bad.

    Last edited 02/10/15 2:46 pm

    Just wondering, what are you trying to do on your Xbox that is so difficult...?

    What are you having issues with? I like the xbox one ui and find it easy to use. I use kinnect with mine sometimes though

    Had Microsoft do the same presentation of the new UI for myself and some others a few weeks ago. It crashed.

    Other than that mishap, though, I was impressed. The current interface is one of the good reasons I haven't turned on my XB1 in months. I even use the browser-based XBL store to download the free monthly games so that I don't have to use the console...

    The adds suck, navigation speed is poor and the store seems like it was designed by a high school student. I've had so many issues with live (literally just PAYING for it) and all up spent hours on the phone to PAY for live. I will never forget the disappointment I felt when I got the xbox one. I hope the changes and backwards compatibility make this console closer to the ps4, I wish I could say the xbox has its purpose and place but for me, it doesn't.


      Works perfectly. They do shorter period codes too. You get an email the next day with a code. If you get the order in before opening of business in the UK they usual get it to you that same day.

      Last edited 02/10/15 5:41 pm

        Xbox can't tell me why but I can't pay for live on the store, I have to buy code cards. It might be a minor inconvenience but its frustrating nonetheless. I have gotten a month of live for free numerous times because of it but it takes about 2 hours on the phone. One of the support staff said they have the same problem

    I have never, and I mean never, understood the hate for the xbox one system menus.

    Snapping sucks... there's no arguing about that. And not having background music, STILL, is god damn baffling. Install times and downloading updates before playing are teeth gratingly aggravating. I agree with all of that.
    But it is not a difficult system... and the complaints of people being confused, or angry, about it always seemed bizarre to me. No one can seem to elaborate on what they find confusing.

    @markserrels https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FFRoYhTJQQ

      Install times are a necessary evil, but being able to just throw the disc in and off it goes is great. I throw it in, do something else for half hour and its done, including patches. No need to start up the game after install to be told there are updates - this makes me happy. Not to mention updates just appearing overnight or while I'm at work. Not that I've tried it before, but its also great to see "ready to play" when its only 30% through the install. I think the bone has this system as good as it'll ever get.

      Ive never liked snapping, but this comes down to how its used. I'll load a game, load the achievement snap to see tracking... but.. then what? How do I go back to the game and leave it running? I usually hit guide to go back to the dash, then go back to the game and choose the correct panel and whatever you do, don't press "B". Just seems counter-intuitive, why not have double-tap guide to bring up snap-app, double-tap to return to game. Maybe its rocket science.

      I have "pinned" the full Achievement app so I don't accidentally hit the snap version of it. Much like in previous-rant my dislike for "B" button loading the last game you played, running the snap version of an app also loads previous game when none is running. If the "snap" version of the app detected no game was running and launched the full Achievement app, I'd be much happier.

        You can say "xbox switch" and it should switch the active window back to the main app/game, while still keeping the snap loading/running. I don't believe there is a button shortcut.

        Highlighting the "achievements" app or snap and hitting Crack lines/Start/Menu > Go to full screen should open the full screen app even if you accidentally opened the wrong version.

        Last edited 02/10/15 5:40 pm

          HAHA crack lines. Guess that makes the controller a hookers ass. Complete with buttons to push.

          I've no Kinect, and play with headphones as to not disturb my kids sleeping in the next room. I am reliant on button shortcuts. And crack lines.

          Double tap X and press left on d pad to return to main screen while still snapped

    Why do we have so many educated voices on user interfaces all claiming everything is broken when it works by the definition of the word on a fundamental level? (not an indictment of Serrels but the clear, quantifiable trend in media today) Why do we then have to defend against reactionary morons who start throwing rhetorical questions no one asked around as "proof" of their complaints? Why are we, the observers, constantly striving for our own version of perfection, can't we separate the things that actually affect us from the humblebrags? Seriously, you can't ALL be this ignorant. When you have 100 different educated opinions with 100 different reasons as to why something should have sex-offender hatred lumped upon it, how do readers reconcile the truth in their perspective when all of them speak like their word is gospel (harming any hope for discussion or holistic conversation) and the commentors either perfectly echo the sentiment or perfectly oppose it with nothing in-between? Makes everything seem arbitrary.

    Last edited 02/10/15 4:22 pm

      Have you been living under a rock all these years?

    Dug out my 360 a while ago could only groan at the UI.

    I hate to say this but despite the added features and what can pass as progress, overall the old Blades UI had better UI usability than what is on offer.

    Not entirely on-topic, but the biggest thing I miss was being able to automatically set inverted look and manual gears in my Xbox profile. Now, every game I have to pause and change. You wouldn't think such a tiny thing could be such a pain in the arse but I play a LOT of games and this used to be such a smooth experience.

      Yeah, I miss this too. It seems like a massive step backwards.

      That and playing music while in a game. And Microsoft still say they're listening?

    Once I figured out I could pin the settings 'app' to the left most menu I have been coping. Still not real intuitive but everything works...

    I never had an issue with the previous two xboxes. They always felt straightforward and logical, my xbone is frustrating. Searching through unhelpful menus hoping to find what im looking for while saying " xbox, (random word vaguely related to setting after specific words havnt worked)" has caused me to go ahhh its not worth it an left the xbox unpowered for months. I would instantly recommend an xbox 360 to anyone when it was the current gen, now id tell people to buy for whatever exclusives you desire and game on pc.

    I'm still yet to get a Xbox One but I most likely will at some point as I like the controller. I was kind of excited about Kinect for UI navigation when it was first released, but now I notice it's being sold without it.

    Honest question, is getting the Kinect bundle worth it? How do people who have Kinect actually use it?

      It's semi-useful for voice features. It doesn't always understand me though. I like using it for media control features. I have yet to use it for a mainstream game though.

    I still maintain that the CURRENT Xbox One UI is perfectly good, it just runs like garbage.

    I'm one of those who actually isn't a fan of what I'm seeing with the new dash. They've basically given us the performance we've always wanted, but now with a legitimately worse UI. Yeah it "Looks" pretty, but man it looks way too convoluted for it's own good.

    The current one, while not overly intuitive at first glance, is actually brilliant once it clicks with you. I love it personally.

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