Xbox One's new Dashboard: simpler, better

Xbox One will launch with a new Dashboard. Taking obvious design cues from Windows 8, Microsoft's approach with its next-gen console is simplicity. With each Xbox 360 update adding more clutter and more ads, it's refreshing to see the company go back to basics. Whereas Xbox 360 had you swiping through multiple blades--a remnant of the original 360 Dashboard--Xbox One puts everything you need on one page. You'll be able to quickly launch (or resume) the game you're currently playing by hitting the big featured box. Underneath that are four boxes that are dynamically propagated with your most recently used apps and games. Many apps, like your friends list, will reside in memory and launch instantly when accessed from this area. Move your cursor to the right, and you'll see four skyscraper banners representing the different marketplaces available on Xbox One: Games, Movies & TV, Music, and Apps. This approach simply makes more sense than having to hit RB a few times to get to the specific tab you want. Move your cursor to the left, and you'll see smaller boxes that give quick access to various settings. All the way on the left are your pins: bookmarks to any app or game on your console. That's it. It's such an easy-to-understand interface, one has to wonder how Xbox 360 ever became so bloated. Another thing to note: there is no separate interface when hitting the Home button. If you're in the middle of a game, pressing the Xbox button on the controller will bring up the entire Dashboard, with the game suspended in the big box in the middle of the Dash. Simply click that box to go back into your app.

The Marketplace is now consolidated into one place

The new Dashboard makes a great first impression. However, there are other improvements to Xbox Live that are much appreciated. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the "Follower" system. Much like Twitter, you can "Follow" other Xbox Live users--up to 1000. This way, you'll be able to easily see what Major Nelson or any of your favorite Shacknews writers are doing on Xbox Live--even if they don't follow you back. The decision to have so much system memory reserved for the OS may not be conducive to game development, but the end result is an operating system that encourages multitasking. It's a lot like using PS Vita--and that's a good thing. Being able to pin an additional app like Video Studio is quite cool. Even more remarkable is, at least with the simple tech demo Microsoft had set up for us, how stable the console is even when running multiple apps; with Video Studio pinned and recording a video, the framerate remained steady. Another smart decision: requiring all games to be installed on the hard drive. You can switch from one game to another game incredibly quickly. For example, saying "Xbox, launch Call of Duty" will activate a three second countdown. Once that's done, the game will seamlessly open.

You can pin any number of apps to your Dashboard, but you can't change the size of the pins (yet)

There are some kinks in the system, but given the early nature of the software demoed, these are things that can be remedied before the console's November launch. Facial recognition shows promise, but it seemed sluggish. However, being able to simply sit in front of your console and have the system automatically sign you in certainly sounds cool. Kinect's voice recognition also seems spotty, with the console seemingly recognizing commands that weren't said. In its early state, "Dismiss" had to be used more often than it should. (Microsoft's Albert Penello also points out that the word "Xbox" tends to be used more often in these demos than a typical household--but the microphone still picked up commands even when he didn't mention "Xbox.") In spite of the Kinect-related quirks, the new Xbox One dashboard impresses with its new features and cleaner design. And with nary an ad in sight (for now), it looks to be a marked improvement over the 360 UI.