Remember that time when the Xbox One launched without a pop-up guide? Or when the Xbox 360 introduced avatars? Where consoles in the past, and even present, have kept a similar user interface, the Xbox has always evolved. From the original Xbox’s lime green menus to the infamous Xbox 360 blades and beyond, software updates have consistently brought new features and a fresh look. With what will likely be the final Xbox One home update making the rounds in preview builds, we’re going to look back at the history of the Xbox interface.
Where it all began
The original Xbox was famous for a few things. One was the genius inclusion of an Ethernet port for the birth of Xbox Live. The HDD was also the first of its kind in a home console. Where the Xbox was known for these important hardware features, its user interface wasn’t as celebrated. However, that green-tinted grid pattern did have a charm. Otherworldly in a fashion, the Xbox dashboard transported you somewhere else and was a great setup to then jump into the variety of titles on offer. It did have a few neat features too, like customisable network settings for easier setup and an auto-sign in option for profiles. The original Xbox seems feature-light compared to the current systems. However, that eerie green home was just the beginning of the Xbox user interface.
It’s tough to reminisce about old Xbox dashboards without thinking about the infamous “blades”. This UI launched alongside the Xbox 360 in 2005 and was a whole new look for Microsoft’s second Xbox. It ditched that lime green hue for a more modern design; the blades were fast, easy to use and very customisable. A pop-up guide was also introduced with this design, which allowed certain system features to be accessed mid-game. The store had a dedicated section for customizing this guide, bringing a personal touch to the blades. They were also extremely quick and snappy to navigate, which is something the Xbox One has never matched. In today’s content-heavy market this UI may well be a little cluttered, but for the time it was extremely efficient. The hardware and software within the Xbox family have never quite synced up as well as in 2005, with the launch of the Xbox 360.
The New Xbox Experience
The Xbox 360 marked the first Xbox console to evolve its user interface. Where the original Xbox kept its dashboard throughout the console’s life cycle, the 360 updated. The NXE’s biggest new feature was the introduction of avatars, similar to Nintendo’s Miis. Alongside this new personalisation feature, the NXE brought a lighter, more spaced out interface. Gone were the stacked blades and in came tiles, which scrolled vertically through the dashboard’s main sections. The NXE was also the first software update for Xbox to allow custom user backgrounds. Many were game-themed and this feature has stuck around until the present day, where users can apply achievement art and screenshots to profile backgrounds. The “metro” design, which was introduced in 2011, was the Xbox 360’s final overhaul. Whilst this gave the 360 a modernised look, it brought little to the table in terms of new features. Visually, it represented a combination of the horizontal blades approach and the tiled NXE system.
Where’s my guide?
Many of us struggle to forget the Xbox One launch. The fumbled reveal event, alongside a confusing E3 showing, are reminders of a dark time for Xbox fans. Although most of the controversial features were reversed before launch, the lacklustre “Xbox Home” was not altered much. The UI was slow, most menu options would load as a separate app, and our beloved pop-up guide was nowhere to be seen. It retained the look of the previous Xbox 360 effort but managed to slow the whole thing down. There was one neat feature; snap, which allowed you to display a game and an app using a split-screen. Kinect may have been to blame for much of this interface’s issues, as it was the intended way of getting around this dashboard.
Named after the 360’s NXE, the New Xbox One Experience launched in 2015 and felt like a much-needed step in the right direction. The tiles were gone, and an interface closer to the NXE was introduced, including a vertical guide. This system aimed to make better use of screen space by reducing icon sizes and bringing more things to the Xbox home screen. This was a big improvement over the system used in the first Xbox One interface. Speed was the other main focus with this update, as the Xbox One’s reliance on an online connection did make the dashboard feel slow. The changes here may seem less revolutionary than in the 360 era, but the NXOE felt like it was fixing things, more than introducing new features.
The current Xbox One system, for those outside of the preview program, is a slight evolution of the NXOE. This update placed a big focus on personalisation, with pins being the core of the change. Alongside games and app pins, users can now pin other sections of the UI to the home screen. For instance, I have the Gold area underneath my game pins, for easy access to deals and games with gold. The guide also reverted to a horizontal display, much like its Xbox 360 predecessors. This system software also coincided with the rise of Mixer and Game Pass, which now occupy main sections of the dashboard for visibility and quicker access.
The curtains are closing
2019 marks the final year before the next generation arrives, and with it, we have a new software update. Currently out in the preview program, this 2019 dashboard ditches Cortana voice commands and cleans up the main home screen. The horizontal pillars consisting of Game Pass, Mixer, Community, and Store are moving to smaller tiles, giving the Home screen more space to breathe. Beyond these changes, we don’t know much about this redesign. Microsoft is currently looking for feedback from its preview users. The company will then push out what will likely be the final major software update for Xbox One to the rest of us. With that, what would you like the next generation user interface to look like?