Recently, I’ve noticed that every time an Xbox employee tweets, regardless of the topic, a lot of responses prompt Microsoft to deliver a new dashboard, often without context. I was surprised in my Xbox surveys at the beginning of the year how many people were actually bored with the overall dashboard design, where about a third of the complaints were about details or general dissatisfaction. It should be noted that these studies were by no means scientific and also present a bias around Twitter itself, which tends to amplify certain topics and produce trends that may fly contrary to Microsoft’s internal, more scientific polls.
In fact, the Xbox Insider application is designed for and around feedback on the dashboard. During the Xbox One generation, we saw the Xbox dashboard undergo several major revisions as it moved away from Kinect and Windows 8’s “Metro” design language to something more similar to Windows 11’s Fluent Design system. It’s also noteworthy that the Xbox Series X | S is the first “new generation” of Xbox consoles that did not receive a unique design. It looks and works identically to the Xbox One dashboard, except for dynamic themes and other features under the bonnet.
I once again approached the community to ask what it was specifically people did not like about the Xbox Dashboard. For full transparency, I myself am quite happy with it right now. I enjoy the connection between my Windows 11 PC and the Xbox console, and the new storefront on the Xbox is excellent, it is much faster and more usable than its predecessor. That said, there are some points raised on Twitter that I do do agrees with, and hopes, that Microsoft addresses in some form.
Cleaner, with fewer “ads”
Source: Windows Central
One of the main criticisms I see over and over again concerns the perception of clutter and “ads” on the home screen right after you boot up your Xbox. I’ve put “ads” in quotes here because I suspect Microsoft sees some of the content panels on the dashboard a little differently than average users.
The dashboard consists of two rows of tiles. The top row is a list of recently used apps and games, while the bottom row consists of a direct link to your Games and Apps folder with three panels containing “dynamic content”. These content blocks are generated by AI and encourage you to engage in various Xbox features, whether it’s store promotions, achievements or friends signing in. The last panel at the bottom right is often reserved for actual ads, served by Bing.
I suspect that complaints about this mess in the dashboard have intensified since Microsoft introduced dynamic themes for the Xbox Series X | S, which are beautifully animated. Unfortunately, their effect is hampered because they are hidden behind the large motionless tiles. Fan mock-ups envision a more streamlined user interface that provides more breathing space for the background, while reducing the number of segments dedicated to “dynamic” content blocks.
Advertising has long been a controversial topic on Xbox consoles, even in the Xbox 360 era. This is partly symptomatic of the business model that console games represent: You sell the hardware at cost and make money on digital purchases. Ads on the dashboard present a relatively unobtrusive method of generating additional revenue and subsidizing the console itself. They are generally far less intrusive than on platforms like Instagram or Tiktok, which build profiles on your habits and offer ads that are specifically tailored to encourage you to make a purchase. Xbox ads tend to be targeted with a very generalized audience in mind.
In the UK, I often see ads for random campaigns run by the government that are not even trying to sell anything. Right now, I actually do not see any external ads in Germany at all, where the content blocks are focused on Xbox Game Pass benefits and a reminder that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands has just been launched. That said, they fill an awkward portion of the dashboard and hide any dynamic themes or custom backgrounds you may have set.
Since I’m realistic, I doubt Microsoft will completely remove ads on the dashboard, given the extra revenue they generate. I suspect, however, that there must be some sort of compromise that reduces their control over the overall feel of the home screen. Many users demanded more control over the home screen, with the ability to resize or move tiles, for example.
Performance and speed
Source: Windows Central
Another topic that I saw often was related to speed. Many users mentioned how slow the Xbox can be to pull updates down or navigate quickly between different sections of the dashboard.
It seems to some extent true that the resource allocation to the operating system holds it back. I recently tried using Clipchamp on Microsoft Edge on Xbox Series X, which is Microsoft’s shiny new web-based video editing platform. Unfortunately, you just add one single short clips to the timeline caused the entire browser to crash as I maxed out its RAM availability. The Xbox Game DVR is another battlefield given how painfully sluggish the Xbox is at handling the basics of clip editing and sharing. Microsoft completely removed the Upload Studio app and removed deeper clip editing from the platform.
Potentially, some limitations in operating system performance are not things that Microsoft can easily solve, as system resources are largely reserved for games and games. A more thorough overhaul of the Xbox architecture may be needed in the future to improve some of these aspects of the console.
One thing that users repeatedly requested on my Twitter thread was the possibility of an HDR-enabled dashboard. It is certainly annoying that when you switch from the dashboard to a game with HDR enabled, most TVs flicker between HDR modes due to the Xbox dash missing the feature. If you use a slower TV, this switch can be quite slow and annoying to deal with. Hopefully this is at least one performance-related improvement that Microsoft can implement a little easier. In my experience talking to Xbox staff about that kind of thing, though, it sounds like even things that seem relatively simple can actually be quite complicated.
What is Microsoft is working on right now?
Source: Windows Central
In previous interviews, Microsoft said that its priorities for 2022 include improving the Xbox Game DVR, while noting that it has heard calls to improve and overhaul the Xbox performance system, which has fallen behind PlayStation in the modernization. Microsoft has made a number of small improvements over the last few months, including customization of the share button, improvements to the Quick Resume, 4K dashboard, and improvements to storage location and availability information.
For just as many people who called for a complete overhaul of the dashboard, just as many urged Microsoft to leave it as it is. It was quite intense how many revisions the Xbox One generation’s dashboard went through during its period, and I would argue that what we have now is much more streamlined and focused, even though it has happened at the expense of losing TV. features, snap mode, and other similar things.
I think a full dashboard revision is not necessary until the next generation at this point, but like Windows 11 itself, it feels like this generation of Microsoft OS design is heading too far away from customization. People urged Microsoft to improve the consistency of Windows 11, and it has probably achieved this. However, in some ways this has happened at the expense of adaptation. For example, you can no longer move the Start menu taskbar, and the new Start menu does not have nearly as much customization as Windows 10 or Windows 8.1 did.
The same goes for the Xbox dashboard, but this has always been the case to some degree. However, I do not think it would hurt to give users a little more control over their experience. I sign up for the Android ecosystem for the control it gives me over the usability of my mobile devices. It would also be nice to see some of that design customization on the Xbox (and Windows 11).
What do you think? Tap on the comments and let’s talk.