Xbox 360 users can look forward to better controls, app integration, and cloud saves beginning early next month.
Microsoft has announced that its newly retooled Xbox dashboard will be coming out of beta for public release on December 6th. The console's upgraded interface has been completely redesigned to match the company's "Metro" style, bringing Xbox Live one step closer to looking and operating like Microsoft's mobile and PC operating systems.
Aside from the new look, your 360 is also set to offer new software and services. New dashboard "apps" (because everything must now have "apps") will be introduced, including Bravo, HBO GO, Manga Entertainment, Syfy and more. Not all of the announced content services will be available on December 6th, however, but according to Director of Programming Major Nelson, more apps will be released "on an ongoing basis through the holiday months."
In order to browse the service's new apps, the redesigned dashboard will feature improved integration for the Kinect, including swipe and gesture based navigation as well as sharpened voice control. Using naught but the power of your spoken words, you'll be able to govern your machine nearly hands free (until you get to the actual gaming part, I suppose), including the ability to use a new Bing! search feature available for all who own the accessory. If you still haven't picked up the peripheral, don't worry, you'll be able to flip through apps and channels with your standard controller button-style.
As far as new features are concerned, Xbox Live Gold members will now have the free option of "cloud storage" for their game saves and profile, meaning all of that data will be backed up on Microsoft's remote server for easy access from any Xbox connected to the internet. With your profile and achievements on the cloud, the dashboard will also offer something being called "beacons," which will allow players to "like" games on Facebook and share achievements with the world.
It's hard to say whether this major design change will end up delighting or infuriating the XBL community, but at least there won't be much of a wait to find out. Based on Major Nelson's description, it seems like there's not much to be worried about anyway; all of the changes seem focused on ease of use and convenience, after all. The only thing I find questionable is this new "beacon" business. Personally, I can think of nothing better than attracting thousands of new friends by setting up my Xbox to automatically post every achievement I earn to my wall. Popularity, here I come!