Editorial: Xbox One is a User Interface Disaster

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Did you know Xbox One has a few demos available? You wouldn’t if you browsed the non-organized Xbox One Marketplace. Instead, you need to follow Major Nelson on Twitter to stay informed. Or, you know, they could just have a demo section on the console’s store.

Did you know Xbox One does not support voice messages? At all? Voice messages sent from Xbox 360 users sit there, unusable unless you sign into your Xbox 360.

Did you know Xbox One does not separate followers from friends? I have 68 “followers” currently – mostly my 67 friends – and one straggler. I have no idea who that additional person is.

Did you know Xbox One cannot show you how much HDD space you have left? You can view space requirements of individual games, but you’ll need to do the math yourself.

What you likely did know is the mess Microsoft created with the Xbox One announcements, from always online requirements to stringent control of physical media. Their system was in place with only months to go, and then the proverbial bottom fell out. They scrapped it all, or the assumption is they did. Why else would they a ship a box to stores that does absolutely nothing without a firmware update? Something was clearly amiss, and those early images of the interface (like the one above) show how radically different things were in comparison from the first reveals to final retail release.

As such, Microsoft spit out… well, whatever Xbox One is supposed to be. Instead of hyper cool voice recognition technology, Kinect 2.0 must act a a band aid to add cohesion to a busted system. Want a demo? Say demo! Want to find a friend? Say friend? Want to play Ryse? Just say Ryse! Or not, actually. You need to say “Ryse: Son of Rome.” Or better yet, check out a PDF flow chart of Kinect commands to see how cumbersome even the patchwork of Kinect can be (Xbox record? No! Xbox record that? Yes!).

The guide button on Xbox 360 used to be functional. You would hit the spherical, faux-metal glowing button and it would bring up quick access to basic functionality. On Xbox One, the flattened Guide button brings you to the home screen. Granted, you can readily customize Xbox One for fast access; the menu to the left of the home screen is what you make of it.

However, say I want to access my friend’s list. It used to be Guide button, Friends, and the list pulled up. Now, it’s Guide button, go left, hit profile, pull up the friend’s app (because everything’s an app you see) and surf through recent activity before even finding the list. Of course, you can assign “special” friends for fast access – for those you concern yourself with more often – but even this function is another step away.

Xbox 360 was not perfect when it launched with its “blade” system, and we’re still waiting for the features promised by Velocity Girl. But Xbox 360 still came with categories. It still had quick access to friends. I could still find demos. Over the years, Xbox 360 became slick. Ad infested, but slick. Xbox One will undoubtedly be reinvented. Things will be tweaked, options will be moved, and items will be added.

And yet, over the course of using this console, part of me wonders if Microsoft’s “a game is a game” approach is a cover. It’s an excuse to jumble the Marketplace without content sections, basic organization, or simple navigation in their rush to shelves (or in other words, the constantly shifting 3DS eShop). Phil Harrison stated they created “very advanced discoverability functions”, a comment near parody. Half of the content available at launch is not accessible unless you dig into sub-menus, and this is only with the first month of software. It’s fantastic you can use Kinect to find something, but if you don’t know said something even exists, how are you supposed to tell Kinect to bring it up?

There is more, from an unimaginably cruddy party system to the inability to listen to custom music in-game without using the windowed “snap” function. Oh, and the inaccessibility of uploading video without having Kinect plugged in. That one remains baffling. This could turn into a top 10 list of, “Things Xbox 360 can do that Xbox One cannot,” and there would be 10 additional runners up. As a supposed all-in-one box, Microsoft has constructed a monster no casual user will figure out how to use.  This console was rushed, clearly incomplete, and made from shattered ideals of a consumer-breaking future.

In some ways, Xbox One is still breaking consumers: Those who bought this machine at launch.

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