Coming to Xbox: an overhauled Guide and the end of Snap Mode [Exclusive]

We've talked in-depth about what we're expecting for Project Scorpio, but Xbox One owners could be in for some big software changes on their current consoles. Of course, in development cycles, plans can always change, but here's an idea of what future Xbox Insider Program waves could have in store for Xbox testers.

Improving usability with a new Guide menu

The New Xbox One Experience that launched in 2015 vastly improved the usability of the Xbox One by introducing the Guide menu. Accessed through a double-tap of the Xbox controller's menu button, the Guide gives quick access to party creation, friends lists, achievements, and other important features. In the future, though, it might be able to do even more.

The idea is to reduce the steps required to navigate the dashboard, by putting more of the dash directly into the Guide.

Our sources have told us that Microsoft has tested a new tab for the Guide menu that will provide instant access to recently accessed games, apps, and other system features. Additionally, this new menu will display your pins, allowing you to customize what apps and games appear in the new tab for easy access. Microsoft has also been testing a single button press to access the Guide menu, as opposed to the double-tap implementation available today.

The idea is to reduce the number of steps required to navigate the dashboard, by putting more of the dash directly into the Guide. The full dashboard will remain, of course, but future Xbox One builds could be giving us access to more features in a single Guide tab, dramatically improving the speed and accessibility of important features in the process.

Removing Snap Mode to introduce new Multitasking features

Another aspect of the Xbox dashboard that could be seeing significant changes is the current implementation of app multitasking. Snap Mode allows users to "snap" an app to the right side of the screen, to access a stripped-down version. This is most prevalent in media apps like OneGuide and YouTube, which allow you to view video feeds without leaving your game.

Xbox One Snap Mode

The current Snap Mode implementation. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The current Snap Mode is a relic of the original Windows 8-based dashboard from 2013, back when Kinect was intrinsic to the navigation of the console. Using Snap Mode with a controller isn't the most pleasant experience, and even then, you lose a huge portion of your screen real estate for what you get in return.

I've been told that Snap Mode could be getting removed completely. Indeed, Universal Windows Platform apps are currently completely unable to utilize Snap Mode, and denying UWP apps access to the feature could be evidence enough of its impending removal.

Instead, Xbox looks to be exploring the possibility of a picture-in-picture multitasking implementation, where "snapped" app would simply hover in the corner of your game, rather than wiping out a quarter of your screen with a largely empty bar.

Xbox PiP Mock Up

Concept: With Picture in Picture, apps and videos would be anchored to the bottom right.

Details on this new feature are scant, however. Picture-in-picture mode would prevent media apps from losing their most useful multi-tasking functionality, without needing to utilize the legacy Snap Mode feature that UWP apps are currently unable to access. Our sources tell us that the only implementation they have seen so far shows the picture in the bottom-right hand corner of the screen. However, they noted that we'd likely be able to reposition the window or maybe even adjust the opacity to prevent UI elements in games from becoming completely obscured.

I asked if only media apps like YouTube and OneGuide would be supported, specifically for video feeds, but they stated that any app can be displayed picture-in-picture, potentially opening up some interesting opportunities for developers. Time will tell how, when, and if this feature sees public access.

Streamlining for Scorpio

We revealed recently that Project Scorpio will be using the same OS as the current Xbox One, retaining all of its functionality, UWP apps and beyond, with additional features for VR. Every update Microsoft brings to the Xbox One OS now will also improve the experience for future Scorpio owners. Streamlining things like app functionality, multitasking, and general navigation will ensure Scorpio launches in a far more polished state than the Xbox One did back in 2013.

For more information on what we believe Project Scorpio will be like, see the link below. And keep it locked to Windows Central for all the latest Xbox news.

Do you like Snap Mode? Would picture-in-picture be better? What other changes would you like to see hit the dashboard? Let us know in the comments.

Project Scorpio will play UWP PC games at 4K, power all Microsoft game development

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Awesome, sounds like they are wanting to bring this closer to how the 360 operated with the guide, using a single click to bring up the "overlay" to easily access settings and other important functions. Can't wait to see what's coming next!
  • Definitely prefer snap mode, they just needed to improve it's performance. Right now the dashboard is very laggy and moving between snapped App and main App is slow and cumbersome. The double tsp to switch functionality being repurposed also made it it's easy to navigate
  • Indeed, removing Snap Mode is just another in a growing list of anti-consumeristic decisions imposed by Microsoft's Xbox team on consumers. Forcibly removing it is rubbish, just like removing Kinect gesture navigation was, and the slew of other Day One features that consumers made purchasing decisions that Microsoft has since taken away. I want my Day One Xbox One back. This is no longer the console I paid for.
  • What's wrong with picture-in-picture? Snap mode is super laggy and wastes huge amount of space on-screen.
  • Snap mode has it's uses. For example, I can watch my American football game and snap my fantasy team stats. All of the snap real estate is used and I don't need to have my phone or laptop to see how I'm doing.
  • Well this wouldn't just be picture in picture, our source told us that it's not just for video feeds, but you'll be able to see apps too, so maybe it'll retain that functionality. The UWP overlay from the October event / Game DVR bar on UWP games comes to mind.
  • Picture-in-picture has a few cons: 1. it obfuscates part of the screen, a big no-no for many games, regardless of a transparency options; resizing the game so no information loss occurs is better; 2. it removes certain features--think about the Twitch app in snap mode: you get to see your broadcast and the chat box of your followers, allowing them to interact with them. Picture in picture would remove the chat box. Or, if you kept that in the picture in picture window, then it might as well just be a snapped app as it would take up that much space anyway without blocking part of the game screen.
  • I like the idea of Picture in picture for media apps...I think that would be a better approach than taking so much real estate away. Even having at as an overlay that could auto hide would be good. It does beg the question though about Cortana because it snaps when you do a better implementation of that seems likely rather than a complete throw away...what would suck is if they did that and cortana now takes up the whole screen...with as bad as its been at understanding and still going directly to searches without asking...that would be bad...
  • Considering I only use snap mode for achievements, PIP would be terrible for me. There is also the obvious negative that it would cover elements of whatever game you are playing.
  • They might go for a hybrid solution mebbe, UWP can't use Snap Mode, not sure it ever will be able to. Maybe they;'ll leave snap for apps that make sense like achievements, but strip it out for other stuff. Timme will tell I guess.
  • Not sure if I agree with the anti-consumer part, but I do agree that the Xbox vision has changed since its inception (for the worst IMO). I'm one of those that bought into the idea of the Xbox being the entertainment center, with fluidity, apps, and the cloud taking center stage but I guess the traditionalist gamers preferred something different.
  • It's anti-consumer because they sold us a product with certain features--features of which their launch day marketing campaign heavily highlighted--made definitive promises about those features, took our money, and then came back and forcibly removed those features. Had I known in 2013 that the reasons why I pre-ordered an Xbox One would be taken away from me just a few years later, I would not have bought an Xbox One. Forced "upgrades" are anathema.
  • It's hard to disagree. I bought the launch X1 and the Launch PS4, due to the large differences between the 2. The X1 with getting rid of Snap, is basically a PS4. I was willing to live with them getting rid of the all digital move, though I wanted the sharing with friends option(outside of 1 other friend) and Kinect(I like it, but if others didn't want it and want to save some money, so be it), but I use snap mode a lot. I just got the update and it is indeed gone, or if it isn't, I can't find it anywhere. The UI is much faster and more responsive, but at the expense of snap, apparently. I do hope a PIP mode comes about. My daughters liked to snap skype and play minecraft with their cousins, that live 12 hours away. I haven't tried it yet, but my guess is, that's gone, too. Since I haven't been able to snap anything else. I liked to snap Edge on ESPN, to see stats and game scores while I watched sports. And sometimes snap a TV show while I played a game. All gone, as of now.
  • "another in a growing list of anti-consumeristic decisions" LOL! Yeah, THAT'S what it is... /s
  • SMH. Snap Mode is absolutely the best feature on XboxOne. I love it. One Guide, Fantasy Football, Hulu, etc. They keep changing everything. DAMN!!! #KeepSnapMode.
  • I get zero use out of snap mode. Picture in picture with custom placement and opacity sounds like a better idea to me
  • I've been harping on about a single press of the guide button to bring up the guide since they introduced the double tap. Double tap is way to unreliable. Everything here is a great improvement over the current OS. Great to see they are going with these overhauls instead of trying to patch everything over top of what's already there. Kudos MS for pushing forward.
  • Picture in Picture would be a very welcome update. I use snap, but I am not a fan of its current implementation.
  • As long as it was optional, i'm for PiP. But optherwise i think they should improve Snap, not remove it. I think the main reason it sucks now is cause not enough apps use it and those that do use it poorly. An example being we wanted to snap twitter to the side of the tv on election night. The twitter app couldn't just display a scrolling feed down the side. A Total wasted opportunity. I would think major TV and sports events would benefit from being able to snap twitter to the side.
  • Nothing to improve the poor performance of the UI and game installs?
  • They need to improve the performance of what's already there. The Xbox One was supposed to be fluid and snappy, but it's laggy and the perfomance is terrible when navigating screens and the menus.It's like using an underpowered Roku or Fire Stick.
  • Try using a PS4 then you'll realize how good it actually is ;-)
  • I'd rather use my PC.
  • The PS4 UI is far more fluid and reliable. It never lags. So not sure what you're referring to. I own both and much prefer navigating the PS4.
  • The PS4 UI is definitely faster but it does a lot less than the Xbox One's. It's also boring and feels like a desert. Despite being slower, I often like to mess around in the dashboard (watching clips in the activity feed, checking new games/videos...etc) before I start playing a game or while it's loading.
  • I do agree that there's a lot more going on with the Xbox One home screen. Which I also don't like. But I can see the benefits of it for some. I honestly miss that plain empty feel of the 360 dashboard with the blades. Quick and easy to navigate is all I need out of a home screen. I know some people want more and the One has that.
  • Yeah, the PS4 is actually a lot more fluid, especially now after they implemented a similar in game guide menu.
  • snap is a waste of screen space. Its not very intuitive. Bring on changes, I don't really like the current interface personally.
  • I think they need to focus on performance for snapmode. I use to use it but then it just became so laggy I just stopped using it all together
  • I like snapping, but pip and a task switcher would definitely be better. But they desperately need a task switcher.
  • I seldom use snap mode. But I have used it mainly for achievement hunting. And it's terribly useful for that. I'm not sure a picture on picture would be as useful unless we get total freedom to resize the window just like we do on normal desktop Windows. As for the guide menu, it's almost completely useless to me in its present form. I only use it to pause background music or to access definitions...and when I do that, it's a pain since the icon is at the bottom of the list.
    A way to make it useful would be to allow us to completely customise what shows in the Guide Menu. So, for example, whilst one person could have only definitions, notifications and pins showing, another could opt to have only the messages and social tabs showing.
  • Sounds like we use guide/snapping for exactly the same reasons.
  • i wish they made it more simple to take a screenshot or save a video. I dont know how it works at ps4, but they at least have a button on their controller. Double press xbox button doesnt always work for me :/
  • 100% agree.
  • It has a button but it requires the same amount of steps.
  • I use voice for that, it's really simple and it has never not worked.
  • Picture in Picture would be awesome but I hope they just add it, snap should not be removed for that... just give us the option to choose.  I also hope they look at improving the speed of the (system) apps (takes too long to start/navigate pages), and start using some caching in the store. 
  • Maybe the new changes allow some estate on a new home screen with those new avatars that we haven't heard of in a while. And people need to get their heads out of their butts. The feature of snap isn't being removed. It's being upgraded is what it is. Instead of getting a huge Black bar on the side to use its 1/5 you get it PIP style as a floating seamless window getting back the rest of the wasted screen at the same time. It's brilliant. Instead of wasting time improving snap this is a much needed overhaul.
  • Snap, and the guide button functions are awful currently. Detest them.
  • PIP would be useful for some things... For example I would love this for video/TV... But for other things such as achievement hunting, and other stuff snapping is way preferable so it has more real estate and so it does not cover the game. As described I am not so sure I'm sold on this idea.
  • The Scorpio is made for 4k TVs. With all these pixels it would be great to run two apps side by side like on the tablet.
  • Oh Snap!
  • I don't know how I feel about this. I feel snap mode is a better implementation of multi tasking regardless of screen real state loss. They need to support UWP for snap mode and maybe focus on making its navigation easier for xbox controller.
    Even if they want to experiment with picture on picture style, they need to add it on top of existing snap mode to allow users to switch between the two during the ahem experiment period in insider program. I don't like existing features removed out of blue in subsequent updates. Also, this picture on picture style could create trouble for obscuring game. No matter how hard they try, there will still be times when game elements will have been obscured by a different app overlay on top of it and it would be very annoying. How would it know if it is obscuring any game element or if an extended and important game element may appear right underneath it? One work around may be to allow these over lay windows to drag around to see what was underneath. But this seems like going to a lot of trouble, not to mention you could lose game progress because you weren't able to see something coming from underneath of your friends' or your own face from the video chat you were having. Good job. You want multitasking? Don't fiddle with the game's screen space or that other app's screen space. Sure that dead space seems bad, but that is for other app to take advantage of. I don't know add some comments stream underneath it or something. Or be able to snap other apps beneath it just like you would snap apps like a stack on portrait orientation. And keep the game screen space to only game and game itself.
  • I agree completely;  didn't see your post before replying to the thread. The current snap mode for all it's warts does what it's intended to do - allows a game and an app to run side by side without interfering with each other - and does it in a simple manner.  The more I think about it, the more concerned I am with the idea of PIP mode.  No matter where the app display is placed, it will cover some area of the game window.  And if a gamer discovers that the current app window position is a problem, that's going to require a mode switch to move or close the app window.  It just doesn't sound like a good idea.  (More like the classic solution searching for a problem.) You know, what Microsot is proposing here with the PIP feature really isn't much different from TVs with built-in PIP.  I have one but never used the feature, but looking at it, it's got some options for window size and what corner it goes in.  I'll have to experiment with PIP video while playing games and see if it drives me as insane as I think it will.
  • I GLADLY welcome and encourage some changes to the existing dashboard and HUD but I'm not sure that I like the "keep this setup or move to another one" line of thinking. Some apps are going to suit your experience best as snapped apps, others might thrive in the PiP setup. Leave both options available and use Telemetry data to decide how to proceed in later development.
  • Seems like the change to multitasking would be smart, but I think they sohuld make it a customizable thing. Let me select and resize that second window, or hide it entirely if I want just an audio feed. Maybe I'd like to stack a 50-50 split screen if I'm watching someone play a game on Twitch and playing a game myself. Make it flexible, that's where the PCs are king--multitasking that doesn't limit you into apathy like Snap.
  • I literally don't use snap mode, it takes up too much space, I'd rather have an overlay that can be moved, that would work 100% better!
  • I don't see why this should be an either/or proposition. Some apps would better use pip some would better use snap. With the apps opening up development to more people now seems like a bad time to remove that functionality especially since it is still in use on computers and tablets.
  • I wish they would concentrate on performance first! The UI is so slow sometimes and because I don't use the low power standby mode (because it is not low power at all) it takes an absolute age to start up! I do hate snap mode though. It's not so bad with Kinect but when Cortana hears "watch BBC 1" as "what is BBC 1" and snaps a f**king web search to what I am doing it is so frustrating. Speaking of Cortana, that either needs improving tenfold or removing completely. When I say "Cortana, take a screenshot" it should not take 5 seconds to actually execute the command. I've gone back to using "Xbox..." as those commands fire instantly. /rant 
  • What about straight win ten multitasking with a user control in settings for portrait or landscape and what % of the screen. At lEast that was my expectation. Also bigger is that by removing snap are we dropping to one os. Powered by 10?
  • this is to bad i use snap mode sometimes :S
  • The most interesting thing to me is that UWP apps don't support snap. I never realized that. That was my one issue with the XB1 Tablo app that recently released, but since it's a UWP app, I can't fault the developers for not doing the impossible. This seems like a really odd decision on Microsoft's part. Snap is established. While not perfect, it works, and it's as similar to the Win10 tablet multitasking as it is to the Win8.x behavior. If they want to refine it or eventually change to something like a PIP approach (or add it as an alternate method) OK, but having no current option of multi-window display for Xbox UWP apps is a choice I wouldn't have made. Deprecating a feature without having a replacement is one of Microsoft's worst habits.
  • I am all in for P in P mode.  I love the feature now where I can go into a quick game between the endless NFL commercials
  • The only time I utilitze Snap Mode is launching Twitch streaming -- the streaming settings are only accessible within snap mode.
  • Please ditch snap and focus on guide