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Hands on with the new Xbox One dashboard, Guide, multitasking and more

The Windows 10 Creators Update is expected to roll out to all Windows 10 devices, including Xbox, this spring. The update is themed primarily around content creation, but you can expect various other bells and whistles, as well as the regular optimizations and improvements.

Xbox will also benefit from the Creators' wave, picking up Beam-streaming integration and other features. For this first build, however, Microsoft took to revamping the dashboard, the Guide menu, and the way multitasking works. Here are some early impressions, but of course, all things are subject to change.

New interface

The biggest change with this update is the new dashboard. The active center tile is gone. Now, it only shows a static tile for the most recent app or game that can be resumed.

The number one issue Microsoft is trying to address with this update is speed. While, personally, I never found the dashboard to be prohibitively slow, it has been a source of criticism in the press, across social media, and on the Xbox UserVoice page. Those of you who felt the dashboard needed to be faster will be very happy with this update.

Games & Apps now load with placeholders while their thumbnails load, too. This makes the notoriously slow lists load near-instantly, which is a huge boost if you have large game libraries.

Cortana? New Guide? Best thing about the new Xbox One dashboard is INSTANTLY LOADING READY TO INSTALL LIST. *___* Full vid coming soon.— Jez (@JezCorden) February 6, 2017

Games & Apps on the Xbox Creators Update.

Not only is the new dashboard physically faster when switching between tabs and navigating between apps, but Microsoft also boosted usability, to eliminate unnecessary steps for accessing basic content and features. A big part of this is the new Guide.

As we reported back in November, the new Guide condenses many of the Xbox One's most important functions into a single place, activated with a single tap of the Xbox button on your controller. To return to the dashboard, you now have to select "Home" from the new menu.

The new guide is blazingly fast, representing a vast improvement in usability and convenience.

This menu also includes quick access to the Store, Games & Apps, your five most recently used items, and eight pinned tiles you can customize at will. Overall, the new guide is blazingly fast, representing a vast improvement in usability and convenience.

Beyond the new main Guide menu, not a great deal has changed with regards to the main interface. OneGuide, Community, and the Store page are still accessible via the dashboard. Game Hubs, recent downloads, and Games with Gold quick links are still available on the home screen. And of course, your pins faithfully await your return at the bottom of the dash.

Among the more controversial changes are the removal of the multitasking menu and the end of Snap Mode.

New multitasking, bye-bye Snap Mode

As we've previously reported, and now confirmed, Snap Mode has been removed in this latest build. Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app developers were unable to access the functionality from as early as last summer, giving us an initial hint at the end of the feature.

We previously talked about how Microsoft was experimenting with picture-in-picture functionality as a replacement for Snap Mode, and we've already got a couple of hints about how that could function. The achievement tracker can now be positioned and configured to display in several places on the screen, complete with the ability to alter transparency. There's no reason this sort of feature couldn't extend to other apps in the future.

Of course, perhaps the main uses for Snap Mode involved media apps, including YouTube, and of course, OneGuide for TV. For now, those apps are incapable of delivering a picture-in-picture experience. At least where OneGuide's concerned, I'm confident to speculate that Microsoft will reintroduce the functionality at a later date.

With the death of Snap Mode, Game DVR has also been affected, and now you're unable to snap and extract specific lengths of time from the recording buffer. Instead, Microsoft has baked Game DVR directly into the Guide, and it's accessible by pressing the View key as soon as you open the Guide itself. This new functionality is far more convenient and makes recording clips an incredibly smooth process.

While there's no evidence that Microsoft will open up the new multitasking features to third-party UWP developers yet, the new achievement tracker is part of a new overlay system which is also utilized by Cortana, which received new capabilities as part of this update wave.

New Cortana

Cortana no longer snaps to the screen, taking up screen real estate. Instead, she functions as an overlay window, displaying as she does on Windows 10 or Windows 10 Mobile.

The vast majority of Cortana's features are still supported, including Xbox navigation, store searches, and web searches. But now, Cortana can also set and display actionable reminders, right in the Xbox notification center.

Speed-wise, Cortana still feels a little on the slow and unresponsive side, but my concerns certainly aren't universal. Either the UK version of Cortana is simply less responsive than her U.S. counterpart, or Xbox is still ironing out some responsiveness issues as part of this initial preview wave.

Cortana still defaults to a web search if she misunderstands your queries, which is annoying, particularly when trying to say people's names on your friends list. Microsoft is working to improve Cortana, but we'll just have to wait and see how that works out.

A great start

All things considered, this is another leap forward for the Xbox dashboard, which has constantly evolved since its launch back in 2013. Microsoft is putting user feedback at the core of everything it does, and many of these changes will be the result of piles of data collected by Xbox over the course of the last year and beyond.

Keep up to date with our coverage of the Xbox Insider Program using the link below, and if you're already in the Alpha or Beta rings, let us know your thoughts on the new dashboard in the comments.

More: Xbox Insider Program on Windows Central

Jez Corden is a Senior 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!

  • "Hey Cortana" can be real annoying in a full Microsoft house like mine; both phones, Xbox One and Surface all respond. Why sometimes funny, it's more annoying than not. It needs to be corrected or adjusted in some fashion.
  • Yeah I agree, I've turned off Hey Cortana on my phone and PC cus of this.
  • They really need to figure something out though. Not sure what that is, but I hate, hate, hate having to turn off and on depending my situation. Maybe... if you are logged into Xbox that is your priority Cortana device. Or set device by priority in general based on them being awake and active. I don't know, but I know something has to change.
  • If Microsoft is smart (and I think they are) they will include this in the Surface Hub. Central control point for voice commands. All devices tied into the hub will still listen and be able to return data based on distance to sound. The hub could then determine which device you are talking about. The way we communicate with Cortana will likely have to change as well. Instead of saying "Hey Cortana, turn the volume up" we will probably have to say "Hey Cortana, turn the volume up on my Xbox" As the technology matures it will get smarter. For instance if you are only playing audio on one device the Xbox would be the only candidate in that scenario for a volume increase. Removing the need to specify the device. The future looks pretty cool. We are lucky that Cortana continues to take great strides every year.
  • Good points...but would simply be easier to just rename the devices and allow you to still talk to your "Xbox" instead of Cortana...but that was a marketing decision and the path was obvious.  Just sucks. "Xbox, Play" was light years faster than "Hey Cortana, Play" just based on the simplicity of the commands it was expecting.  Perfect world would allow both.  Xbox commands for quick and simplistic (play, pause, fast forward) and Cortana commands for the extravagant items (Weather, movie searching, reminders)
  • thats how amazon echo works.
  • It should be possible, and please don't take this as an Apple sales pitch, but rather a proof of concept. Sounds like Apple might still be working on the bugs, but perhaps it's as simple as whichever device has the clearest reception of the requester is the one that goes active while the others cancel. In the case of Xbox, it might just come down to figuring out where to display the results based on which device the requester is using. I'm not a big voice assistant user, but I can confirm that Apple has something similar for other alerts and notifications. The OS figures out where the user is working, and alerts only go to the active device (desktop, iPhone, iPad, or Watch). It's configuratble, but the default seems to have a goal of only alerting one device. It definitely needs to be a consideration as we add more connected devices and voice activated systems to the home.
  • You would think that it would be rather simple to maybe geo-fence out cortana as a temp fix (until all your devices on your network that you are signed into talk to each other and rank their status or something). Then you could say Cortana on my phone wont work when I say Hey Cortana at home, but when I am not at home it will...
  • I did make this suggestion in the feedback hub a few days ago. If you search "Cortana priority with numerous devices." you can find it and give it an upvote! :p
  • Ill do that! =D
  • I turned it off on the Xbox. I couldn't get "Hey Cortana, Xbox On" to work
  • Interesting.  As our homes and offices become populated with many listening devices, we will need a method to direct our conversation to the correct device.  Perhaps migrate away from the term "Cortana" and using a device name would be a start.  When I address one of my children, I state their name and the other children automatically snoop/listen but ignore me.  To name a device, one could type a device name into settings or speak a device name several times to name a device.  I guess they need to have some projects for 2018 and 2019.  This may be one.
  • I think they need to allow custom wake up words before saying Cortana, like Hello Cortana, or Yo Cortana that way all devices can have their own wake up phrase.
  • Yo Biotch
  • Agreed don't work from your couch with your surface lol you'll get 3 cortanas complaining at you.
  • I like how Cortana has come to canada with this update.
  • Awww hell, I would just be happy to have Cortana, but apparently Canadians aren't on the list of gamers to get her!!
  • How would you suggest fixing it? I can't think of any way except Hey Surface Cortana or hey phone Cortana or Hey Xbox Cortana. All of which sounds really stupid.   There really is no way to fix it. Just turn off the ones you arent currently using.
  • It could actually be designed that only the device being operated acknowledges the dialogue.
  • Indeed! They have to be clever at utilizing the sensors available and activity of the device to determine which device will respond. Example: If Xbox is currently in use, then that user can use Hey Cortana on that Xbox and only get respond to that even though the phone is nearby or other devices. If the phone detect has been moved for few cm and if also being wake up, then only respond to that. This also applies to PC too and all other Cortana devices.
    They can also check if which devices mic able to pickup the voice clearer and louder, indicating the proximity. Lastly and actually more simple yet effective solution. Ability to name each devices with their own personalized magic word aside for default "Hey Cortana".
  • Indeed! They have to be clever at utilizing the sensors available and activity of the device to determine which device will respond. Example: If Xbox is currently in use, then that user can use Hey Cortana on that Xbox and only get respond to that even though the phone is nearby or other devices. If the phone detect has been moved for few cm and if also being wake up, then only respond to that. This also applies to PC too and all other Cortana devices.
    They can also check if which devices mic able to pickup the voice clearer and louder, indicating the proximity. Lastly and actually more simple yet effective solution. Ability to name each devices with their own personalized magic word aside for default "Hey Cortana".
  • Again speaker does this as well when commercials come on do MS isn't the only one with this issue
  • I'm in the alpha and have loved the changes we had an update yesterday that added a sep area for updates Cnt wait fir beam though
  • I think the best feature so far is the achievements overlay. Far better than the Snap from before. I only hope they can bring this across to Windows 10 also.
  • Can't wait to get my hands on the new dash. Hoping the bottom release rings get it by March.
  • It's not THAT fast really (I have over 380 games - all digital - in my Library). And I see you have the corrupt text on your HOME page - I had that also. That seems to have been fixed with last nights update. Is it better though? Once you get used to it - yes.
  • It's not corrupt text. It's done like that on purpose by the developers so it's easier to find the code for etc, it also lets you know what they've been changing in the update, and when it's back to normal text it means it's tested and found to be working without issues.
  • So that's why.. That's the first time I've seen the explainantion
  • I always thought the blade system on the 360 menu was more user friendly than the XB1. The XB1 system seems to cram too many functions into submenus which are confusing and difficult to access. Combining apps, games, and movies into one store is a mess. Jumpin between the different sections of the store is a pain. It is like they had designed the XB1's menu system to work with a keyboard and mouse not a game controller.
  • I try not to visit the store at all!!!!  I hate, hate, hate, the apps, games, and movies in one place.  And I wouldn't care if the had a zillion apps!
  • Wow.  Just when I thought they couldn't make the dashboard more useless, they do this?  Probably the ONE redeemable quality of Dashboard 2.0 was that at least you could have the active program, particularly TV, still showing while you accessed other things.  Now it's just a dumb screen in every sense of the word.  Brilliant, Microsoft. You are completely run by fools.
  • I thought you sold your Xbox? lol
  • Probably did he's just a pissed off consumer #9009
  • Actually, I think my number is 10223.
  • Not sold. It's back in its box in our shed. But I still keep up with news on development in the small hope that Microsoft will get its collective head out and realize not everyone bought the thing for gaming...we actually have other uses for it that they are now completely ignoring.
  • I feel like you ignored the part where they are adding a new multitasking overlay window.  What makes you think TV wouldn't function there once finalized? 
  • Indeed. I want my Day One Xbox One experience back. All they've done is forcibly remove every feature I bought an Xbox One for. They sure kept my money, though. Forced upgrades should be illegal. I doubt I'll ever preorder from Microsoft ever again as a result of this anti-consumeristic behavior.
  • I have to agree with you on this. The removal of the active screen WILL be an issue for me too. I'm not a kid or a Windows Central editor so I don't have as much time as I would like to *play* on the Xbox. But I do use it a lot to watch TV and films. Without the active screen, the Xbox loses much of its appeal as anything else but just a player when it comes to media consuption.   If they don't address this, I'll disconnect my TV box from the Xbox and reconnect it to the TV since I no longer have any advantage on using the Xbox as a AiO media consumption device.
  • Hopefully Ring 3 gets this soon. Really want to try it out... after it's tested a little more. The updates across the board look pretty nice and as someone that never used the snap feature this looks like a nice direction.
  • I'm not sure how this is an improvement. It takes me more steps to quit a program, access my Home and Game Hub. I must be not using my Xbox properly since they've changed it to make it more steps for the things I do. I also don't see any noticeable speed improvement as well. Let's hope going backwards means going forwards in some way.
  • Why do you need to quit programs? They get tombstoned in the background anyway.
  • So that when I press "B" to go back, they don't keep opening. It's also become a habit with how poor the UI has ran on Xbox One. Probably one of those OCD computer user things.
  • aaron, you can quit an app right from the new Home menu. I quit all my apps as well so I understand. Simply hit the Home button, go to yor most recentlty used list of items - I think its a block of 5 thubmnails now, press the Select button on any app, choose Quit. Its actually faster for me casue I can quit all my recent apps faster now as they are all in the same location.
  • Home, select recent app, start, quit
  • They could tweak the guide press and instead of highlighting the guide icon on the left it should jump to the home button, in the guide. Then a simple press of the a button. Kinda silly having it in the headings menu, adds an unnecessary extra press. Could also have the recent, when highlighted have the "more options" roll out to the right of the icon.
  • agreeed.  Will note Microsoft actually seems to be listening to suggestions which is nice.  
  • I love the update so far!
  • I haven't really been impressed with this update, but I guess some of it comes down to a personal preference. To be honest I haven't really noticed any postive changes in speed, if anything things have gotten slower. The achievement tracker is a nice replacement, but I can't say the same for the rest of the removed features. Hopefully things will become quicker as it nears the public release and PIP apps will become available in the future.
  • Will there be the ability to turn off the PIP and Cortana, Cortana is pretty useless compared to google,
  • Maybe you guys can learn something from this Xbox update and fix your terrible app that has sucked on performance for the last 6 months!
  • dashboard looks the same
  • The old XBOX voice commands, instantiated with the "Xbox" wake word were vastly more responsive than the new Cortana ones. I used to frequencly use "Xbox Pause" and "Xbox mute", but with Cortana it takes several seconds to recognise the command and act upon it, and it seems much less likely to correctly understand what I said. I find it basically unusable at the moment.
  • Unfortuntely, Cortana commands ping the internet.  Xbox commands did not.  For those reasons I choose to stay with the Xbox commands.  While there are some things better with cortana...for the majority of my everday voice usage  xbox just executes faster. 
  • When cortana first came to xbox I was anxious to try it, and the whole start a party thing was pretty cool. But when it came to voice controls for other apps and stuff I isntantly turned it off.   Maybe I'm an idiot but I'd rather say xbox (2 syllables) rather than hey cortana. And as others have said, when you have other windows devices it's just chaos. I have a surface pro and desktop pc and just between those two it's annoying to have it activate on both. Also being a windows 10 mobile user I don't have hey cortana enabled because I dont want to deal with a 3rd screen waking up when I use hey cortana.  They need to figure out a way to ignore the command when there are multiple devices logged in  using the same microsoft account. Say 3 devices are logged in but 2 say only 1 has had mouse input or something within the last minute, seems obvious that only that device should respond to the command. Sorry for the long rant.
  • Wait, you can turn off Cortana and just use Xbox voice controls?  I hate that "Hey Cortana Pause" takes 7-8 seconds to register and stop the show when "Xbox Pause" used to take EASILY less than 2. Downside to your other idea is the battery would take a hit if your devices have to constantly all talk to eachother to see who was the most recently used and who is "on deck" for the Cortana command.
  • do you actually have to click Home or can you just press B or something on the controller to close the Guide?
  • "positive" and "nice" are very subjective. I for once think that YET AGAIN the new version of the dashboard is WORSE than the previous one. In this one the removal of the active tile not only will massively interfere with the way I use the Xbox, but makes the entire UI even more cluttered and downright ugly, even if we don't have a background as busy as the one on the video.   I would very much like to be able to return to the original UI of the Xbox One since it was by far the best one so far. I also don't see (though admitedly it's hard on the video to evaluate) if they've managed to do something regarding the scalling of the UI. The current Xbox One dashboard design is absolutely pathetic when seen in a 65" TV. It only scales the size of the tiles but the text remains miniscule which makes the entire experience weird.   It's not all bad though...the new screen on screen mode is a good idea and I'm really eager to be able to have the achievements displayed that way instead of the more cumbersome snap mode. However, I don't think they should remove the active tile AT LEAST until they get the TV app to work on that screen on screen mode AND making sure that you can have the TV app in a floating screen EVEN on the dashboard.