Xbox in 2016: the year in review – Windows Central
Gigabytes of new features
A year of updates
At the end of 2015, Microsoft pushed a large dashboard refresh to the Xbox One in the form of the New Xbox One Experience. Over the course of the year, Microsoft has fine-tuned the new dashboard, improving its speed and adding various improvements. Just some of these include the ability to see who’s in a party before joining, a Gamerscore leaderboard, improving download speeds by up to 40%, customizing Game DVR clip length, and the ability to include party chat in Twitch broadcasts. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of little tweaks and refinements over the past year, but we also got some major new features that revamped the way the console is used in general.
Universal Windows Platform (UWP) comes to Xbox One
In Summer 2016, Microsoft allowed Windows 10 UWP developers to target the console with their apps for the first time. While the rollout has been slow, we’ve already seen great UWP apps for major services like Netflix and Just Eat, but also great indie apps like Theme My Xbox and Readit.
Microsoft is blurring the lines between console and PC in more ways than one, but it might not be too long until we get UWP Office and other apps typically associated with PC and mobile on the console.
Xbox Play Anywhere
One of the biggest features Microsoft dropped on us this year was the Xbox Play Anywhere program, which grants users a license for both the Xbox One and Windows 10 Store version of a game. These games also feature progress roaming between Xbox and PC, meaning you can literally play anywhere with an internet connection for data syncing.
While very few third-party developers have supported the program so far, all future Microsoft Studios games will work across devices, including Halo Wars 2, Sea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2. Some smaller developers have also jumped on the Xbox Play Anywhere train as it’s a very easy way to add a ton of value to a game. Some of these titles include Astroneer, Everspace, and soon, We Happy Few.
Microsoft will face a battle to get more third-party developers not only to support Xbox Play Anywhere but also the Universal Windows Platform in general. It remains to be seen whether any larger publishers will support license roaming between Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs in 2017, but it’s certainly a compelling feature for those of us who invest in the Xbox ecosystem.
Microsoft also rolled out Cortana support for Xbox One, adding natural language commands and additional capabilities to the console. You can now ask your Xbox One for weather reports, sports scores, flight details, and almost everything else Cortana is capable of on Windows 10.
Sadly, however, Cortana requires internet polling to process voice commands, which decreased the speed of basic functions like “Volume up/down” and “Go to app/game” making the experience far slower and more clunky. Cortana also often falls back to a snapped internet search when she mishears you, adding additional frustration.
The situation has improved with subsequent updates, but since Microsoft has thankfully given users the ability to switch back to the legacy Xbox voice commands, I’m not sure whether Cortana’s failure to make a positive first impression will hinder her future on the console in general.
Clubs, Looking For Group, Arena
Microsoft added a wealth of new social features to the Xbox One this year too, including user-created Clubs, Looking for Group ads, and the ability to create Arena tournaments based around competitive Xbox games.
Clubs, for the first time, allow users on Xbox Live to create their own communities. Players can create Clubs based around any topic, styling them as they see fit. The tools and customization features available to Clubs are a bit limited so far, however. If Microsoft wants Xbox Live to become truly social, they need to open up Clubs to the same sorts of features seen in products like Discord, including image support, and custom avatars.