A new 360 dash update has gone live today, and it brings with it a handful of both usability and branding changes, as well as the first ever browser for Microsoft’s console.

As you can see from my… *ahem* ‘professional’ images, the dashboard now takes up a little more screen real estate, with an extra tile in height both in the centre and on the sides. See that middle tile on the left? That’s the biggest change here from a usability standpoint. Pins allow you to aggregate your favourite and most-used games, apps and media into a single tile; think of it as a ‘Quickplay’ that you populate yourself.

So, say you have a handful of XBLA and full Games On Demand titles, as well as a few apps you use often (as in my hastily arranged example above); with pins, you can collect them all in one place. Obviously, the more you decide to add here, the more cluttered (and thus useful) it’s likely to become. Luckily, pressing ‘Y’ on a tile allows you to shift its importance by placing it front and centre, and you can also filter content by type. Additionally, I hear it also allows you to add favourite websites, tying in with the new IE app, though I’ve not tried this out myself yet.

The other major addition is, of course, Internet Explorer – something many have been clamouring for for quite some time. Personally, I don’t quite see the appeal of having a browser on a home console (a handheld is another matter, though they still aren’t amazing in that arena…) – the browsing experience on my PS3 has been so painful the handful of times I’ve used it that I quickly swore off of it.

IE on the 360 seems to load pages quickly and render them accurately, but it’s still not a patch on a PC, tablet or smartphone browsing experience. I’ll admit, I only messed around with it very briefly (mainly because I have neither a need nor desire to browse the internet on my games console), so I didn’t really check out more than three or four websites.

Navigating to a site, you’re presented with a pleasantly chrome-free browser window, and hitting ‘Y’ brings up the address bar and some default ‘favourite’-like tiles; I didn’t check to see if these could be populated with user-generated favourites, but it seems likely – at the very least, common sense would suggest they would.

As for controls, the Right stick pans the screen with the Left stick moving the cursor, while RT zooms in and LT zooms out and ‘A’ is your general left-click button. The on-screen qwerty keyboard is a usability nightmare though – rather than moving letter-to-letter, you have to highlight a letter at a time with the on-screen cursor. It’s a baffling design choice.

I doubt I’ll be using IE for much more than simple curiosity, but I guess it’s a good addition for those that have always wanted a browser on the 360; it’s a feature I don’t want or need, but I don’t begrudge it for those that do. Having said that, I am interested to see what functionality will be added by the forthcoming SmartGlass app for phones and tablets, so I’ll no doubt be looking into that when it goes live.

There are a couple of other changes to the surface-level UI, as well; chiefly, the ‘Games’ tab has moved closer to the left, and is now only two tabs from the default home screen – quite why it was so far away to begin with, only Microsoft’s UI designers know. Elsewhere, Zune Music/Video have been replaced by Xbox Music and Xbox Video, the former of which launched today. I use Zune Music fairly often as I have a Zune Pass (well, I guess I have an ‘Xbox Music Pass’ now), but it looked like essentially the same app. I’ll have to get stuck in and find out what’s changed.

Overall, this is a small, evolutionary dash update, but a welcome one; My Pins will probably turn out to be my most-used tile in the whole UI, IE is a decent addition for those that were asking for it, and moving the ‘Games’ tab closer to home can only be a good thing.

Advertisements