Xbox 360′s new dashboard

Xbox 360's new dashboard

If the 360’s new dashboard, which was announced during E3 in June and launches tomorrow, has any particular watchword, it’s consistency. The fresh design, called Metro, brings it in line with the UI conventions of Windows Phone 7 and the forthcoming Windows 8, being built from media-rich tiles. Every consumer-facing interface from Microsoft will now look much the same: no bad thing considering Metro is both practical and handsome, and that it hardly represents a massive leap from the current dash’s design anyway.

But Microsoft’s unified cross-product UI is just the surface of the new dash’s commitment to consistency. The real key is that Metro extends to every app, thirdparty or first, that will run on it. The core navigation behaves and looks – aside from branding – the same everywhere, with a bar at the top of the screen and tiles below that you can sweep between. That goes for both Channel 4’s 4OD catch-up TV service, Lovefilm’s on-demand video and Sky’s TV streaming service.

Throughout 2012, Microsoft will be releasing new ones through an App Marketplace on a monthly basis. Don’t get too excited about some sort of App Store free-for-all landing on the console – as with all things 360, the Marketplace is very locked-down, developed by a combination of thirdparties and Microsoft. And most will be concerned with video like YouTube and BBC iPlayer (finally coming in 2012) – others will be based on music like Last.fm, and social services like Twitter and Facebook. Yes, the latter three are already available on 360 – but Microsoft’s been working with a roster of 51 service providers worldwide.

When you consider how closely the apps have been integrated with the 360 overall, you realise their development – and that of the new dash – has been a major undertaking for Microsoft. Parental controls are consistent across apps so that none will display content that’s above what you’ve set on the active profile. Video controls are identical in each app. And they integrate neatly with Bing, Microsoft’s search system, too. Search for ‘Batman’, for instance, and you’ll be presented with a list of all available content that matches, whether games or movies, regardless of content type. Selecting ‘Show everything’ on Batman’s 95 search results and you’ll see the results segmented by content type. Select the first Tim Burton film and, magnanimously, you’ll get a list of the service providers that list it – not just Microsoft’s own Zune, but Lovefilm or Sky’s TV service and wherever else.