The New Xbox Dashboard and iOS App

It was a big week for Xbox. The new dashboard update launched, as well as the official iPhone app. Most of these things have been covered in detail, so I am going to do what I do best: gripe about the shortfalls.

Before I do that, there are good things to say about both updates. The iPhone app is very pretty. The ability to modify your avatar on it is also very cool, and little details like shaking the phone to make the avatar fall down are clever. The new Dashboard update, which is very much in the flavor of the upcoming Windows Metro interface is nice looking. It also includes a big change, defaulting on the tile to start playing the current game in the disc drive. On the old update, this was a click away, which never really made sense. This alone makes the update a winner.

On to the bad…

1. iPhone App: It’s About Time

While it’s nice to finally get an official Xbox app, one has to wonder what took so long. Three years after the App Store launches, and finally Microsoft makes an app. After using so many hacked together ones that were never reliable, it’s nice to have something that works, but it is annoying that something so basic took so long, especially since the idea of making this thing more “social” has seemed like a priority for a while now.

2. iPhone App: Takes Over

One of the biggest flaws with the iPhone app itself is that it seems to take over iOS. Specifically, if audio is playing in the background and the Xbox app is launched, it stops playing the audio. This is completely and totally unacceptable, and better be fixed in future updates unless someone can explain why it makes any sense. (Please note: Stopping the background audio so the user can hear the stupid sound effects is not an acceptable answer).

3. iPhone App: No Push Notifications

A big missing from the Xbox Live experience is knowing when Friends log on and start playing a particular game. This has always been a “pull”, meaning that to find out, a player would have to log on to the system1 and check. iPhone Push Notifications create a logical solution to turn this from a “pull” to a “push”. They should have enabled the ability, at a minimum, to set an alert for a certain Friend and a certain game and be notified when that Friend is playing that game. Adding Push Notifications just in general for any/all Friends would probably be overkill, but provide some sort of option, even if it’s limited to just a handful of games/Friends.

4. Dashboard: What Is The Point of Beacons?

Maybe more time is required, but Beacons don’t seem to be very useful. The idea is that a user creates a Beacon for a particular game, with the ability to add a custom message to be sent out to their Xbox Friends. Otherwise the default message is “[PERSON] wants his friends to play [GAME].” The assumption is that this player is playing this game and is looking for their friends to play. But it appears that Beacons are sent regardless of whether or not that person is actually playing that game. It may be based on what game is in the disc drive, but notifications seem to get sent even if the person is watching Netflix.

This creates a very confusing scenario. If someone is playing Modern Warfare 3 and their friend logs on with a Beacon setup, a message pops up and says “BeserkHippo wants his friends to play Battlefield 3″, but BeserkHippo may not even sign on to Battlefield 3. Instead they may be watching Netflix, or may change to a different game. In the meantime, their Friend has quit playing Madden ’12 only to find that BeserkHippo is playing a different game than it said. So if these Beacons get sent out just from turning on an Xbox, they could potentially be less helpful than current state.

Wrap-Up

Overall, the iPhone app and Dashboard update clearly fall under the “better than before” classification, but there seem to be some missed opportunities and questionable decisions. Beacons seem like a nice feature that act more of a “push” than a “pull”, but also seem to create false positives, which could be mightily frustrating. The good news is that all of this is opt-in and there is plenty of room for improvement.

  1. Either their Xbox or the the xbox.com website []