Cloud saves, voice control and more. We recently got a chance to sit down and talk with Robin Burrowes, the product and marketing manager for Xbox Live in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region. While that means he doesn't technically look after us here in the antipodes, what he said (and showed us) is still very relevant for you.
For a start, Microsoft are bringing a new dashboard to the Xbox 360 this Christmas. Part of their regular updates, this new dashboard changes up the interface quite a bit, moving away from the vertical and horizontal scrolling to a horizontal-only method that is far more suitable to the Kinect than the existing system.
The new look isn't all that's changed, with the most significant and immediately notable inclusion being the all-new "apps" tab. No details were available as to what such a tab might be populated with, but non-game apps that run on something as powerful as an Xbox 360, connected to your television? There's loads of potential here, we can't wait to find out more about Microsoft's plans in this area.
The new interface has better, tighter integration with social networks, too, allowing gamers better and more immediate access to streamlined versions of their favourite social networks.
That's not the end of the social stuff, either, as has become the theme in recent months across the industry. The new dash update brings a brand new feature called "Beacons" into play, which lets you leverage Facebook or Xbox Live itself to tell people what you want to play or even create appointments for future game sessions which you can invite your friends to.
It is, Rob explained, a way to tell your friends what you want to do and make it easy for them to get in there with you.
Xbox gamers will no doubt have been looking on with envy at the recently added PlayStation Plus feature of cloud-based game saves. You can stop longing - this update includes exactly that feature.
Not only that, but they're making it easier than ever to roam to another Xbox outside of the one under your telly. Got a second in another room, or want to continue your save game on your mate's / hotel's / work's console? Once this update hits, it's as easy as signing in and picking up where you left off.
Voice command is coming, too. We checked - that includes New Zealand. By Christmas, you too can talk to your Xbox, using your voice for all manner of navigation and searching tasks (something only currently possible in select territories, like the US).
What's not changing? The friends cap remains at 100, with no plans to change that for the foreseeable future. There are also no plans to increase the day-and-date, simultaneous digital releases of otherwise retail-only games. If you're hoping to get Battlefield 3, for example, by downloading it, you're probably out of luck.
The new interface looks good, and the new features are very much a big step in the right direction for Microsoft's ageing console. We're itching to get in and start talking to our televisions, just like old science fiction films told us we would...By Alan Bell