Microsoft promotes the Xbox One as an all-in-one solution for your living room needs: gaming, film, cable TV, even home exercise. But the Xbox One leans on convergence to a fault. It’s a console whose overstuffed feature set, for now, has left it vulnerable on both price and its user interface. While core gamers kept sales strong over the holidays I’m concerned that the console will have a rough future with a mainstream audience.
Its convergence problems start with its $500 price tag. Devices that already carry the same feature set of core streaming services (e.g. Netflix, Hulu Plus) as the Xbox One are $100 or less. Granted, the Xbox One adds on high end gaming, voice and gesture UI integration along with limited cable TV control, but those additions for $400 are a hard sell for everyday consumers. And I doubt we’ll see a price drop anytime soon; the console requires high-end expensive gaming hardware to compete with Sony’s PS4 over next gen gaming. The Kinect, one of the Xbox’s purported main innovations, drives the price higher. Microsoft tacks on additional fees as well: a $60/year Xbox Live subscription is required for most functionality, a policy unheard of on competing tech devices like the PS4 or Roku.
Convergence across diverse activities also adds complexity to the Xbox One’s UI, an extra hurdle for mainstream adoption. Just compare the console’s preferred interaction method – voice – against interaction on competing media and tech devices. From my own testing, Xbox One voice commands largely work. But it still feels like a feature trying to find its footing; about 20% of the time I have to repeat myself or a command takes me in an unwanted direction.
80% reliability is a good start, but that’s 15% short of what it should be given the competition’s astounding performance. Consider the 1 to 1 touch interaction on a modern iOS or stock Android smartphone or tablet. Or the tried and true keyboard and mouse inputs on a desktop or laptop. Even buttons on a remote control for the cable box. These aforementioned devices “just work.” Granted, Microsoft’s voice technology is new and will improve, and there’s a game controller for backup navigation. But historically users outside a tech or gaming enthusiast base show little patience for new input technologies that work unreliably.
Then there’s added Xbox One functionality that’s puzzling. Things like:
- “Snapping” an application like a web page or Skype alongside the right side of the screen seems like it would be used in a rare scenario.
- Minority Report style Kinect gestures to move around the UI that are slow and awkward.
- A Windows 8-like interface that’s visually striking, but occasionally confusing with a menu of very similarly sized and colored boxes doing different things.
Microsoft would argue that ambition takes time and that the Xbox One’s rough patches will be smoothed over soon. And I want the Xbox One to succeed; strong competition from Microsoft’s console leads to better technology from Sony, Nintendo, Apple and Google. However, other living room tech isn’t standing still. Rumors suggest the next Apple TV iteration will be ambitious. Sony’s PS4 runs select multi-platform games at higher resolutions with a more straightforward, gaming focused UI, which could appeal to the core gaming market. Drive can only take a console so far; with Microsoft’s missteps on price and UI, it’s unclear if the company can deliver on its promise.
There’s been a lot of debate on the iOS 7 visuals, especially among designers. I myself fall a bit in the middle – there’s some icons I can’t stand, but largely I’m trying my best to reserve judgement until I actually get a stable beta build on my phone. But designer Khoi Vinh correctly identifies one major problem I have with iOS: the typography. Helvetica Neue Ultra Light was never meant to be used this across the board, especially at such small sizes.
TechCrunch posts a fairly troubling article on what’s become commonplace in Facebook land: UI slickness to make it more likely that you’ll allow apps to access your personal information.
Designer Lukas Mathis:
Lots of designers seem reluctant to rely on buttons when designing user interfaces for touchscreens, opting to go with more unusual interactions instead. Sure, gestures are sexy. They’re also easy, allowing you to remove clutter from your user interface.
But buttons are discoverable. They can have labels that describe what they do. Everybody knows how to use them. They just work. It’s why we use them to turn on the lights, instead of installing Clappers everywhere.
Exactly. When I developed my little web based weather app Blue Drop gestures were tempting. But when you want something as straightforward as possible, it’s hard to beat simple button taps.
A nice extended comments thread over at Hacker News where users suggest websites and other resources for UX and UI design.
UX designer Juraj Ivan takes a look at what’s new for visuals with iOS 6. Not too happy with some of what’s coming, especially the “new” linen and more forecefully colored navigation bar.
This iMore article is the ultimate iOS 6 wish list. It’s smartly organized where every section examines what competing platforms already have (e.g. “what iOS could take from Android”). and far more comprehensive than I expected when I spotted it over on at Hacker News last weekend. Highly recommended.
There’s a lot of wireframing tips floating around online but they rarely focus on just web applications. It’s cool to see that kind of web focus over on Intercom’s design blog. Pay special attention to point three which focuses on speed and exploration:
If you can’t produce concepts quickly, then you’re working at the wrong fidelity. If your wire-framing serves only to deliver a grayscale version of what you’ve already decided you’re building then you’re wasting everyones time.
The Interate podcast gets some big names in the app design world to pop on their show. This week was exceptionally big with Tweetie creator Loren Bricher. The episode touches on a lot of interesting subjects: the conservatism of Apple’s iPhone UI, Bricher’s preferred design tools, Blackberry 10 and more.
This iPhone UI proposal is well thought out but it’s fundamentally too complex for most user needs. I found the extra bottom row of apps especially unnecessary; I’d bet if you were to look at user stats users rarely invoke the double tap app switcher for apps older than the four previously used.
However, major props for Verge forum user brentcas identifying two major problems with iOS 5. First, turning on and off WiFi, Bluetooth and brightness requires way too many taps in Settings given how in demand they are. In addition Spotlight searching should be more accessible; as users add more apps, sometimes an open ended simple keyboard search is ideal to cut through the complexity. I hope both issues are addressed in iOS 6.