Unofficially leaked by a YouTube user last month, Microsoft officially released information about the next planned update to the Xbox 360 dashboard earlier this week. One large change to the dashboard includes a higher level of integration with social networks. Using the new Social tab within the interface, users will be able to set a “beacon” to alert friends on Facebook about playing a specific game. This “beacon” also acts as a game invitation that doesn’t have an expiration date. In addition, users will be able to brag about specific achievements over Facebook, but only if the user specifies the action. Users can also set the updates to fire out constantly as achievements are earning while playing a game, but those Facebook updates may be marked as spam by friends if the frequency is out of control.
Kinect integration has also been expanded and gesture controls are more widespread across the entire interface. Similar to how a user would control actions on an iPad, swiping gestures move the menus. Speech recognition also works with the Kinect system and users can directly travel to tabs within the interface by stating “Xbox: Tab Name”. Also tied into the speech recognition, users will be able to search for content on the system by stating “Bing: Content Name”. For instance, saying ‘Bing: Gears of War” would bring up all content related to the popular shooter series from Epic Games. However, the search function is restricted to content available on Xbox Live.
Building on the success of adding ESPN programming to the console, Microsoft is in discussions with many cable providers in helping turn the Xbox 360 into a potential replacement for the set-top box. Company officials didn’t have any new partnerships to announced, but are hoping for greater live TV integration before the launch of the Fall update. A beta version of the interface is launching next month to select users and all users can expect to see a complete roll-out of the new dashboard by the end of 2011.