Xbox One review roundup

With Microsoft’s next-generation console just days away from arrival, reviews have hit the web. Can the Xbox One compete against the PlayStation 4 when it comes to games, graphics and value? Well, we’ve gathered all the best reviews from around the web to help you make that decision. Enjoy!

KOTAKU:

I admire what Microsoft is trying to do with the Xbox One, and I’m rooting for them to give their console that final push to get it to where it needs to be. The whole thing is almost there. The Kinect almost works well enough to get me to use it all the time. The TV integration isalmost smooth enough to make me plug it into the heart of my living-room setup. Multitaskingalmost works well enough to get me checking the internet while I play games.

JOYSTIQ:

The success of the Xbox One is largely dependent on what you need for the living room, and whether you intend to use the system for multiple forms of media, with multiple people in mind. The user interface feels cluttered at times, and it has a definite learning curve, but it’s also easy to carve out a quick and comfortable groove for yourself as you jump between a game and a few different applications. The Xbox One’s app-driven interface is full of possibilities, living alongside quirks to be learned or updated in future.

ENGADGET:

The Xbox One may not be exactly what Microsoft thinks it is, but it’s still a strong start for a powerful game console. Its sheer speed, versatility, horsepower and its ability to turn on and off with words make it a relatively seamless entry into our already crowded media center. What determines whether it stays there is the next 12 months: Exclusives like Titanfall and Quantum Break will help, as will gaining feature parity with the competition (we’re looking at you, game broadcasting!). For broader success beyond just the early adopter’s living room, the NFL crowd must buy in to Microsoft’s $500 box. But will they? That remains to be seen. What’s there so far is a very competent game box with an expensive camera and only a few exclusive games differentiating it from the competition.

WIRED:

Like PlayStation 4, Xbox One aims to take the work out of play. Whether you buy a game from the integrated digital store or on a disc at your local GameStop, all games have to be installed to the Xbox One’s 500 GB hard drive before they’ll run. And of course, digital games must first be downloaded. But you don’t have to sit around and wait for this. Once a game is some small portion of the way into its download or install, you can start playing it immediately. This is very cool. (Of course, having to install all of your games instead of just being able to play them from the discs is a step backward in terms of player experience. Although it’ll probably cut down on loading times across the board. And you’ll probably run out of those 500 gigs pretty damn fast if you play a lot of games.)

ARS TECHNICA:

As a video game console, the Xbox One offers about what you’d expect from a new Microsoft console: a big, heavy box (though quieter than you might expect), more impressive specs (though less than what you might expect after eight years), an improved controller (though still with a few odd oversights), and some good exclusive games (more reviews are coming but look into Dead Rising 3Forza 5,Powerstar Golf, and Zoo Tycoon). As the central hub of a living room entertainment complex, though, Microsoft has a much harder sell. The company needs to prove the Xbox really adds enough value to be worthwhile and to justify the extra cost of the included Kinect over its similar competition.

POLYGON:

The Xbox One’s bold direction for the future is well in place. The integration of voice controls and its media strategy are a boon to everyone, and the ability to run apps while playing games is something we now want on every gaming console we have. That it has a handful of strong, exclusive games at launch only supports its legitimacy as a gaming console and not just an entertainment hub.

CNET:

The Xbox One feels a bit scatterbrained in its interface and presentation. To core gamers it might come off as a lot of unwanted fluff. On the other hand, the casual audience may be asking themselves why they needed to spend $500 when a $100 (or even $80) Roku might serve just as well for entertainment apps.

Where Sony positioned the PS4 as the “gamer’s console,” Microsoft felt customers would be better served with a console that wears many hats. Thankfully it can still play games with brilliant visuals, but it lands short of its ambitious all-in-one hubris.

TECHHIVE:

On balance, the Xbox One is a fantastic piece of technology, well worth the cost of a new iPad. There are some sore spots, which Microsoft will undoubtedly address in the coming months through software updates. Chief among them are the terrible quality of Game DVR recordings, the inability to stream game sessions, and the total lack of social media integration. People want to share their fun with the world, and “upload to SkyDrive and do what you want from there” is a half-baked solution. The ridiculous policy of requiring Xbox Live Gold to use streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus deserves to be abolished, too.

THE NEXT WEB:

I had high expectations for the Xbox One, and it largely lived up to them. The main disappointment was that it doesn’t work as an all-in-one system for me because of my coaxial TV setup, but the feature should work great for most up-to-date cable and satellite customers.

THE VERGE:

When Microsoft says it’s building a console for the next decade, it’s not lying. Where the PlayStation 4 is designed to simply become an ever-better version of itself, the Xbox One is poised to turn into an entirely different, entirely unprecedented device. It may not only supplement, but replace your cable box; it could have a rich, full app store; games are only going to get better, more impressive, and more interactive. The blueprints are all here. Virtually everything Microsoft is trying to do is smart, practical, and forward-thinking — even as they’ve undone some of the Xbox One’s most future-proof innovation over the last few months, Marc Whitten and his team at Microsoft have clearly kept their heads in the future.

TECHCRUNCH:

Would I recommend buying the Xbox One? If you already have a 360 and aren’t absolutely dying for any of the launch titles, I wouldn’t say you need it right this second. Give developers a bit of time to figure out the console’s inner workings. Let the must-have titles get made. If your 360 is on its last leg or you skipped the last generation, however, it’s a solid buy as is.

GIZMODO:

For now, the Xbox One is one impressive living room box machine—and it more than justifies its $500 dollar price with the inclusion of at least $100-worth of set-top boxitude—but you’re going to be better off waiting for a little while to see how things shake out.

Being a designer and developer is not quite unicorn rare

Ever since I started teaching at the New York Code and Design Academy, I have been thinking about the core qualities of a successful designer and developer. The class aims to teach the students enough to build a web application on their own, from concept to completion. It is a 96 hour, 16 week course taught in 3 hour chunks, so the goal is really to—starting from nothing—give them the knowledge they would need to get started in the tech industry. But if my co-teacher Zach and I expect to train our students to practice web design and development at a professional level, does that mean we are attempting to train unicorns?

The Supposed Spectrum

I think most people think of a hard designer-developer split, as if there is a spectrum with designer on one end and developer on the other. They see it something like this:

 Being a designer and developer is not quite unicorn rare

The more of an engineer you are, the less of a designer you are, and vice versa. Perhaps it is because engineering is more associated with analytical “left brain” thinking and design is seen as a more creative, “right brain” exercise. In reality, this is a false dichotomy, as both designers anddevelopers need to use a combination of divergent and convergent thinking to innovate and problem solve. Both disciplines are more similar than most people (and the internet) make it seem.

 Being a designer and developer is not quite unicorn rare

“Good designers and good developers actually have a lot in common.”

— Austin Bales

As Austin Bales says in a great talk, good designers and good developers actually have a lot in common. The crossover really even shows itself in our language when we use (appropriate) terms like “social engineering” for techniques designers use to illicit certain behaviors, or “software design” for the planning and creation of programming code. Both designers and developers put a premium on simplicity and clarity. Both are trying to make their creations as easy to intuit and work with as possible. Developers refactor their code as requirements change and complexity increases the same way designers redesign interfaces to make room for new or changing functionality. They have similar traits, skills, and motivations, they just work in different mediums and have different specialties. Designers tend to specialize and focus on the beginning of the creation process, whereas engineers specialize on the end or latter half of the process. I say a more accurate representation of a single person’s skills might look something like this:

 Being a designer and developer is not quite unicorn rare

Each person has a certain level of skill in the designer and/or developer subject areas, where many of the skills and habits that would make you excel in either area would help in both. People may have a tendency to lean towards one area over the other, but no one has a “type” that would prevent them from learning and improving as a designer or a developer. What matters is the time and effort put into learning. World class designers and developers have put in lots and lots of dedicated practice: their (proverbial) 10,000 hours.

I wanted to write about this because as I attempt to distill my professional experience into teachable morsels for my students, I have realized that the one of biggest barrier is mental. People who have categorized themselves as an engineering (or math and science) type will shy away from and avoid areas of knowledge considered to be in the realm of a designer (or “creative”) type. At Stanford this took the form of the great divide between engineering major “techies” and humanities major “fuzzies.” I believe this prevented many would-be “ninjas” and “unicorns” from ever reaching their potential. The effect is similar to having a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset. Deciding you will never be good at design because you are a “developer type” is a sure way to never become a good designer. You have set up a self fulfilling prophecy.

Being a great designer and a great developer is not an impossibility. With enough time and effort, you can become a designer or developer or both, no forehead horn required.

Jony Ive paints a fresh, yet familiar, look for iOS 7

According to multiple people who have either seen or have been briefed on the upcoming iOS 7, the operating system sports a redesigned user-interface that will be attractive to new iOS users, but potentially unsettling for those who are long-accustomed to the platform…

The new interface is said to be “very, very flat,” according to one source. Another person said that the interface loses all signs of gloss, shine, and skeuomorphism seen across current and past versions of iOS. Another source framed the new OS as having a level of “flatness” approaching recent releases of Microsoft’s Windows Phone “Metro” UI.

“Flat” design is based on simplicity and pushes aside heavy textures and digital metaphors of real-life objects found in skeumorphic interfaces. “Flatness” could also point to a more streamlined interface across the entire system that can stand the test of time.

iPad's Calendar, Reminders, and Contacts apps

iPad’s Calendar, Reminders, and Contacts apps

For example, younger generations of iOS users may not resonate well with a yellow notepad (as found in the current iOS Notes app) or the leather-bound calendar app.

iOS has typically been regarded as an easy-to-use, intuitive operating system. The Company even seems to say as much on its iOS webpage (shown directly below). With its large user-base and market attraction, Apple obviously does not want to make any design changes that make the software more difficult to use.

Apple's iOS site

Apple’s iOS site

While the look of the updated system may be surprising to some, iOS 7 is reportedly not more difficult to use than earlier versions of software platform. There is apparently no new learning curve in the same way there was no learning curve when the iPods went color. While iOS 7 does look different, its core apps and system fundamentals  (like the Lock and Home screens) mostly operate in a similar fashion to how they do today.

iOS 7 is codenamed “Innsbruck,” according to three people familiar with the OS. The interface changes include an all-new icon set for Apple’s native apps in addition to newly designed tool bars, tab bars, and other fundamental interface features across the system. iOS devices running the next-generation software reportedly have polarizing filters to decrease viewing angles of on-lookers.

OS X Notifications panel

OS X Notifications panel

In addition to losing the complex interface design characteristics from earlier versions of iOS, Apple has been discussing and testing ways to add more ‘glance-able’ information and system options panels, like Notification Center, to the software. While it is still uncertain if Apple will end up including such new functionality in iOS 7, or how the Company will implement the potential addition, one of the early ideas was to implement the new panels via swipes from the left and right side of an iOS device’s display. This would be similar to the gesture on Apple’s Mac trackpads for accessing Notification Center in Mountain Lion, but what, specifically, the iOS gesture could access is uncertain.

Test version of iOS 4 multitasking from 2010

Prior to announcing and launching new versions of iOS, Apple tests many various implementations for features. For example, Apple had toyed with the idea of having an Expose-like Multitasking interface for iOS 4, but ended up choosing the linen-backed bottom drawer that we are now accustomed to.

Apple’s redesigned iOS experience stems from Apple Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jony Ive now spearheading interface design. With former Senior Vice President of iOS Scott Forstall leaving Apple late last year, influence on software design was handed over to Ive. Ive is long-known as the king behind Apple’s many hardware successes like the iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Mac computers.

In an interview early last year, Ive shared his lack of connection to the software that runs on his hardware.

When I mention the fake stitching, Ive offers a wince but it’s a gesture of sympathy rather than a suggestion that he dislikes such things. At least, that’s how I read it. He refuses to be drawn on the matter, offering a diplomatic reply: “My focus is very much working with the other teams on the product ideas and then developing the hardware and so that’s our focus and that’s our responsibility. In terms of those elements you’re talking about, I’m not really connected to that.”

Matching the information about iOS 7 gaining a “flatter” interface design, a profile of Apple’s internal software design work paints Ive as against flashy, skeumorphic interfaces:

Inside Apple, tension has brewed for years over the issue. Apple iOS SVP Scott Forstall is said to push for skeuomorphic design, while industrial designer Jony Ive and other Apple higher-ups are said to oppose the direction. “You could tell who did the product based on how much glitz was in the UI,” says one source intimately familiar with Apple’s design process.

Apple’s change in interface philosophy under Jony Ive and Tim Cook is also a radical departure from Apple under Steve Jobs.

Jobs and Forstall (Image via Getty)

Jobs and Forstall (Image via Getty)

Jobs, according to the same profile of Apple’s design work, was, like Forstall, a proponent of life-like interfaces.

But before Forstall, it was Steve Jobs who encouraged the skeuomorphic approach, some say. “iCal’s leather-stitching was literally based on a texture in his Gulfstream jet,” says the former senior UI designer. “There was lots of internal email among UI designers at Apple saying this was just embarrassing, just terrible.”

While one of our sources paints the iOS 7 design changes as changes that will gain the appreciation of some and the surprise of others, Apple CEO Tim Cook seems excited and confident about what the company has in store. During the question-and-answer session of the Q1 2013 earnings call, responding to a question regarding Apple’s software updates for 2013, Cook said, “we feel great about what we have got in store.”

Based on Cook’s past comments and moves to further integrate both Apple’s products and its internal culture, Cook’s choice to put Ive in charge of software design also seems to stem from Cook’s admiration of integrated experiences. In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeekearlier this year, Cook addressed Forstall’s ousting from Apple and Ive’s new work on software design as a way to further unify Apple’s hardware and software:

Jony [Ive, senior vice president of industrial design], who I think has the best taste of anyone in the world and the best design skills, now has responsibility for the human interface. I mean, look at our products. (Cook reaches for his iPhone.) The face of this is the software, right? And the face of this iPad is the software. So it’s saying, Jony has done a remarkable job leading our hardware design, so let’s also have Jony responsible for the software and the look and feel of the software, not the underlying architecture and so forth, but the look and feel.

Over the past couple of months, Apple seems to have been hinting at an impending shift in its software design philosophy.

Before and after of Apple's Podcasts app (Comparison by Zach Kahn/@zkahn94)

Before (left) and after (right) look at Apple’s Podcasts app (<a href=”http://about.me/zachkahn”>Comparison by Zach Kahn</a>/<a href=”https://twitter.com/zkahn94″>@zkahn94</a&gt😉

Earlier this year, Apple released an updated version of its Podcasts app for iPhone and iPad in order to simplify some design elements (comparison shown above). Prior to that recent update, the application included a physical “tape deck” interface for the user to manipulate in order to move through a podcast.

WWDC 2013 logo

WWDC 2013 logo

Additionally, Apple’s WWDC 2013 logo, the art for the conference in which iOS 7 will be announced, has sparked speculation about flat interface design with its modern, lightweight text and other elements. Indeed, one source claims that Apple’s Game Center icon and interface materials will be somewhat akin to the colorful nature of the WWDC 2013 logo. Because of its casino-like, green-felt design, Apple’s current Game Center app has been widely panned by proponents of flat software interface design.

Apple's homepage

Apple’s homepage

Also, Apple highlights iPad and iPhone applications on its homepage that include flat-interface designs. For example, the home page touting the full-sized iPad and iPad mini highlights former Apple employee Loren Brichter’s popular Letterpress game. Letterpress has been regarded by many as a simple to use, “easy-on-the-eyes” game for its flat textured interface.

With Apple’s vibrant iOS application development community, the prospects of a redesigned iOS go beyond Apple’s apps and core interface functions. Internal to the third-party iOS app community, some fear that Apple’s interface changes could deem App Store apps, that are currently built to look consistent with Apple’s own interface, outdated.

AppHero’s Jordan Satok, who has a comprehensive view of the App Store ecosystem, points out that iOS interface changes will likely not pose challenges for all developers.

“When we started building iOS apps almost 5 years ago, most apps looked the same. Apple did an amazing job designing UIKit to provide a really consistent user experience across apps,” he said. “As the App Store has grown, and the types of apps being built have evolved, designers and developers have pioneered new interface styles and concepts.”

Because many apps are picking up unique interface designs, Apple’s changes to its core software will likely not make much of a difference to these developers. Nonetheless, it is likely that once iOS 7 is announced, developers that have followed Apple’s own past iOS design trends will quickly move to enhance their App Store apps to follow some of Apple’s changes.

Apple’s next version of OS X will include some design changes, but the changes will not be as notable as the aforementioned enhancements to iOS.