The most notable addition here is full Cortana integration. The Xbox One has been notorious for the voice commands Microsoft tried to push with the Kinect, but the company is promising a less strict, more fluid and conversational experience with Cortana. Now, to turn on your console, you'll say "Hey Cortana, Xbox On." All of those same Xbox commands that previously were supported will still work, but you'll need to say "hey Cortana" to get the assistant's attention first and then tell it what you want to do.
Probably more significant is how Cortana's intelligence comes into play when using voice commands. In a demo, I was able to say "hey Cortana, I wanna play Killer Instinct." The assistant was smart enough to look through my library of installed games, which contained several Killer Instinct titles, and then ask me which one I wanted. Saying "the first one" launched the first title in the list.
That's a definite improvement over the current system, which requires you to say the exact title to launch the appropriate game -- something that can get a little unwieldy. The system is also smart enough to parse conversational phrases like "I wanna." It's also smart enough to let you string multiple commands together into one phrase. You can say "hey Cortana, invite Terry to a party" and it'll both start the party and send the invite -- two distinct commands that it can parse as one.
Microsoft said that it was primarily focused on getting Cortana working with game-related functionality first and foremost, but some of its other features are included. If you have location settings turned on, you can ask it to show you nearby restaurants and get results from Bing, for example. And if you're logged in to the same Microsoft account you use for Cortana on other platforms, your history and Cortana notebook will all come along to the Xbox One.
Other improvements include a new navigation system to go through your game library. It's a lot simpler and cleaner than before, with a large scrolling grid showing everything in your library, whether it's installed on your console or not. From there, you can short by letter to quickly find a specific game. And there's also a new queue showing your most recent purchases. It's nothing revolutionary, but it's definitely a cleaner look at your library and what's installed than before.
The games store has also been cleaned up a bit -- it's easier to see what games are on sale, with a strikethrough on the old price and more bold text indicating when something has had a price drop. You'll also see more clearly what games have deals through the Xbox Live Gold and EA Access programs, as well.
Microsoft is also getting the console ready for Windows 10 universal apps. Right now, developers like Netflix need to write apps specifically for the Xbox One, but soon universal Windows apps will be supported on the console -- so you can write the app once and have it work across PC, Xbox and Windows Phone (for what that last one is worth).
Lastly, the Xbox Live app for Windows 10 computers has been updated to more closely link the PC and console together. If you're into recording gameplay footage and editing it, you can now import things you've recorded on your Xbox One to your Windows PC, edit it using whatever tools on your PC you choose, and then re-upload the new copy. The app also pulls in more of your Windows PC gaming activity into your social stream. If you're playing games on your PC from Steam or any other Windows-based gaming platform, your activity will show up for your friends. The idea was to give a more comprehensive view of you as a gamer and not keep things limited to just your Xbox activity.
Again, none of these changes on their own are revolutionary, but it's good to see Microsoft continue to polish the gaming experience for users, regardless of whether they're on a console or PC. If you want to check out the new Xbox software, a preview version rolls out this week, with a final version planned for later this summer. And Microsoft teased one more big update before the end of the year, but there's no word yet on what'll be included.