Xbox One gets Cortana – and groundwork for Universal Windows Apps

Microsoft has announced a new summer update for the Xbox One console, which will include support for the company’s digital personal assistant, Cortana, and will more closely align the console with Windows 10 PCs. A more unified online store will offer both PC and console titles, and Xbox One will also be able to support some Windows apps.

Microsoft is calling the Xbox One version of Cortana a “personal gaming assistant”. As on PC and smartphone, she is able to learn your current whereabouts and where your key locations are, so you’ll be able to ask it, while you’re playing a game at home, how long it’ll take you to get to work. Any information you request from Cortana will be displayed in a panel at the side of the main game screen.

It is now possible to invite friends into a Party chat via Cortana voice controls. Photograph: Microsoft

To communicate, players simply have to say “hey Cortana” – a sentence that Microsoft claims is easier for the system to pick up than the old “Xbox” prompt. Players won’t need Kinect, as any Xbox One headset with a microphone will suffice. Players will also be able to ask Cortana what their friends are doing on Xbox, and it’s possible to invite friends into a Party chat via Cortana voice controls.

But the features likely to provoke discussion are those that draw the Xbox One and PC gaming experiences closer together. At the console’s Spring showcase in March, Xbox chief Phil Spencer announced his intention to unify the platforms around the Universal Windows Applications. This update introduces a digital store that sells titles for both machines. Furthermore PC games will be given their own hubs on the Xbox One – and players will be able to see their PC achievements (and the PC achievements of their friends) on the console.

Microsoft has said, however, that Xbox One can’t yet run Universal Windows Apps (UWPs), the new cross-platform initiative, which will allow publishers to produce one version of a game that can run across console, PC and tablets. However, a spokesperson told the Guardian that “the groundwork is now there”, for UWP support.

On the store, there are new ways to browse content, including a “top paid games” section, while prices now show discounts for Xbox Live Gold members. The store also shows which games you already own, and places multiple editions of games under one tile rather than as separate products to create a more streamlined store front.

Streamlined and now syncing with your PC titles … Xbox One’s new Stores. Photograph: Microsoft

Elsewhere, the community feed is being altered, allowing players to share content automatically, or to prevent certain elements from being shared, either completely or until a set time. The system now also allows players to find Facebook friends and invite them onto their Xbox One friend list. Sharing game footage is being made easier and more streamlined: Xbox users will be able to edit and share GameDVR clips on any video editor, and manage captures straight from their profile.

There are other amends designed to make navigation easier. The user’s “Games and Apps collection” icon is now at the top right of the screen, not the bottom, and browsing it involves scrolling from left to right not up and down – a feature owners have apparently asked for. Players can also change tile sizes on the front-end menu to allow more or less options on screen. The Home screen tells you which game is currently installing and how long there is left, while the “Queue” tab gives a visual representation of how the install is going, as well as the current speed of the download.

Microsoft’s plans to unify Xbox One and PC gaming have proved controversial. Epic Games co-founder Tim Sweeney questioned the company’s motives in a comment piece for the Guardian, suggesting that UWPs were an attempt to cordon off the PC gaming market for itself and create a monopoly. Microsoft has denied this. The company says that developing a universal platform for game development will benefit publishers and creators.

The company is likely to announce the next stage in its Xbox One plans at the E3 expo in Los Angeles next week. There are rumours that the console may see a mid-cycle hardware update, but whether that’s a slimline version of the current machine or an enhanced version with more powerful processing capabilities has not yet been established.

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