Occasionally, a company will take a step back and redesign their products based on new innovations. Intel eschewed desktop Pentium 4 CPUs and went back to the architecture behind the Pentium M, and that gave us the wildly great Core architecture. Microsoft has done the same with Metro.
The Metro interface has its roots going back several years, first appearing as the Windows Media Center interface present in Windows XP Media Center Edition. It offered a clean, contemporary look that instantly cut through some of the bloated design decisions made in many operating systems in recent years. That clean look went on to define the instantly recognizable Zune interface.
Zune, as a portable media player, was less successful than Microsoft might have hoped. It lives on as the new media player in Windows 7 and 8, and is present on the Xbox 360. That same clean look is there, though, and it offered the first glimmers of tiling and horizontal swiping menus.
Then came Windows Phone 7. Microsoft’s reborn mobile operating system is still struggling to gain marketshare, but few people can claim it’s due to poor design. The new OS takes the Metro UI a step further, implementing tiles into the start screen of the device. Larger areas, called hubs, live both on and offscreen, and to move between different parts of the UI, users just swipe left and right. It’s clear that this direction of Microsoft’s design IP heavily influenced the development of Windows 8:
Microsoft is looking to brand all of their IP – whether its in smartphones, with Windows Phone, PCs and tablets, with Windows 8, or gaming and entertainment with the Xbox 360. During their keynote speech this morning, Microsoft introduced the new look of the Xbox 360, and wouldn’t you know it? It’s the same Windows Phone-inspired Metro UI.
As with the design’s other iterations, the new Xbox 360 dashboard focuses on the main content in the middle of the screen. Menus, icons, avatars and other less important content, like the next screen of information, take a step back, often running off of one screen and onto the next. The fonts involved are all derived from the Segoe family, which are clear and articulated, whether on a small-screened Windows Phone device or a large-screened HDTV.
Part of the switch has to do with the fact that the Metro design philosophy is objectively good, conveying information to uses in a clean and concise manner. A large part, however, must be the ongoing battle against other OS manufacturers for brand awareness and mindshare. Currently, Windows looks nothing like Windows Phone looks nothing like Xbox looks nothing like Windows. This is a problem, as only one of those properties – Windows – really says, hey, this is Microsoft.
Windows 8, Windows Phone, and this new look for the Xbox 360, however – these all share a common design root. When you look at them, they all convey the fact that this is a Microsoft property; in a similar fashion, Apple’s OS X and iOS are increasingly looking alike in terms of a fundamental user interface point of view.
Whether the overall design will be successful is anyone’s guess. Microsoft needs to take this step now, however, before it’s too difficult to bring all of these disparate looks together. So far, they’re on the right track, and with Apple’s intentions laid clear in its annual worldwide developers’ conference this morning, it’s not a moment too soon.
You can check out our gallery of Xbox 360 dashboard images here.