Microsoft's monthly tinkering with the Xbox One's system software will produce something special in October, as the console will at long last offer the kind of distinct, smartly-designed system-wide functionality that could make rival console-makers jealous.
The console's October update doesn't perfect the Xbox One. But, 11 months into the machine's existence, it finally sees the Xbox One using its unusual architecture to do things that significantly improve the gaming experience on the Microsoft console in ways not seen on the rival PlayStation 4 and Wii U.
The key to all of this is an improvement to how the console handles split-screen multi-tasking, a feature the system's three operating systems were designed to do but have so far not done in many, if any, impressive ways. In short, the Xbox One's so-called Snap features finally make sense and work well.
Here's a video I recorded, explaining the improvements as I run through them:
If you don't have time to watch or hate the sound of my voice, allow me to explain with screenshots...
The October update builds up this idea of a "Snap Center", which you get to by double-tapping the Xbox button on the Xbox One controller. Double-tapping it gets you this:
From there, you can press up on the controller's d-pad to select an app to "Snap" to the right side of your TV screen.
You can choose from downloaded apps...
Or you can choose from several, key system-wide apps....
You can run any of these apps on the right. For example, here's Game DVR...
And here's the Achievements app, which first popped up in June but works far better with the October update...
Here's the Achievements app again...
You can switch between the game on the left and the apps on the right with a double-tap of the Xbox button and then either a push left or right on the d-pad. You can pick a new app to Snap by double-tapping and pressing up; you can remove the Snapped app with a double-tap and a press down. I don't love the double-tapping—I'd prefer that Snapping be mapped to what is now the "view" button on the console—but I still welcome all of this new and improved functionality.
The Xbox One is famously freighted with the plans and promises of a console that would be a nexus point for all TV-based entertainment. Much of that promise has gone unrealized, what with NFL apps that don't actually integrate with NFL TV broadcasts, for example.
The October update, however, shows Microsoft at least figuring out how to make the console's multi-tasking work for gamers, giving them easier access to useful tools, letting them play and monitor useful information at the same time. It's a huge improvement for the Xbox One, the kind of thing you see from a hungry competitor trying to figure things out and pass a rival. This is a good byproduct of console competition. Your move, Sony and Nintendo.
Note: I've been using a preview version of the Xbox One's October update on my home console. The update will go live for all system users some time next month.