Big Xbox Dashboard update tipped to pave Xbox 720 transition

Microsoft's Xbox 360 dashboard is in line for a new, significant update, insiders claim, paving the way for the next-gen "Xbox 720" with elements of Windows 8.1 among other changes. The interface will include smaller Live Tiles and a new color-theme, according to The Verge's sources, though also be used to more readily transition gamers from the current Xbox 360 to the new console expected to be officially unveiled this coming week.

That will mean cross-platform support for both the existing console and its replacement. Messaging systems will work on both models, apparently, allowing gamers to communicate whether they have the 360 or the next-gen model, while beacons and achievements will also supposedly be supported across the board.

The change in the Xbox dashboard will also see the Xbox Points system deprecated, as has previously been rumored, with new currency and gift cards used in its stead.

As for when all this will happen, the first signs could be as early as next month. The initial public beta will take place either late in June or in early July, the sources suggest; assuming all works as expected, that should be followed by the final update in August.

Speculation about the new Xbox – which has colloquially been referred to as the "Xbox 720" – has been rampant over the past twelve months, particularly in the period since Sony announced the first details of its PlayStation 4 earlier this year. Exactly what hardware will be included is uncertain, though there has been chatter of a smaller overall device with mandatory Kinect motion-gaming control and redesigned gamepads.

Nonetheless, there have been notes of caution from industry insiders, warning that the days of blockbuster game-dedicated consoles may be behind us. Earlier this month, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick warned investors that both the Xbox 720 and the PS4 could face the same sort of gamer apathy that Nintendo has encountered with the Wii U, sales of which have proved underwhelming.

As Kotick sees it, mobile and casual gaming – such as might be played on a smartphone or tablet – has made significant inroads into the segment overall, and that will make for a far tougher market for the next-gen consoles to break into. "We continue to face the uncertainties of the console transition" Kotick told investors.

More details will become clear when Microsoft makes its first public announcement about Xbox 720 this coming week, with an event on May 21 expected to see some – though unlikely all – of the console's features revealed.