Microsoft Live Tiles tackle information like no other interface can

NOKIA Lumia 920 Red - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

My name is Michael Archambault and I am addicted to Live Tiles.

Microsoft introduced us to a new ideograph in 2010, that it hoped would ensue us to believe desktop icons of the past were dead. It calls these new ideographs Live Tiles.

These new rectangular bursts of color aren’t static like their desktop icon siblings, but instead flip (Windows Phone) or slide (Windows 8/RT) to display a sneak peak of what is going on inside their respective applications. Live Tiles can be described as a combination of desktop icons and widgets.

Live Tiles follows a simple design scheme that was born in Redmond, when Microsoft set out to create a typography-based design language. This language was first witnessed on Zune devices and in Windows XP’s Media Center. With Metro’s integration into Windows Phone, Xbox 360 and Windows 8/RT, Microsoft choose to evolve the original Metro design concept with what it called “digital design.” Unlike devices like the iPhone, which use faux leather and paper in their interfaces, Microsoft choose to create a flat, vibrant colored UI without texturing, gradients, or any forms of shading.

When Microsoft announced the Windows Phone’s mission to “get you in, out and back to life,” Live Tiles were presented as a way to quickly view information from various applications without having to launch each one separately. The Redmond team wanted to showcase how current smartphones forced users to enter individual applications to view information. Android had a moderate solution to the problem by allowing users to customize the phone with widgets; while useful, the widgets taxed early versions of Android, causing the interface to sometimes lag if too many widgets were added. Live Tiles are non-taxing on a smartphone and provide what is arguably one of the smoothest UI experiences, next to iOS.

Fast forward to 2013: Metro is now known as the “Windows 8 and Windows Phone UI” (yeah, that’s a mouthful) and Live Tiles are becoming the center of Microsoft’s mobile and desktop ecosystems. While slightly different in design, Live Tiles carry out the same functionality on both Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT devices. Simply pin weather, mail, news, social media, and other apps to your start screen and you’re able to view all of your information at a quick glance.

Live Tiles - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Whether or not you like Live Tiles will be your own opinion. In my case though, Live Tiles have become a way of life, and I can’t imagine surviving without them. While sitting next to friends who reach for their iPhone, they must open Twitter to read their latest tweets, launch the weather to get details about the day’s chance of precipitation, find the latest headlines and more. On my Windows Phone (currently a Nokia Lumia 900), after I unlock my device all the information is immediately available at a glance. The same idea applies to my Windows 8 PC; I simply log into my PC and I have an instant view of email messages, the weather, news from various applications, security status, and more in one glance.

Static iOS icons are dead and Android widgets are aging – Live Tiles are the solution.

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Michael Archambault

Michael Archambault was an associate editor at Pocketables. He is a coder, a thinker, and a dreamer who lives on the "Microsoft side of life." His current gadget arsenal includes a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon with Windows 8, Nokia Lumia 900 with Windows Phone 7.8 OS, and a Microsoft Surface RT.

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15 thoughts on “Microsoft Live Tiles tackle information like no other interface can

  • HTC just implemented almost the exact same thing on Android. Seems interesting, but also a little too busy and chaotic for me! :-)

    • I do understand what you are saying.

      Before I got a Windows Phone, I felt it was jumbled. After purchasing my first device and being able to customize it myself, I love it.

      Just like Windows 8’s start screen, you can keep it as clean or complex as you like. If you really want, you can pin four or six apps and keep it really clean.

      The HTC One is a mixture between an Android back-end, Windows Phone interface, and Blackberry Z10 hardware. And to think Samsung wasn’t being original… ;)

  • Avatar of William Devereux

    I agree. I love Live Tiles. I’m really excited to hear that Windows Blue will have even more options for sizes and colors, much like Windows Phone 8.

  • Live tiles are a great. But they are not a replacement for a full fledged notification center.

  • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

    Not quite sure I get your Android logic there. Your argument is that widgets were too much for early phones, years ago. First off, even if that was still the case, widgets still exist, and are essentially the same thing. Second, today’s Android phone don’t have issues with widgets. I like widgets, or live tiles, or whatever you call them- I just fail to see why you think Live Tiles are different.

    • From a design standpoint, Live Tiles are more cohesive and coherent.

      From a resource standpoint they still run better. Thus you can have many Live Tiles running on a low end Windows Phone vs. few Widgets on a low end Android phone.

      Also remember that the reallocation for Android UI tasks on the CPU wasn’t implemented until Jellybean, thus most users don’t have the ability to experience the fluid UI you see.

      One last note. Writing a widget for Android that accompanies an app takes a lot more development time than designing a Live Tile (which is half the application “icon” to begin with).

      • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

        I see your points. Inconsistency is a massive drawback of Android widgets; impossible to get anything to look like it belongs without literally making the widgets yourself using widget creation apps. Which is why I have three such apps installed.

        I could never use Windows Phone or Live Tiles, but for the average user, I can see why it’s tempting.

        • I definitely don’t consider myself an average user and neither do most Windows Phone users I know.

          What do you personally not like about Live Tiles? I’m just curious on everyone’s view point.

          • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

            My phone contains about a dozen custom made widgets, spread across my home screen, smartwatch, and lock screen. They’re all dynamic, pulling info from everything from my bank account, to my todo list, to temperature sensors in my house. They can also control things via buttons and presses. I can click a button on my watch and have my PC screens turn off, or check where my next calendar appointed is located using a lock screen widget that is invisible when not in use, and changes dynamically depending on the situation: sometimes it displays calendar location, sometimes todo lists, sometimes temperature data. And all of this is just the widget part of everything my phone does, let alone everything else, none of which is even remotely possible on WP.

            Point being, I cannot use WP or Live Tiles because I would quite literally lose at least 95% of the features I use today.

  • Avatar of Anonymous

    Live tiles are fine if you’re permanently glued to the screen to catch every bit of info, or if your attention only cares about the latest rather than the most important snippet.

    Using your screen as an example, it’d be far more useful for me to have 3 big tiles in columns, with lists of the last ten/twelve updates rather than just a single brief one.

  • I love the windows phone design. I have I windows phone 8 style launcher on my evo 3d and though it doesn’t really have live tiles it does have a few built in tiles you can pick and place that semi act like live tiles and they have provided in their semi functionality a taste of the full power of live tiles that has been eating at me to drop sprint and get the Verizon 8x. If circumstances where different for me I’d have already paid the etf for both of my lines.

  • I agree that Live Tiles are a wonderful innovation and a major step forward in user interfaces. It’s just a pity that they could never draw me back to Windows. I’ve had so many bad experiences with various iterations of Windoze in the past that I’ll just stick to Android and Linux as my OSs of choice in future. Luckily, some launchers are already coming out that approximate Live Tiles.


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