I love Windows Phone 7′s start screen: neatly organised square tiles that clearly show information in real time — from emails to photos to weather to travel progress — without having to click on applications. With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has solved my only criticism: not enough information density. And it does it without destroying its simplicity and elegance.
As Windows Phone 8 chief Joe Belfiore said on stage, this is going to be the feature that users will love the most.
The new Windows Phone 8 Start screen allows for the same level of customisation that you get on the tablet and desktop versions of Windows 8. It lets you move tiles around in any way you want and resize the tiles to small, medium and large sizes:
• The medium size is the square one that Windows Phone 7 has now.
• The small size is one quarter of that size.
• The large size takes over two of the square tiles.
The content of the tiles is customisable too. Apart from specific apps’ live tiles, the system will allow you to create specific contact or group tiles, with all the information associated — emails, Facebook updates, new images and more — showing in real time within the tile.
It will also let you add as many apps as you want on the home screen, even if they don’t have live tiles. By keeping these at the small size, you can create a grid of apps as dense as the one on the iPhone, except on Windows Phone 8 you can combine it with live tiles of any size too.
The new sizes are also compatible with current Windows Phone 7 apps’ live tiles, so no change on the part of the developer is needed.
Microsoft is also adding more colours, and you can now assign individual colours to tiles, which is something that users were demanding.
Customisation and information density without the mess
Resizable custom tiles are precisely what the Windows Phone’s start screen needed from a user experience point of view. Much better and more elegant than the static grid of badge-peppered tiny icons of iOS, or the painful and ugly widgets that you see on most user-customised Android screens.
Unlike the competition’s start screen solutions, resizable tiles give users the ability to increase information density to the maximum allowed on a phone screen while keeping it clean, comprehensive and pretty. The start screen will provide as much data as users want, whether they’re beginners who like just a few important tiles or advanced users who want information overload.
Microsoft says that this new start screen can be tailored to fit each user’s lifestyle. For example, sports fans can create a screen for their favourite teams and athletes’ Twitter accounts or Facebook pages, combined with real-time scoring apps. Those who love social networks will be able to have their favourite friends always on screen.
It’s really up to users to decide what they want their phone to be. Microsoft is just making sure that happens in as pretty and functional a manner as we’ve ever seen.