It first appeared on Windows Phone 7, then it became the basis of the Windows 8 Start screen, then the updated 2011 Xbox New Experience UI, and just recently, it popped up on the Bing homepage. I’m talking about Microsoft’s interface concept of ‘tiles’. Or to be more specific, ‘live tiles’.
Tiles are essentially widget engines, but in my opinion better. Most widgets on various platforms aren’t very uniform in how they appear, the level of interaction they support, how often information gets updated, and so on. The way Microsoft is doing tiles, based on WP7, is that they have similar size aspects (which makes it more orderly), can offer updated info. instantly and dynamically (3rd parties as well since Mango), allow access to bits of information without having to open an app, and even match the appearance of the system theme. It’s just widgets on a much better level, that you forget their pretty much widgets.
Of course you can’t forget that they’re main purpose is pretty much a shortcut; whether it’s a specific application, part of an application, webpage, a piece of media, contact or tons of possibilities that the updated tiles in the Mango update show. Hopefully, any information you hoped to glean from launching any of those, can just be done by glancing at its tile.
If you’ve read comments about the way Windows Phone uses tiles, there are people that like it or dislike it. People that dislike it, often claim to dislike the appearance of the tiles, that they’re too big and waste space, and you can’t customize them that much. I personally do like the tiles. I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m not very picky on how something looks, as long as it’s consistent and fits. Plus the way themes work in Windows Phone, it’s nice that native apps share the same color style. Tiles fit the screen just fine, and I’m sure nobody wants to squint at what’s on the tile, because they’re meant to give as much bits of info. without having to try so hard to depict things. I don’t have a Windows Phone, so can’t say for sure on this, but I’m thinking customization settings are up to the developers who made it, and Microsoft has already offered some more functions with Mango update.
Windows 8 will appear to use tiles in the same way. In fact, I’m thinking they’ll probably replace Windows Gadgets. Gadgets was Microsoft’s answers to the Dashboard widgets in OS X, but didn’t see the same level of quality at all. Microsoft-made gadgets work just fine, but most 3rd party gadgets just didn’t have the same level of polish as Microsoft’s or the OS X Dashboard, and didn’t even have much support from popular companies. Plus how you still pretty much get them from the very outdated Windows Live Gallery site, just shows how much care Microsoft had for its Gadgets, which is honestly none. Oh and they take up memory too. I’m hoping the live tiles in Windows 8 will replace Gadgets, and hopefully pick up some more mainstream adoption.
In Xbox, they again pretty much work the same way. Though I guess limited 3rd party support, since Microsoft controls the Xbox plug-ins a bit more. Also, it’s a bit modified for controller/Kinect use with the tile raised up a bit from the rest, and a highlighted border to indicate that this is the one you might select. It’s consistent in the way it looks, like on Windows Phone and Windows 8.
Now as far as the Bing one goes, it’s not official. It’s just something that someone stumbled upon, and is probably getting tested. So it could look different or might not exist if it rolls out. Some people commented that it might be ‘distracting’ from the image of the day, but I think most people would see the image of the day first, and then travel their eyes down to the tiles if they’re interested in getting any info. The tiles may even be optional on Bing. Plus, I think the tiles are very limited to only what Bing wants, and that maybe the tiles shown in the picture (weather, news headline, map, movies, search trends) are the only options.
I hope Microsoft sticks to their Live Tiles concept, and continue to expand on it and make it even better. Might we see it on another Microsoft platform? I don’t think so. Desktop, mobile, TV/console, and the web are pretty much the only places that Microsoft sees any need to bother with. Maybe as a flashy visualizer of information in other software or services, but with not so much of the same level of functionality. Visually, I think Live Tiles are appealing, and could see it being a way to show quick information on webpages, see notifications at a glance, etc. Do you like the Live Tiles or feel quite the opposite?