Microsoft: Time to bury live tiles

Microsoft: Time to bury live tiles

Summary: As far as Microsoft interfaces go, the live tiles that are the major feature of the home screens of Windows Phone and Windows 8 haven't been around very long. Even so, given how ineffective they are, it's been far too long.

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Square colorful tiles that flash useless information alongside other tiles on the screen doing the same thing. Distracting bits of tiny text that are rarely looked at and totally unnecessary. These are live tiles that make up the lion’s share of the interfaces in Windows Phone and Windows 8. They are so useless they need to go away, and soon.

Stop live tiles
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

A lot was said about live tiles when they first appeared on Windows Phone a few years ago. The reaction to them ranged from those who found them innovative to those who absolutely hated them.

Then they appeared in Windows 8 and got much the same response. Colorful tiles that flash vital information, like the latest Twitter update, from someone in the user’s contact list.

Live tiles might be OK for some, but for many of us there is no warm, fuzzy feeling when we start our Windows device.

It’s time for live tiles to go away. They are the primary reason that I never liked Windows Phone. I always found that they waste space on the Windows Phone home screen, while distracting me with information displayed in an annoying rolling fashion. It doesn’t help that the information is never what I want. I blame live tiles directly for my inability to connect in an emotional way with the Windows Phone interface.

I’m beginning to feel the same way with live tiles on the Start screen in Windows 8. Large, blocky squares and rectangles that run into one another and keep flashing with rolling information that is rarely, if ever, of use to me. I constantly find myself reaching for a particular app, only to be bombarded by all these tiles with rolling tickers. It’s a constant distraction, and I often end up finding the app I want by the background color of the tile.

In this day and age that’s a travesty. It’s not a carefully thought out organizational scheme or helpful icon that lets me quickly find the app I want. It’s the color of the background on the tile that I usually end up spotting. That’s because the tile probably has flashing text in a tiny font rolling on the tile that makes the background color the only attribute to get my undivided attention.

Sure I could turn the live tile updates off, but then there would just be a sea of blocky color tiles staring at me all day. I’d still be looking for the color I want, and the problem is more than one app has the same color. It’s not automatic, even though I carefully arranged the live tiles in the order I want. I still have to stop, look all over the screen, and then finally tap the proper tile to run the app I need.

This doesn’t make it hard to use Windows 8, but it prevents me from forming any attachment to the interface. It never feels entirely natural, and that’s a big deal for a tablet interface in particular. I am confident I’m not in the minority with these feelings, or lack of them, given the constant negative comments online about Windows 8. It’s not so much the OS people are hating, it’s the UI. The live tiles in particular are widely criticized.

The interfaces of iOS and Android are far from perfect, but users are able to develop an attachment, a bond if you will, to their personal configuration. Home screens have all of the icons the user wants, right where they put them. In the case of Android there are widgets, too. The comfortable feeling users get when they turn on their iOS or Android phone and tablet signals that they are home.

That’s largely due to the use of icons for apps instead of cold tiles. If you don’t believe that just look at the outcry when an app or OS update changes the icon(s). It’s not an objection solely to the look of the icon(s), it’s the loss of the familiar, and that temporarily breaks the bond the user has with his or her familiar home screen.

The bond is totally absent for me with Windows Phone and Windows 8. Live tiles might be OK for some, but for many of us there is no warm, fuzzy feeling when we start our Windows device. That’s due to those blocky live tiles that add little value to the UX. There’s no up side to them, especially on tablets that are in your face.

Microsoft needs to lose the live tiles, or many Windows users will never form an attachment to the interfaces as they do with other platforms. There will continue to be those like my buddy Matt Miller, formerly the most devout Windows Phone enthusiast I know, who put Windows on the shelf. Live tiles are of limited value, don’t make the interface easy to use, and they are just cold blocks on the screen. To quote Matt, “I am tired of live tiles”.

Windows Phone and Windows 8 are very functional with live tiles, that's not the issue. The problem is that all the blinking and flashing is distracting, and that prevents me from getting comfortable when I fire up my device. I want my stuff to be where I put, quietly waiting for me to get busy. I can't do that with the live tiles in Windows, so please, Microsoft, get rid of them.

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Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Tablets, Windows 8, Windows Phone

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197 comments
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  • WRONG!

    I love Live Tiles and where Windows 8 is headed. Live Tiles are GREAT on touch devices.
    cybersaurusrex
    • Windows 8 is headed..'

      toward deprecating live tiles. So we agree.
      Retterdyne
      • Complaint about live tiles is misguided

        Any live tiles that are annoying can be turned off individually. You just right-click the tile and click Live Tile Off.

        So, really, this complaint about live tiles is more annoying than the rotating content they display.

        Live Tiles should not be deleted -- they should be made even better. Right now there are limits to what you can do with them. In the future I think we'll see them gain more capabilities -- like the Gadgets from Windows 7 that they replaced.
        Speednet
        • wrong

          1st - Live Tiles is not about blinking and flashing, but about Live data. Maybe the presentation is not the most inspiring, flipping may upset few and as far as I am concerned it could be disabled, but showing live data in an icon MUST NOT go away, it really is a huge feature.
          2nd - Rather than going away I think Live Tiles should be improved. For the user the current tile limitation is not obvious but a developer could tell. For instance, on windows phone, the tile data is updated via a push notification which cannot reach the application owning that tile in any way, and while the tile shows updated information the application when started shows old information until it refreshes from the backend service that serves it.
          3rd - Even if MS would drop Live Tiles (which I doubt will ever happen) they cannot compete on the market without a simmilar feature. Android has widgets, Windows too must have a simmilar concept that shows dynamic information in a power friendly fashion (without running full apps in the bacground).
          dumaal
          • I mostly agree

            I don't mind the whole tiled start screen, but the "live-ness" of the tiles has, to me, been pointless. They just don't display nearly enough information to be useful. The e-mail tile only lists the first few words of the first 3 e-mails. What happens if I receive more than 3 e-mails since the last time I checked?

            It's a testament to Microsoft's shortsighted obsession on touch that they didn't think to use to use the mouse more on the desktop. If the mouse was hovering over the e-mail tile, a flick of the wheel should scroll through the latest e-mails. Even on touch, a tap and drag down on the tile could scroll just the same. A slow flip between the most recent 3 is just stupid.

            I disagree with the author that tiles are inherently incapable of resonating with people. I very much disliked Windows 8 during the previews, but having now used it for more than a year on both desktops and tablets, I find the tiled start screen quite nice, and that it's consistent across both form factors is, quite frankly, great.

            So yea, Tiles need major improvement, but they simply ARE better than a sea of icons as we see on iOS and Android. At least tiles can be grouped and resized into logical sections. I'm hopeful that with the departure of Sinofsky, Windows 9's development can be more insightful and considerate of customer feedback. It was abundantly clear that the Windows 8 team was utterly hostile to any feedback not aligning with their vision.
            PC987
        • There are some technical problems with Gadgets in Win 7

          Because of security issues and the tendency to make Windows unstable, Microsoft recommended deleting them some time ago. Personally, I am sorry it was necessary, because I liked a couple of them ... but ONLY a couple. I had a time and temperature Gadget (i.e. outside temperature from weather report feed) that had to go to keep my laptop secured, which I really liked. Even the time, whether in a 2 cm square analog clock, or 1x3 cm digital display, was more readable than the time in the taskbar. But I agree with the author that I would want the ability to turn off the "live" part, and/or completely hide, the tiles that are of no interest to me personally, if I had a Windows 8 machine. And I would hope that the technical and security bugs would have been fixed since Win 7 Gadgets.
          jallan32
    • Touchy Feely

      Exactly...TOUCH devices. They have NO BUSINESS being on a laptop or desktop without a touch interface. I will not migrate to Windows 8 until the tiles are gone. I'll ride out 7 until it reaches end of life.
      chrishuff1
      • Actually,

        If I have a laptop or desktop with a touch screen interface I would not use it. My mouse is less than 6 inches away from my right hand when on the home keys, my monitor is actually more than an arms length away with my desk top. Who in their right mind leans forward to touch the frigging screen. With a laptop the screen is at least within arms reach, but the trackpad is right between the thumbs.

        Finally, I work from the desktop, I launch my programs and go to work. At the end of the day I put the computer to sleep. Live tiles are so unbelievable useless for me because I might spend only one minute in a work week on that screen. For me live tiles are as useful as "Launchpad" in OSX, I just have no need for that interface to launch my programs.
        YaBaby
        • I have a touch laptop

          and I use touch all the time. That's because I'm using the laptop *on my lap* and I don't have a mouse plugged in. Touch works so much better than the stupid touch pad.
          Jacob VanWagoner
        • Depends

          Just like there is no reason that iOS should not allow mouse connections because it is sometimes a more useful interface, touch can sometimes be a more useful interface. Pinch to zoom is one I think off that I reach my hand away from my mouse and rotation as well. I also will sometimes use my fingers if I am just consuming web browsing pages as its very fast to page, zoom, pan, etc with touch. Some people love to use styluses with their tables, I just never got into that. Sounds like your the same with touch on a desktop/laptop.

          Just depends on your usage.
          Rann Xeroxx
        • no touch screen for my desktop pc

          I'm with you YaBaby; there's no way I could work with a CAD drawing, do an Excel estimate, while researching a product on the internet, write up a contract in word, and check my email, all simultaneously on a 15" laptop screen. All my in-office work is on a desktop PC, and it just isn't practical to work on a desktop PC by reaching across the desk to touch the screen. Great for my Surface tablet in the field, but not for my office desktop.
          rondesi
          • RE: no touch screen for my desktop pc

            rondesi, you are absolutely right. There are some programs that only a mouse and a keyboard are the right tools. There are other times when touch is a better use. That is the beauty of Windows 8. You can use the mouse and keyboard or touch or pen. All depends on your needs at the moment. Here I am writing my comments with a keyboard, but reading and moving along with my finger on the touch screen. Using a Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet. I pick the tablet, read, scroll down the page and keep reading. Stop to enter a comment and I put the tablet on the stand and use the keyboard to type my comments. When I am done, I can continue using the mouse and keyboard to scroll or just pick up the tablet and scroll with my fingers.
            jazzy2945
          • Finally!

            An intelligent, sensible reply! I don't know how I ever managed to work without a touchscreen laptop, and will never buy one that doesn't have touch again. But typing is still (and probably always will be) faster using the keyboard.

            Likewise there are many times when a desktop computer is better used in the' traditional' manner but other times when touch is incredibly useful, and it's no stretch to reach a touchscreen on a modern desktop if you have it set right.

            As for those going about losing the original desktop to the tilted interface, just use the desktop instead! It's like complaining your car has sat nav because you will never use it!
            coolcity
        • If you don't like tiles, just don't use them.

          Manage your OS, not the other way around. It should not be smarter than you.
          rollguy
        • Touch Monitors

          Find someone who has a touch monitor that slants back a lot and is positioned near the front edge of your desk just behind the keyboard. In this position it's as easy to touch the screen as it is to grab the mouse. Suddenly, the smart phone experience is now integrated into your desktop experience. Sometimes I touch and sometimes I click. The key is getting the apps right so that both options are available at all times. Outlook in the metro interface is way better than the desktop version. Click a link in an email, and the screen splits with IE on the other half. Also, the close-up visuals are stunning. (pictures, videos, magazines etc.) When my son saw me using it, he blurted out, "wow, it's like a giant iPhone". Simply put, the visuals are better on a big screen than on a tablet or smart phone. It's a cool experience.
          Rick@...
      • LIVE TILES? IRRELEVANT, ANNOYING AND UGLY

        ...I'll second that...with both hands
        Phil689
      • Really?!

        You would not be writing this if you have spent any reasonable amount of time working on a laptop with a touchscreen. Your eyes are the first to move to the place on your screen where you want to affect an action. It's so much easier, intuitive and faster to then take your finger directly to that spot on your screen and touch it than to take it to the trackpad, discover where the mouse pointer is, move it to the spot on the screen where you want to click and then click. Do you still have manual roll down windows in your car? :)
        kunals
    • The trash they call a GUI

      is why I've never even looked under the hood. It sucks, and the vast majority of the world has spoken out in agreement...by refusing to purchase it.
      timspublic1@...
      • Wrong

        Most people don't even know what an OS is. They're not buying a laptop period. Their laptop still works, unlike tablets which have a much shorter lifespan at this point.
        Michael Alan Goff
        • But...

          They can identify Windows 8. There are even jokes made by non-IT and non-tech savvy folks all over the net made about the awful UI. Even if they don't know about OSes, they know that whatever kiddy interface new PCs have, it sucks.
          danixdefcon5