iOS has icons. Android has icons and widgets. Windows Phone has live tiles. This alone makes Microsoft right when they say that Windows Phone is different. Not only Windows Phone look different, but it functions differently. Windows Phone attempts to give its users a more glanceable UI. And one could reasonably argue that the Windows Phone glanceable UI is beautiful: it’s characterized by evenly-spaced, often symmetrical and perfectly square or rectangular boxes that contain dynamic bits of information. For a minimum level of distractions, the tiles are set against a background of white or black. Often there are animations within the tiles, showing off music you’ve recently played or photos you’ve recently taken. In its simplicity and ability to be relatable, Windows Phone tiles are beautiful.
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is allowing users to change the size of live tiles. This solves the problem of “Hey…I don’t need my calendar tile to take up so much space, I wish I could make it shrink!” or “Hey…I want to put my spouse up top and have him/her take up a double tile, I wish I could make it grow!”.
There’s an ugly side effect, though, of giving users the ability to customize the tiles (and Microsoft gives users a small (quarter size), medium (regular size), and large (double size)): symmetry is compromised and clutter can happen. Early screenshots of the new Start Screen show what happens when an overzelous Windows Phone 8 user with too many friends customizes their Start Screen to the point of being cluttered. In such situations, the simplicity of Live Tiles are defeated as it requires tons of eye movement and scanning to find the link to your email app among a sea of people’s faces.
But we’re being dramatic on purpose. Don’t forget: the user is in control, and if they want clutter, they can have it, but for the rest of us, we can simply choose to keep a more “classic” Windows Phone look by opting to use more uniform sizes of Live Tiles. Plus, Microsoft is still forcing the user to use a two or four column layout, so that proportionality is maintained.
The new Windows Phone 8 Start Screen, like it’s predecessor, is beautiful, but only if the user wants it to be.
What do you think of the new Start Screen? Is it cluttered or beautiful?