If you have been keeping up with all the news coming out of of MIX 11 this week, you have undoubtedly read that amongst many other things, Live Tiles will be getting a big refresh, with all kinds of new features like; multiple tiles for the same app, front & back images, deep toast, local tile updates (no cloud) and an Endpoints increase from 15 to 30. That all sounds great but I am wondering how any of that applies to or affects the current live tile dilemma where an ever increasing number of “current” users are losing their live tile functionality.
I am all for moving forward with new and exciting stuff but if an already complex process is apparently broken (and let there be no mistake, it is) then how exactly will another layer of increasing complexity make the situation any better. Simple answer, it won’t.
Sure, if all we do is dwell on past mistakes we can’t move forward. I can deal with that, but I like to look at mistakes as learning experiences. If you take a moment to try and understand what went wrong there is an increased probability that history will not repeat itself (for the worse) and things should, even incrementally, get better. Without mincing words, the current live tile issue is due to faulty coding by developers, or at least that’s where the evidence is pointing. But Microsoft invented live tiles along with the instructions for implementing them, so I am thinking that’s where the proverbial buck stops.
There is no doubt that the current live tile implementation process is broken. I realize with my current 15 “active” tiles (yes, I said 15) I am only looking at a microcosm of the live tile landscape, but with so many developers having different issues with their implementation I can’t help but believe that the instruction set for getting these magic tiles that dot our Start menu to work properly is seriously flawed. Without having any facts to back it up, I believe there is one “perfect live tile implementation” out there somewhere, but along with that “one” there are many other alternate paths that can achieve the same result, but with consequences.
Let’s start with “auto activate”. With the current perceived live tile limit of 15 (and expected to increase to 30 with Mango), what happens if every app you download is live tile capable and auto activates the live tile feature on open. Well, before too long, you can’t activate any more live tile apps. OK, no problem. I will just deactivate the live tile feature for a couple apps to make room for the live tile apps I prefer. Oh, but when I deactivate I still can’t activate the live tile app I prefer. Dang, then I will simply delete a few apps to make room them. Nope, same problem. Actually, the only app I have found to date that reliably degegisters (the Endpoints key) when you deactivate live tile support is Flixter. And adding to that, a good number of apps do not even deregister when you delete them completely. So is Flixter the Holy Grail of live tile implementation. Not sure.
Next up, periodic disconnects. I don’t know why, but some live tiles will simply stop updating after a few days. I am pretty certain everyone has experienced this behavior a least once. This has happened a couple times with Messenger and I may be able to attribute that to a lack of use as I only have the live tile activated to test how it works. But the same thing happens to WeatherBug and that is set to update every 60 minutes. When the sun is shining outside at high noon and the WeatherBug tile is showing a night sky, I know I have a problem. Upon inspecting my registry yesterday, both of these apps had disconnected again. I logged in to Messenger to reconnect, but had to toggle push off/on, then save and refresh to wake WeatherBug. But wait, going back to my registry and now Endpoints just increased by two. WTF. Do this several times and you get the bottleneck or constipation effect, which will shut down existing live tiles without ever getting close to that 15 tile limit. Bad code, server issues? Don’t know. Maybe both. I am sure that disconnects/reconnects are inevitable, possibly even a feature, but adding additional Endpoint keys each time that happens is not the desired result. BTW, some apps disconnect/reconnect and don’t add additional keys. So does that make them half right or half wrong. Not sure.
Are you a “pull” tile or a “push” tile, only the Good Witch of the North (actually Northwest maybe) knows for sure. Not a specific registry issue in itself but still plenty confusing. For example I am sure you have read something like, “I just installed My Stocks and the live tile is not working but WeatherChannel works fine, so that app MUST be screwed up”. Well, not really. You see, WeatherChannel is a “pull” live tile meaning that it’s at the mercy of some lazy server out there to get it’s updates, unlike “push” tiles that send out an immediate request, or dump stuff onto your device almost as quickly as those five little dots dancing across your screen. Hell, I installed StockMap Free last night and that tile is set to update every 10 seconds by default! I raised it to it’s max setting of 2min, 53sec. There needs to be an easier way for users to identify these different live tiles. It’s the only way to troubleshoot problems and keep track of that growing live tile count. Of course, as there is a set limit, a simple way to see a list of registered live tiles would be nice, but I know I am asking for too much.
While I can’t wait for the Mango update and all the juicy stuff that comes with it, I think Microsoft needs to step up to the plate and lend a hand on this one. Sure, maybe this whole live tile issue is the developer’s own fault, but the truth is developers that did their best to do the right thing are being indirectly impacted by others who may have taken shortcuts. Live Tiles are a premier feature of Windows Phone as Tom Fennel from Microsoft points out several times in his MIX 11 presentation (see below). Certainly something that always gets included in a one paragraph description highlighting the platform. Microsoft has an obligation to make sure this premier feature works for everyone. And that doesn’t mean in October, when a new batch of “got Mango inside” devices reach our overstretched hands, or in 2012 (sorry, but that’s my guess) when all the rest of us get some of that fruity goodness. So get a couple lowly interns, park them in a cubicle and have them break down every live tile app in the Marketplace today. Can’t be more than a couple hundred. Look over the code and compare it to the “perfect live tile model”. Make notes as needed and let the dev know that he has “X” days to update his/her app as described or it will be pulled. At the same time, develop a proper tutorial for implementing live tiles correctly so moving forward we can look back on this as a bad dream. This is what’s called “continuous improvement”. Painful but necessary. Interestingly though, of all the apps that Microsoft has created for WP7, not one has live tiles implemented. So maybe they “don’t know” how to do this properly and are as confused as everyone else. I guess the closest you can get to a Microsoft live tile app is Messenger by Miyowa, and as a matter of fact Jack, it’s flawed.
I just finished watching the MIX 11 Enhanced Push Notifications and Live Tiles for Windows Phone Session on Channel 9 and I did get something out of it. More Cloud samples are going to be provided and the MSDN docs are being rewritten. Also Local or Shell Live Tiles will not use Endpoints, just as the “pull” Live Tiles don’t use Endpoints today. That’s good for your overall count and for avoiding the bottleneck issue. Actually the first 10 minutes does a good job explaining how push actually works and is worth watching. There is also a little snippet at the 46:25 mark where Daniel Rubino from WP Central (or at least I think so) asks the question we all want an answer to and this article is focused on. But didn’t see anything to change my opinions and observations noted above. New or existing apps will be created/updated to include some of the new features and Mango, whenever it reaches a phone near you, will change the Endpoints registry key to accept 30 entries instead of 15. But both of those actions are a long, long way off. What are you going to do for me today. BTW, for those keeping count, I am currently running 15 live tile apps, which all appear to be working, and have 24 Endpoint keys registered (had 23 when I went to sleep last night). The more I play with these things the more confused I become. Don’t know how long they will keep working but you know I will be watching. For those interested, this is a direct link to the page hosting the MIX 11video: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/MIX/MIX11?sort=rating&direction=asc&term=&s=thomas%2Bfennel
BTW Microsoft, I wouldn’t think it big brotherly of you to sneak onto my WP7 phone and everyone else’s tonight to zap the Endpoints key from my registry. Then everyone could wake up tomorrow morning, refreshed both in body and in live tiles. Now wouldn’t that be special.