Or, at least render them insignificant. Back in the Fall of 2010, Microsoft introduced the all new Windows Phone 7 OS with those fruity tiles. Live tiles, they called them. Having the ability to update on a regular (scheduled) basis. Soon after, flipping Live tiles were added and our Windows smartphones became these colorful collections of activity. You could just stare at your Start screen and see what was going on. A beautiful thing. Without infringing on patents, others followed the Metro, then Modern Live tile look. It became a movement.
Then came the Windows 8 OS in the Fall of 2012, and more tiles. Followed by different sizes of tiles. All those glorious colorful tiles. But something happened. Critics didn’t like Windows 8. Nor did business customers. And many consumers were simply confused. The beloved Start Menu had been replaced by, Tiles. Those nasty, ugly tiles that users had to scroll through to find anything. And a confusing OS that couldn’t decide if it was the all new Windows, or the backward compatible 90ish Windows. Flipping back and forth was too much to absorb. So Microsoft relented and went to work on Windows 9, err I mean Windows 10. A fresh start.
Windows 10 is now becoming a cross between Windows 7 & Windows 8, with a traditional Start Menu (sort of) and those dang tiles. But those Live tiles, that once decorated our colorful Start Screen, are now being delegated to a Start Menu, hidden from view almost all the time. What good are Live tiles that update with new information that you almost never get to see, unless you go searching for it. What a conundrum. I have been running the Windows 10 Technical Preview on one of my devices the past month, but didn’t realize this hidden Live tile issue till I started using Todoist, another to-do platform (and a keeper deserving of its own review). Todoist has applications for 13 different device types, but they don’t have a Windows 8 app yet. Instead, they offer a Windows desktop program that works quite well. While I am currently enjoying the way Todoist works on my tablet, laptop and desktop, I was looking forward to the way a third party companion app, TaskCrunch works on my Windows Phone, showing current and past due tasks on a Live tile. But, in Windows 10, that Live tile on a potentially forthcoming Todoist Universal app would be buried inside the Start Menu. Once I launch Todoist in the morning, all I need is a Ctrl-Alt-T to wake up the dialog box size fully functioning app on my desktop (a bit more challenging on a keyboardless tablet) any time of the day. That sounds about as easy as opening the Start Menu and looking for the Live tile, doesn’t it. I think it may be time to realize that Live tiles are not all things to all OS’s. They’re ideal for a phone OS, where everything is constantly slapped up in front of you. But maybe not for a laptop/desktop OS where they’re hidden from general view. Tablets are another issue altogether. Stuck somewhere between a fart and a crap, as my no minced words father used to say. Microsoft tried to make this work with Windows 8 and we all know how that turned out.
The Windows 10 Action Center, along with toast notifications, and help from Cortana will try to keep us informed of what’s going on during the day. But is that enough? Do we need some quick access method for “relevant” Live tiles, rather than the right side of the Start Menu, which is really a collection of tile icons and valuable information all mixed together. Remember that in Windows 10, we still have desktop icons and Taskbar pins, so visiting the Start Menu may only happen occasionally, or never for many users. I decided to review some of my more important Live tiles on both phone and desktop to determine how relevant they are to me.
- Mail – On my phone, I have four small tiles that include seven different email accounts. They all show a count of how many unread messages I have. Definite value. On my desktop, all my mail (all seven accounts) are wrapped into a single, currently wide tile. Recent messages flip in the tile, but the info is not all that relevant. I still need to open the Mail app to know which account received a message and how many. After 2.5 years of Windows 8, I am probably going to change this to a small tile. Not sure if it will show me a message count, but it should. As should the Mail app, once it’s opened and sitting in the Taskbar.
- Messaging – On my phone, it’s a wide tile and it is quite useful to see a new text message, knowing if it’s only informative, or I need to reply quickly. So definite value. Not available today on my desktop, but promised for Windows 10 (we will see). If it does become available, I’m expecting I will see a toast, plus an Action Center entry, making the Live Tile mostly irrelevant.
- Tweetium – On my phone, the wide tile shows recent tweets. But who only has one or two tweets when they open a Twitter app. Nobody. Dozens or hundreds, yes. So a count of new tweets might be useful, but not text. I don’t use Twitter much on my desktop, almost never. But seeing a new tweet count in the Taskbar after your Twitter app is opened would be nice.
- Parcel Tracker – On my phone, this app is a small tile that updates with a count of new transactions. I have packages coming and going all the time, so this is a valuable app for me. As there are often 5-8 transactions for a single shipment, I don’t really need to know the exact location or status in a wide Live tile. Generally, I’ll still need to open the app to find out where everything is, and whether any delivery date has changed. So value for sure. On my desktop, because I have more space, I use a wide Live tile to see the transactions, but almost always need to open the app anyway (unless the tile says delivered). It won’t be fun to open the Start Menu each time I want to check status, rather than a casual glance on the Start screen as I do today. But this is another app that I expect to report to Action center.
- Calendar – On both phone and desktop, this is an important tile to have assuming you know how to use a calendar (you would be surprised). On my phone it’s always in view. On my Windows 10 desktop, maybe Cortana can remind me of upcoming appointments. The hidden Live tile just won’t be as relevant, as in your face, as it was in Windows 8.
- Weather – Who doesn’t like to look at nice weather apps all day. The flipping tile on my phone gives me the information I need at a glance. On my desktop, I will need to seek this out in the Start Menu. Think I just had a stroke of genius actually. If Google could throw in a banner ad each time you have to check the Start menu to see your Live tiles, Microsoft could probably give the OS away for free. Wonder if that’s the long term plan. I should be careful what I wish for.
- Photos – Music & Video apps. On both phone and desktop. Pretty, but pretty useless as Live tiles. Not important
- News apps – Live tiles can be helpful in determining if you should or should not bother opening an app. I guess you’ll be seeking out the news in Windows 10, so opening the Start menu won’t be a big bother. You might even see that dentist appointment on the screen that you just realized was a hour ago.
There are various other Live tile apps, some providing value, other not so much. But the focus here is on those important Live tiles. The ones that help us manage our lives. Hopefully, Cortana, Action Center, and toasts will be able to replace the Start Screen that I have come to rely on. Adding counters to Taskbar icons would certainly help. It will be interesting to see how the affects the presumed growth of Universal apps with the launch of Windows 10. Wonder if Microsoft has bounced this off a focus group yet. Lots of questions.