No more Home screen concept, the world of Tiles:
When I look at iOS, Meego, Windows Phones and even Windows 8 Desktop, then it looks like that many out there want to push the concept of desktop to the edge now. Yes! after Meego, Nokia Lumia 800 would be the second Nokia Smartphone without any kind of traditional desktop or widget etc. just even sized (or double sized) uni-colored tiles floating on the screen in arrangement of two at each row.
In the first sight, Its definitely an annoyance for the users, who love to show off their new arrangements of Home screens, live wallpapers to others or geeks, who find it convenient to have an informative Home screen at their finger print. But once you admit the way it is, it starts growing over you.
Specially on the screens like Nokia Lumia 800, these tiles seem to be kind of floating over surface with nice animated and depth of field kind of experience. Soon you realize that its just not a particular pattern of Home screen arrangement (like you might have experienced with some Third party Launchers on Android or Symbian), but actually a completely different philosophy you are dealing with.
Microsoft calls the Windows Phone as alive phones and the tiles floating on Live Tiles. Let’s see why?
Microsoft says that Live Tiles present all the needed information by just a glance over them without even tapping them and this all keep on updating in background without any user intervention. So what? Even in iOS or some Android launchers, you see number of missed calls, number of mails, number of facebook\twitter mentions on the side of respective icons. That’s also kind of “just a glance is enough”, What’s different with Windows Phone then?
There are differences. The tiles in Microsoft Windows Phone 7 aren’t simply numbers in a red bubble. You can configure them for instant access to the features and functions that are important to you. You can pin just about anything you want to Start: apps, pictures, songs, map locations, favorite websites, OneNote notes, and even contacts. When you pin a contact to Start, you’ll get all of that person’s feed updates right from that tile, and it’s like speed dial: it takes only two taps to make a phone call.
Then comes the hubs (Tiles actually), Windows Phone automatically groups the apps in hubs like People hub groups people, their numbers, names, addresses, social feeds and everything connected to that, Music Hub groups Music, videos, Podcasts, FM Radio, Mix Radio, Zune or Streaming services if any and Picture Hubs brings you pictures either it be from your phone or from your social networks or from Sky Drive.
You install any new app then it automatically finds its ways into the specific App hub it meant to. Like if you install MetroTube then it get settled into Music and Videos Hub, you configure Facebook account and Facebook chat finds its ways into Messages Hub. Means no more making folders manually and then putting apps into it for your convenience as you are on a real “Smartphone” now. Check howto’s.
Though still there are exceptions that defies the underlying concept behind app hubs (or might be the case that I am unable to understand them that well). Like why Bing Maps and Nokia Maps are not into a common Navigation or Geo-Hub? Why Whatsapp doesn’t move itself to Messaging Hub? But overall, this a nice way to incorporate the best features of platforms like Maemo, iOS and Symbian into one and building an entirely new experience over them.
By refusing skinning from Operators and Vendors and managing most of the essentials for a real “Smartphone” into core of the OS itself, Microsoft seems to be on a perfect path to redefine the things for Smartphone world in the way, they once did with Desktops. Thing to see will be, if its too late or more than timing, its the quality that matters.
After the tiles, next is basic notifications like Battery, Network reception, SMS/Chat arrival etc.
Like Symbian or most of other Smartphone OS out there, Windows Phone also chooses the topmost bar for the basic notifications but difference of approach here is hiding the bar automatically most of the time. Also this hiding is very intelligent in itself.
Like if you are standby screen (which is the only place where you can place a wallpaper), then the obvious information that one might be needed is number of unread messages/ unread mails in individual accounts, current date, day, month, time, battery, network signal strength and wifi connection status, but if you are on tiles then as Tiles itself can be customized to give you info, its kind of redundant to have a top bar showing you network signals and battery life all the time. Windows Phone does the both.
If anytime you need to know network\ battery status then just a tap on topmost place of screen and it comes out of its closet to show you network status, wifi connection status and battery status. Time will be always visible though. Isn’t it cute minimalism and yet efficient representation of info rather than the always persistent and screen real estate taking? The top bar will also pop but if any SMS arrives or if you wanted to change the volume of your phone via HW key (slide control like Nokia N9 not here) or at the same volume screen the option to change the profile from ring+vibrate to vibrate only.
Some people including me, will still blame Windows Phones for not having a notifications system at par with Android\ iOS (where emails\SMS\MMS\Bluetooth or even any third party app can send its notifications in the notification bar), but given the fact that its walking toward a right path of minimalism, I think we can give it a pass as of now.