The Windows Phone Interface

When Microsoft came up with the Metro Modern UI design language, their goal was essentially to streamline and simplify the interface as much as humanly possible. For me at least, this was a huge draw towards the platform (though I benefitted from arriving to the smartphone race late.) The Modern UI was designed to run in portrait mode, and it takes tremendous advantage of the increased vertical space.

If you're unfamiliar with it, Windows Phone 8's interface involves two basic screens: the start page which features live tiles, and an application list. For WP8, Microsoft has gone from having two live tile sizes to three, and while I feel like it clutters the interface, it's ultimately much more productive. The tiles both launch applications and, depending on which applications they link to, can also provide useful information, essentially combining desktop widgets with shortcuts into a single useful "button." The tiles also tend to blend together in a much neater and more orderly fashion than widgets and icons do in iOS or Android, and they're very easy to rearrange and resize. Microsoft won't let you personalize your background (only your lock screen), but you can get a lot of mileage out of customizing the start page exactly.

Meanwhile, the application list has amusingly been the standout feature of Windows Phone every time I've shown it to anyone: it's just that sensible. If you swipe left from the start menu, the application list is exactly what it sounds like: a vertical list of the apps installed on the phone, alphabetized. Icon on the left, name on the right. Once you reach a critical mass of apps, the letters of the alphabet pop up above each set of apps that start with that letter; you can tap the letter to bring up the alphabet, then tap the first letter of the app you want to find. Or, you can scroll up or down to it. Either way, to me at least, this is a very intuitive way of keeping the phone organized.

Finally, holding your finger on anything you're interested in brings up a menu that allows you to modify it. Uninstalling apps is as easy as choosing "uninstall app." "Pin to Start Menu" does exactly what it says. On the start menu itself, all of the tiles start floating, allowing you to rearrange them. You can resize them by tapping the arrow on the bottom right corner of the tile.

When you do use applications that employ the Modern UI design language, screens remain exceptionally clean. Since you're restricted to customization between having white text on a black background or black text on a white background and can only choose which accent color you want the tiles and highlights to use, the interface remains crisp and easy to understand.

Ultimately, between Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8, the only immediately visible major interface change is the addition of the quarter-sized live tile on the start menu. You can add additional notifications to the lock screen and choose a single application to get a full text readout, but I felt like the one notification type seriously missing from the WP7.5 lock screen was a toast notification for whatever games I was playing with friends (i.e. WordFeud). Despite being able to assign a "games" icon to the lock screen, there's still no toast notification for any of the games I play. On the flipside, pinning the games I play regularly to the start menu allows the live tiles to indicate to me whenever it's my turn, so at least there's some way to know.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X Essentials: Phone, Contacts, and Messaging
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  • shompa - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    The author is worried about vendor lock-in with the iPhone. Whats the difference with windows? You are locked into using windows on you PC/Phone.

    I am amazed how uneducated people are how MSFT locks its users in. Always by doing shady stuff. Gamers for example are forced to use windows because of DirectX. MSFT refused to follow open standards.

    Office/Exchange is another huge lock-in.

    The funniest thing is that windows fanatics never have used anything else then windows. Every single mac user I know have used/know how to use windows.

    MSFT have a 50 billion turnover on crap. Its amazing.
    (But I do give MSFT props for the Metro GUI. Their first own innovation)
    Reply
  • thesavvymage - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    They are not locked into windows because of directX. Windows can use openGL and other rendering engines. Its just that directx is much more efficient and easier to code for than the open standards. Also, Office is not a lock in. It is simply the most widely used productivity software, and its also available for mac. Reply
  • UpSpin - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    The fact that Win 8 will be a requirement for Direct X 11.1 is artificical. MS forces you to upgrade to Win 8 if yout want to play the latest games. Luckily for us, game companies are too lazy to switch to DirectX 11.1 immediately. But maybe with the next XBox console, this will change, so people have to upgrade to Win 8 if the game requires DX11.1.
    Microsoft could support open Document formats, yet, they only improve their propietary stuff. So open source Office solution often aren't fully compatible to MS Office documents and it's a hassle to switch between them.
    MS could also support OpenGL, no, they only develop DX, because that way they make sure that gamers use Windows, and regularily update to the latest version, if they want to play a game.
    This will, luckily, change, because of Valves and other start up initatives (Ouya) to support open console like devices running on anything.
    Reply
  • A5 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    1) Ouya is going to fail. Just so you know.

    2) Steambox won't change anything because the console ports are all going to be DirectX. The reason DirectX took such a huge lead is that OpenGL was slow to adapt to changing standards and whatnot.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Supporting old hardware means there're multi-year lags in when new DX standards become required. It's only really been in the last year or so that DX10 only titles have started appearing in any significant number, and DX10 launched nearly 6 years ago with Vista.

    By the time DX11.1 becomes a required minimum as opposed to something that gives extra eyecandy at max settings windows 9 will probably be in the middle of it's retail lifetime and DX11.0 only systems will be obsolescent at best.

    In the medium term keeping everything working with DX10 only systems for the cross platform ports is, if anything, likely to hold back the 720. I doubt that will be an issue though since DX11/11.1 have only been incremental changes on top of the existing DX10 foundation, and not major redesigns like the DX9-10 upgrade.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    If Microsoft's document format is so proprietary, why does Libre Office work for me? On Windows, no less? MS isn't half as bad as Apple. You can even put a browser on WP8 that uses its OWN proprietary rendering engine - try doing that on iOS! You can't!

    Most developers actually support multiple renderpaths. As a result, the vast, VAST majority of games will run fine on Vista/Win7 even if they DO support an 11.1 render path. Actually, most of the important 11.1 features are getting backported to Win7 anyway.

    Valve's only motivation for Steambox is money. They want a box where they are the primary/sole distributor, and take a cut of all profits. They don't want to share that cut with MS or anyone else. If all they really wanted to do was foster gaming on Linux or PCs in general, they wouldn't be building a console-type system. They would drop their fees to almost nothing for Linux versions to encourage developers to make a Linux port. Maybe even reduce their cut for the Windows version of any game with a Linux port, to further sweeten the deal.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    The DX 11.1 requirement is also tied to kernel modifications that are present in Win8. It is not artificial.
    OpenGL was always supported in Windows, but since OGL was built with CAD in mind, they(MS) created a superior product with DirectX that caters exclusively to games. It's so good that Carmack himself praised it.
    Reply
  • krutou - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    "The fact that Win 8 will be a requirement for Direct X 11.1 is artificical. MS forces you to upgrade to Win 8 if yout want to play the latest games."

    How else is MSFT going to pay for DirectX development? DirectX is a large driving factor for the improvement of graphics quality and performance in PC games.
    Reply
  • boozed - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Tell us the story about how we're all so uneducated again, oh enlightened one! Reply
  • karasaj - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I used an iMac for four years in band/for various music editing stuff. I love mac for music, photo, and video related stuff, but prefer Windows for most things. I see why some people like Mac more, but I personally don't. Reply

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