I love Windows Phone 7's start screen: neatly organized square tiles that clearly show information in real time—from emails to photos to weather to travel progress—without having to click on applications. With Windows Phone 8 Microsoft has solved my only criticism: not enough information density. And it have done so without destroying Metro's simplicity and elegance.
As WP8 chief Joe Belfiore said on stage today, this is going to be the feature that users will love the most.
The new Windows Phone 8 Start screen allows for the same level of customization as the tablet and desktop versions of Windows 8. It lets you move tiles around in any way you want and resize the tiles to small, medium and large sizes:
• The medium size is the square one that Windows Phone 7 has now.
• The small size is one quarter of that size.
• The large size takes over two of the square tiles.
The tiles' content is highly customizable too. Apart from specific apps' live tiles, the system would allow you to create specific contact or group tiles, with all the relevant information—emails, Facebook updates, photo uploads, etc.—displayed in real time within the tile.
It will also let you add as many apps as you want to the home screen as icons. By keeping these at the small size, you can create a grid of app icons as dense as the one in the iPhone. Except that here you can also combine those with larger live tiles. Simple, elegant, fully customizable.
The new sizes are also compatible with current Windows Phone 7 apps' live tiles, so no change on the part of the developer is needed—and you won't need to re-download all the apps you already have.
Microsoft is also adding more live tile color options, and now you can assign individual colors to tiles; something that users tired of a uniform block of blocks were demanding.
Customization and variable information density without the mess
Resizable custom tiles are precisely what the Windows Phone's start screen needed to be pretty much perfect from a user experience point of view. Much better and more elegant than the static grid of badge-peppered tiny icons of iOS. Or the painful and ugly clusterf*ck of widgets that you can see in most user-customized Android screens.
Unlike the competition's start screen solutions, resizable tiles give users the ability to increase information density to the maximum allowed on a phone screen while keeping it clean, comprehensive, and pretty. The start screen will provide with as much data as users want, no matter if they are beginners who like just a few important tiles or advanced users who want an information overload.
And the key to avoiding any user-induced design mayhem is as obvious as keeping an organizational grid. No matter what the user does, there's no way that the start screen would look ugly or confusing. Pretty simple and effective.
Microsoft says that this new start screen can tailor each phone to fit each user's lifestyle. People whose lives revolve around sports would be able to create a screen in which their favorite teams and athletes' Twitter accounts or Facebook pages are combined with real-time scoring apps, all alongside their own live tiles for mail, weather or games. Those who love social networks would be able to have their favorite friends always on screen. And so on.
It's really up to the user to decide what they want their phone to be. Microsoft is just making sure that happens, in as pretty and functional manner as we've ever seen.