Tiles for staying ‘live’
The Start screen isn’t just about tiles that are big enough to touch to make it easy to launch apps. It’s about live tiles that make it easy to see information without having to do anything at all. If you just want to check the weather forecast or the exchange rate, or see if you have any new email or new mentions on Twitter, or find out when your next meeting is or skim the headlines on your favorite news site, you can do all of that right from the Start screen. That’s appeal of smartphones and widgets; you can pull out the device, glance at the screen and put it away once you’ve found out what you need to see – or open an app to pass the time or get something done.
On a Windows 8 tablet with built-in mobile broadband, the Start screen stays up to date and keeps you amused and in touch, just like a phone. Pin tiles for specific people from the Socialite app and you see their social network updates. Pin a specific location in the Weather app and you see a three-day forecast. Add the Tom’s Guide news feed to the News app and you can watch new headlines scroll past as they arrive.
This was very useful at the Build conference. The Build app checked in the background for sessions that were full (or had been moved to a larger room) and the information was usually right on the live tile. Apps can only do that if you let them, and you’ll be able to choose whether to let an app get updates when your PC is on or when it’s in the new low-power Connected Standby state. That’s only for new low-power PCs with the latest Wi-Fi technology so we haven’t tried it yet, but it will let the PC get messages and updates you care about even when it’s asleep, without running down your battery.
One big disadvantage of live tiles is that they only work with Metro-style applications. There will be Metro versions of the Windows Live apps that will have live tiles and we’re sure Microsoft is hard at work on a Metro-aware version of key Office programs. If you’re using Outlook for email and calendar, or a desktop Twitter client, or Google Reader for news, you can pin tiles for them to the Start screen, but all you get is the name of the app and the icon for launching it. In short, desktop apps are represented by “dead tiles”.