I wish Windows Phone's Live Tiles had widget controls

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: May 20, 2013

Windows Phone. The mobile operating system that Microsoft is hoping will win over the hearts and minds of mobile users all over the world. They’re hoping it will do that with a new user experience. A whole new way to use your phone. All at a glance. Of course, anyone who thought that Microsoft was hoping they’d win everyone over within the first year, or even the first few years, was sorely mistaken. The Redmond-based company knows it’s a “slow and steady wins the race” sort of situation. They’ve got time. They’ve got the money. And hey, if no one else is rooting for them, they’ve got plenty of employees to push the effort.

And wave the MS flag. (Let’s just hope it’s not a white one anytime soon.)

There’s no doubt in my mind that Microsoft has changed the game when it comes to using our phones. While, yes, they use some tactics that we’ve seen from a certain other company, the overall look and feel of Windows Phone is wholly its own. It’s unique, and that counts for something. It has to, or there’s not much for Windows Phone to go on.

Microsoft’s mobile project is all about that difference. It’s meant to stand out against the likes of Android, and iOS. More than that, it’s supposed to stand out from every other mobile operating system easily accessible by the customer. You’re supposed to see a Windows Phone device from across the room and be like, “Whoa, what’s that?”

I’ll be the first one to tell you that when Microsoft first unveiled Windows Phone, I was excited. And that’s an understatement. Everything that Microsoft talked about, I was immediately on board. It wasn’t so much that I was tired of everything else, because I wasn’t (I’m still not), but just the fact that they wanted to tie in everything I used every day. Xbox, Xbox LIVE, Office. All that stuff, and more, all tied into a platform that could be easily accessible from my mobile device.

Oh, and don’t forget the Live Tiles. They’re like widgets, but not. Or something.

I have found over the years that widgets are a hit-or-miss feature for a lot of people. The idea is great: Easily scroll through lists, interact with controls, or any other number of different things right from your home screen. No need to dig into the application.

What I mean by hit-or-miss, is that they aren’t an absolute necessity. I know several people who have Android phones and simply don’t use widgets. Whether or not they’re accustomed to using an application without the widget, or they just don’t feel the need to have a block covering the home screen, I’m not sure. But one of Android’s strongest features is the widget, so I would imagine that it’s simply good enough that they have the functionality present.

I’ve used Windows Phone off and on over the last few years. As I do with every phone, or operating system depending on how you want to look at it, I use it as my primary device. I believe that’s the only way to actually use a device, or experience it. It’s a no distractions sort of thing. And with my time with the platform, I’ve gone from loving Live Tiles, to wishing they did more.

Like right now. I’ve got a Lumia 920 sitting next to me, and I have a lot of Live Tiles on my display. Sure, the Lumia 920’s got a roomy 4.5-inch display, and you can resize the Live Tiles in (usually) up to three different sizes, but there’s a point where there are too many Live Tiles. 21, for me, is that number. And thanks to a lack of a notification center, Live Tiles are absolutely important to getting notifications on your Windows Phone-based device.

But, I want to talk about music. Music controls, specifically. As I’ve said in the past, I listen to music quite a bit on my devices, so how I access the controls is important. In Windows Phone, it’s all about the volume rocker. If you want to access play, back or forward, you need to hit the volume up or down, and the controls will pop down from the top of the screen. If the phone is locked, though, hitting the power button will also give you access to the controls. The problem is, at least for me, that the controls don’t hang around long enough.

That’s why I want widget-like controls on my Live Tiles. I don’t want to have to hit the volume rocker every single time I want to change a track, or pause the music, especially if the device’s display isn’t off. If I’m looking at the Live Tiles already, just let me hit the play button right there on the Tile for Xbox Music. Or next, or back.

But widget controls could only work on the large Live Tiles. Yeah, there have to be rules. That gives enough room to see the information that’s needed. And truthfully, I don’t think it would be a big departure from what Microsoft is going for, with their “at a glance” functionality. Stick to the Live Tiles, and just give the user the ability to manipulate some things when needed, without having to hit another button or dig into the application.

What do you think? Would you like Windows Phone more if you could use the Live Tiles like widgets? Let me know what you think.

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