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Windows Phone 8.1 may get backgrounds on the Start screen, three column support

More information from the Windows Phone 8.1 beta SDK leak hint at some forthcoming features for the OS update, due to be announced in April. The info comes from LiveSino, who found references to numerous unannounced references to features in the SDK, hinting that such customizations may be in the final build for customers.

The idea of giving customers more options to customize their Windows Phone has been a hot topic for customers for years. Currently on the Start screen, users are only allowed to select from a pre-selected range of hues, with no backgrounds, leading some to call the OS ‘boring’.

Now, LiveSino has found the following references in the SDK:

  • Start screen background setting (Start background), the user can select the picture
  • Start screen to open three columns (Show more Tiles), similar to the Lumia Icon, Lumia 1320, Lumia 1520

The Start screen background feature, also reported by the Verge, should make many users happy.

How will it look?

However, Windows Phone Central can confirm that so far, Microsoft has not settled on the look of this new feature. Indeed, there appear to be different builds of the OS floating around Redmond that do this customization in different ways. That may sound oddly vague, but if you look at the Start screen, you could probably think of a couple of ways where a user can display an image over their display and what options users have to control it.

Skinning the background and leaving the Tiles a solid color is but one approach, but there are others.

The toggle to ‘Show more tiles’ is also interesting, since previously Microsoft stated that devices with a display less than 5 inches won’t have this feature. Indeed, on the Lumia Icon, things do get small. However, Microsoft may decide to leave it to the customer in the end, when 8.1 lands.

Regardless, it’s clear that Microsoft is listening to users and 8.1 should provide a robust update.

Source: LiveSino, the Verge

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Reader comments

Windows Phone 8.1 may get backgrounds on the Start screen, three column support

340 Comments

I wonder if the background will move up and down with the tiles or the tiles will act like they were transparent and the background will stay stationary when you scroll.

That would be truly awesome indeed. Never thought of the background as something important, but seeing the pic I want it now......and if it scroll's too, wow!

Omg omg omg. Really can't wait for this one ! Actually didn't even finished reading article yet and coming here to comment this !

Edit : finished reading :p Yes indeed, Microsoft should give their consumer more choices in customization. Speaking of 3 row of medium live tile can be switched enable or disable is a great idea.

How is it possible to put a photo over tiles when you have a long screen that goes down? What happens after the pic is over? They return to the accent color?:/ maybe not such a good idea cuz it would look ugly if you scroll down.

What? Im 19 and i dont get why you are askin this and maybe you need work on your understanding bro. So your home screen doesnt scroll down? Lol then u arent using windowsphone haha :)

On Sailfish, the background slowly fades to the accent color (which is automatically generated based on the background), that might work if you want the picture to stay stationary, it would still have to be a relatively tall picture.

I think he's old enough to be in WP Central. :)

For you question. IMO, the icons would be transparent and the logo, or maybe (Please let it be) the text would only be seen. and the background picture will be, lets say at the back of the squared(borderlined icons).

Maybe the picture won't scroll at the same speed as the Start screen. They would probably time the scrolling depending on how much is on your Start screen in the first place, kind of like how the Photos hub background photo scrolls at a certain speed and not in unison with the content.

I'd suspect it'll be closer to Windows 8.1: background with accent tiles on top. For starters, they're merging WP and RT, and it would be a consistent experience, plus images could screw up the functionality of the tiles (e.g., can't read the tile info because of BG image).

I highly doubt that's the way it will look. That picture is most likely don't with the Skinery app. It will most likely look just as it does on Windows 8/RT. Static Background image slightly darkened so tiles have more contrast. The above image just looks horrid IMO.

Lets hope so unless apple gets intelligent and has 3 iPhones 4 inch 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch and price the 4 inch cheap. But apple has there heads too far up there A$$ to give a cheap iPhone so yeah well probably be on par on market share by 2015.

Android will be a distant first for years to come. Make it nearly a decade unless Google screws up. Android is to mobile phones what Windows is to desktop PCs.

Remember, blind loyalty. They don't need to price their products cheap. Blind loyalty will pay for at any price other than cheap.

Are you kidding? Apple DOMINATES the premium market, this is what they do best and for this reason Apple doesn't give a crap about market share. We are going to have a phone market that is very similar to the PC market, Apple will have 5-10% Worldwide marketshare but 60% of the industry profits. 

All have different markets. MS is a one of the best companies ever targeted the corporate market. We compare regularly all 3 companies but sometimes that their target markets are sometimes different. Apple- premium market/ status
Google- Entertainment etc like google search, utube
Microsoft- Business, corporate world etc

Second that. There is a reason why every single developer worth its name develops apps for iOS first - NObody cares about Android marketshare since overwhelming majority of them are low end devices

We aren't talking about how much money Apple makes here. Of course it makes more money for its over priced gadgets that fraction of society can afford to pay for and use. We are talking about marketshares - the reach of your product. Apple's product won't ever reach more than 50% of world population. So yeah, premium like you say. So what? There are phones made of gold and diamonds - they make profit by selling fraction of what Apple sells. What is the point?

I think all Lumias should get the choice, but smaller Lumias should keep with the 2 column layout as a default for sure. I couldn't imagine 3 columns of tiles on my Lumia 620 haha

Wmpoweruser.com reported that all lumias down to 920 would get the option but i think it stops there because of screen sizes :)

actually they say that smaller phones "default" with less tiles. Doesn't mean that you cant go in and then chage it

It might be based on resolution. I would think that on 800x480 screens, three columns could leave text unreadable for medium tiles.

Daniel I thought in a previous article and on reddit that you had suggested that you know what Microsoft is/not doing wrt to backgrounds for 8.1. With how much certainty should I rely on this latest article?

Also in forums Daniel reject Tom's claims. I guess he didn't have solid sources to confirm this. Maybe now he has confirmed the same?

Nah, re-read that forum. There's more to this than what has been reported by the Verge or ourselves i.e. there is still more to this feature not yet revealed. Put the pieces together in Tom's report and mine and you'll start to get it.

It's also protecting sources/info. Different people on the dev teams have different features on their device. Could be easy to finger someone if a full leak revealed everything.

I think its clever to have different features sent to different people. However, there wont be more than 5 builds floating about. The one you have is surely a tricky one :P

I think that having an image as a skin over the tiles is the best solution. If it were "behind" the tils, it would be barely visible. And those that want an image could finally shut the hell up.

Its party of the reason some people are hesitant to switch due to lack of customizations and apps; this would go a long way towards getting people interested. Microsoft was also the first to introduce aero and gif wallpapers in win 7 so why would they let there competitors use it and they don't at least match it on their own platform. There more user out there than boring corporate users

I'm fine with having something like the office 2013 themes in the background, they look very elegant and don't draw too much attention. I'm all for options, I didn't say it shouldn't be included, I just stated that including it would finally shut up all the ones that were yamming about it. 

Skinning tiles? Ugh. I, for one, opt for the background on the, uh, background? You would still see it when switching to the app list! Duh

I will stay happy with the 3 rows. I think its good to let the user join if will be able or not. Greets Ddriver66.

"densely packed" depends on the way you organize your screen. Just because some of us have the start screen filles with tiles, it doesn't mean others do too. Actually, I've seen a girl with only 8 small tiles in her start screen because she said she didn't needed more. So a background would help people like her get a nicer result out of their screens.

Also a tutorial in using live tiles will help her to know that WP has more than iOS like icons to it. She has no idea what she is missing out on!

I gave her a tutorial. She still didn't want more tiles. She isn't a poweruser at all so all she placed on the start screen was the People hub, sms, mail, phone, facebook, Instagram, What's app and Google.

She didn't even want IE or the store as icons. Go figure.
(She had a Samsung Android though...so it may be related to that)

So how come beautiful Facebook live tile vs ugly Facebook logo is prefered by a non-power user? I thought power users were the ones who wants everything they can do with anything that has a motherboard available! This may explain if a power user has tons of icons size tiles and no double wide live tile for Facebook. Even Android has full screen widgets, no?

She would love the Normandy.

I honestly don't understand any of her choices. I guess she wasn't into the idea of the live tiles. She's probably so used to the Android-way of stuff (notification centre etc) that she didn't wanted that of a radical change. I would also assume people who don't use the phone for much would prefer the wider tiles but apparently not...

 

Maybe. I'll have to see the Normandy first before recommending her any switch for something more in the line of what she's used to. But I think she's satisfied with WP. She doesn't really take full advantage of it but hey...she's not complaining (she is waiting for the notification centre though).

I think two start screen is necessary for people love to put big wide live tiles,Microsoft should make it an option to have two start screen

Are you actually excited with the upcoming update, DJCBS? I don't mean it in a bad way, I'm just interested in your opinion, since you had been one of the most critical persons about WP and MS that I had ever seen.

Yes. Assuming all these leaks will end up in 8.1, yes. It's improving the OS quite a lot and I'm happy with that. The prospect is good.

I'm very eager to get the developer preview and toy around with 8.1 to see if my current feelings on WP change. Because they have been sinking for a while now (and MS is to blame for that. They should definitely take their own platform more seriously).

(That doesn't mean I will ever buy a MS-produced phone though. Just to make it clear ;P)
 

Dude, if MS impresses you with this update, no matter how badly The Verge or CNET bashes the update, I'll see it as a success for MS :P

Lol fair enough, friend. I bet your feelings will change based on the magnitude of this update. Good to hear man, I hope that we all enjoy it. I also bet that WPCentral will be busy writing tons of how to articles, even months after the update releases.

Agreed...the way tiles are arranged can create - gaps and spaces- to help show off more of a background image that is on the background and not the tiles.

Allowing the same image between the Desktop and Start Screen on windows 8.1 made all the difference in the world. I always understood what the Metro screen was supposed to be in he way of a customizable substitution for the Start menu, but losing that jarring change from a color or stock drawing on the Start Screen to the Desktop made a difference. I could see the same happening here if the same image is allowed to seem to flow into the All Apps screen in the phone. Would make sense with a grid, but I am not sure I want the icons on the apps screen to be a grid. Choices choices.

It would help if the Windows Phone devs made the tiles of all 3 sizes smaller and slightly more spaced from each other.

God no!it would be terrible if Microsoft doing so!I want slightly less space between tile to tiles and make the 2 columns tiles on my Lumia 925 a little bigger

That looks nice, all Microsoft needs to do is let the tiles themselves go into an aero mode with more traditional icon mode with the the icons floating on your background image. All phones shipped to carriers should be in this mode I've described so as to give off a more sophisticated android look since salespeople aren't familiarizing themselves with the OS and cannot or will not educate potential buys on wp8, Microsoft should do whatever it can even if it involves trickery.

I compleetly disagree. You're basically saying Microsoft needs to copy Android 100%. It's actually Android and iOS that are looking more and more like WP. I definatly DONT think Android looks sophisticated. It looks like a bad 90's vision of the future.

I also dont think Android is outselling WP because of its appearance. Consumers dont have anything against live tiles although the OS could use more customization. The main problem is that the small selection of Windows Phones is being overshadowed by Androids. Even if WP looked like Android the way the interface functions would mean salespeople still wouldnt understand it. It's a matter of sticking with it. WP is getting more and more marketshare and more importantly mindshare as well.

As for the customization, check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6P-uXwG-18

I didn't mean mimic Android, I simply meant give users an optional mode that makes the tiles background disappear leaving only the icons spaced out perfectly but remaining animated by flipping ever so often with your wallpaper being seen more. The user would rely on the notification center, ghost messages, or lock screen while in this node as opposed to live tile with info displayed.

I understood that it was an optional mode. However this mode is basically a different UI that works like Android. You said so yourself, in this mode users rely on a notification centre and the interface has icons instead of tiles.

This doesn't seem like the right direction to me. It also doesnt need to do this just to enjoy a wallpaper. As seen in the video, the wallpaper would be visible enough in modern UI. Lastly it seems rather impossible to just turn off the tile. Technically it might be impossible but also many tiles dont have an icon. These devs have fully embraced WP and make full use of the tile's space.

A different approach may turn out better, but I would better prefer accents like the desktop in W8.1.
Possible live ones.

I like it. Of course, a lot of people couldn't pick out a suitable image to save their lives, but the option is good. 

This would be epic! More aesthetic options would certainly appeal to many. If you think about...it could be really cool. Windows8 start screen being a perfect example. I realize some don't care about these things. My view is as long as it doesn't affect functionality or usability negatively...

Like some other OS which name should not be mentioned...
But, really happy with this options, as long as it doesn't get messy like the above not mentioned OS.

All WP would be lacking is the option for Aero tile theme and of course the apps the people cry about all the time. 100k is good enough for me

185k and maybe 200k by April or May? Plus what's aero tiles?

Edit: 225k by April or May knowing that 200k was passed in December 2013?

There was a PCWORLD article, but I didn't want to paste that one on this site. I read on this site as well for sure, but could easily find the article. I am right, so who cares.

Tiles that are transparent in appearance without a square, circle or rounded square backdrop so to speak. Icons floating above a wallpaper

I am sure its in the pipeline. Bing is ready for the prime time - search, images, Cortana. Bing is more than search. A clever way to introduce as many people to Bing in as many ways as possible

In all the MS firms now, bing is the only one lacking behind features, we need more from them now in our phones and they should stop being partial and release their other fantastic for all countries

Bring it... I have been waiting for an update that would allow me more home screen customization. Hopefully they also let us pick our level of tint on the background.

Bring gifs to the lock screen as well. Pull out all of the stops and give yourselves the best chance to compete in the mobile space.

Yeah I am guessing so. I wonder if using a background will put limitations on how you can configure your tiles. Like all the spaces have to be filled or something. Anywho, i think it looks pretty cool!

It would be nice to see your background move accordingly if its a scene line a waterfall or the like

Well I'm up for both skinning the background and skinning Tiles. Actually, I already have all the tiles I can skinned with Skinnery Themes, otherwise I would have stabbed my eyes with a fork already with all those annoying bright colours some apps come in. So all Microsoft needs to do is open those tiles that are closed (messaging, People, mail) for customization for third party apps and it's done.

 

Backgrounds should also make the OS more in line with Windows 8.1. And should also provide a nice way for people do choose either a colour or an image and differentiate themselves.

I also hope that the fixed 20 accent colours goes away in favour of a more open pallet of colours or even a colour wheel for users to pick up the colour they prefer (yes, even if they decide to have a black background with black tiles.)

 

As for the 3 columns, as long as it's not mandatory, I'm fine. I don't want it, I've been saying ever since they announced it that it would be a stupid decision to force it on smaller screens because the small tiles become unusable, but hey...since some people insist crying over them, give them as a choice. Chances are, 90% of them will realize how stupid it was of them to ever cry over the feature but hey...live and learn.

To each his own. Weren't people asking for a choice? Here with 8.1 MSFT has answer to everything plus hardware minus apps.

Yes, I'm glad they're making the OS more flexible and giving people more choice. It should help them captivate more people who shun away from the rigidness of iOS and are overwhelmed by the amount of tweaks that Android allows and they don't understand.

"As for the 3 columns, as long as it's not mandatory, I'm fine."

Sounds like it will be just 'show more Tiles' option like in Windows 8.1 now.

Don't have any options under tiles other than "show admin tiles" - so presumably certain screen sizes don't get this choice?

Yeah. On the Surface running WinRT I have the option but on my PC running W8 Pro and connected to a big screen (23"), the option vanishes.

"Chances are, 90% of them will realize how stupid it was of them to ever cry over the feature"

While you may not choose to use it, many probably will. During the GDR3 beta, many MS employees who had three columns on their 92x phones loved it and requested that it stay in as an option. That's likely the main reason the option could exist in WP8.1.

Well, we'll see. I've made a test by simulating the 3 columns on my L920. The small tile becomes so small it's rendered useless unless you stop and very carefully tap it.

I'm convinced most people will not want 3 columns on their 4"-4.5" screens. Don't forget MS employees aren't the general consumer. MS employees also thought it was a good idea to get rid of the Start button and menus and look at the backslash they got. Same for the Xbox's original DRM policies.

That's why I said I'm fine with the 3 columns as long as it's optional. That way only people who insist in having those will have them and use them. And then come to their own conclusions. Remember, it's not the same looking at something in a picture and find it awesome and then try it out for real. ;)

Those employees were users of WP just like everyone here, not members of the team making the decisions. And they weren't just seeing a picture. It's more about having a wide tile and medium tile next to each other or three medium tiles on the same row. Having everything you want to see on one screen without scrolling was very popular. Small tiles still work fine for app launching, but aren't the main point of it.

3 columns would be great if you are not used the mini tiles and I think it's a great balance between WP7 and wp8,wp8 use mini tiles make the home screen messy

While this, and many other features of 8.1 seem great, would it really have been that difficult to release some of these features 6-8 months ago? I'm sure they would've helped sell phones. Then again, better late than never.

That's true. It has been one of the main points of my criticism towards WP: Microsoft has been doing justice to the "Microsloth" nickname.

But hey...we can hope that they're now committed to change that.

DJCBS, I would like to apologize to you for categorizing you as a troll in my head(never on the open forum, but in my mind). Question for you: what would you think about a mode option that would essentially cloak (hide) the traditional square tile shapes that the icons rest on now giving the start screen a more traditional floating icon appearance? In this mode, a use would depend on the message center, toast notification, or Cortana, bringing the UI closer to what average consumer see today (Android & Apple) but more feature rich. I only ask this because the sales people are trying to promote WP and in the mode, the average consumer would visually see something the looks familiar and be more prone to try it without relying heavily on biased sales people.

I think the 2 columns we have should make the tiles a little bigger,just hate the extra space on the left and right side of the screen,why Microsoft designer want to waste the left and right side of the screen?

Ok, if you can have the screen look like that, the background would be cool. Not sure how it would work as you scroll down the screen, I guess it would just repeat the image.

As for the 3 columns of tiles, it would be great to have it as an option for my 928. If they do enable a Large tile size, then I think this would work great. With the 3 columns, I would love having the Medium tile taking up 1/3 of the screen, and the Wide taking up 2/3. The Small tile might be too small, but I hope they allow the option.

Sounds like Astro in the right direction! Would be nice to have titanfall background or daark souls 2 background on the start screen wrapping around like the photos section!

I don't know why people are so hyper critical of Windows Phone. The live tile format is innovative and hasn't been around as long as the more mature iPhone and Android. Those have not changed in twice the time. People even called the Lumia Icon boxy but fail to criticize the unchanged iPhone style and size.

Hopefully you'll be able to adjust the blurriness of the background.  Sharp photos may make it difficult to distinguish between the tiles.

Most likely the way of Windows 8.1. I think WP is already pretty customizable? What other OS makes it easy to change the color of the entire theme? Android lets you change a lot but I've never had a great experience with it since most of it are apps or skins that slow the OS down, and ios only allows a background, but in Windows Phone the color scheme is all round and not just restricted to the "home screen," which I think makes the phone a lot more personalized since you can change it at a whims notice, and not have to fiddle around with different skins.

I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Sailfish is one answer to the question presented by sdreamer: just a swipe from the home screen and a tap, and you can change the whole look OS, just by changing the background image, as well as some settings you've bound to it.

I hope it ends up looking just like that. Letting the tiles be like little "windows" and the other bit be the frame is VERY classy and creative. Matter of fact, I'd even like to see that come to the PC GUI. Whoever rendered that needs a big, PHAT check. :)

OH! Looks like I need to get with the program! I'm currently on Android actually, looking to migrate with my next upgrade, so I know one app I'll be installing! :)

I think one smart way to do it is that after a certain idle time the tiles would merge down to the background image showing just the flat background. There could also be an option like the tiles would look embossed when idle. Any tap or touch to the screen would reanimate the tiles, like pushing up from the image.

I hope you put that in the Microsoft suggestion box so it would be consider for this build.....did you? Or did you just come up with this?

just keeps getting better and better.  April can't come fast enough for me.  I've gotten a few dozen people to switch from iphones and this will make them very very happy as well.  I am very hopeful that Cortana will be really good.  I use speech access on my daily commute all the time and it will be very nice to have something that is smarter and faster.

Honestly, I like the start screen the way it is (background-wise). This transparent thing looks nice, though, but as long as they keep it an option (which they will) I shall say no more. :) The tiles are very tightly packed so having a background image is kinda pointless but hey, it's all about having options!

Daniel I sware I thought this thing 2 or 3 weeks ago as an application but I am not a developer :( may be rudy can do :)

I really loved this Idea but they have to think about live tiles.

They did, they added a message center, ghost messages, and we already have lock screen notifications.

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