Why Microsoft is considering a pivot away from live tiles on Windows

Thanks to a recent Windows 10 build leak, it's now been confirmed that Microsoft is experimenting with a new Start menu design which drops live tiles in favor of a more traditional static grid of icons. I first wrote about this possibility earlier this year. Many responded with a whole list of reasons why I was wrong and how live tiles are a staple Microsoft UX that is recognizable and adored globally.

While they are most certainly recognizable, I wouldn't go so far as to call them adored, at least not anymore. When Microsoft first introduced live tiles with Windows Phone 7 in 2010, the industry was a very different place. The idea of a "notification center" on smartphones was only just coming around, and live tiles were a different take on that idea. Android and iOS had swipe down notifications, and Windows Phone had live tiles.

But it wasn't until 2012 where Microsoft shoved live tiles into the spotlight, with the launch of Windows 8 on PCs. This version of Windows is infamous for being rejected by the masses because of the massive shift in UI that placed live tiles front and center in a touch-orientated UI. When complaining about Windows 8, it's the "colorful squared touch interface" that people pointed to first. Naturally, Microsoft's insistence on forcing this experience onto users left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths.

Demoted from the top

Windows 8 Start screen

Windows 8 Start screen (Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft eventually backtracked on this by finding a compromise between the old Start menu and the new live tile interface for Windows 10. But doing this meant live tiles were no longer "required" for people to use their PC. A couple of years ago, a source shared with me a document that detailed usage stats of several taskbar buttons, including the Start menu. While I can't share specific numbers, the number of people who were taking the time to customize their live tile layout was not huge.

Many people just don't care for live tiles.

Admittedly, that data is old now, but I can't imagine it has improved much since then. Either way, I'm pretty confident that this is one of the main reasons as to why Microsoft is considering a pivot away from live tiles. What's the point in building out a totally customizable user interface if nobody is using it? People just want to launch apps from the Start menu, and not have to worry about customizing or missing out on info provided by an ever-changing live tile.

There's also lots of feedback across the web from users that suggest people find live tiles to be too noisy, confusing, and challenging to manage. I can see where those complaints come from. I used to frequently lose the Microsoft Store tile in my Start menu thanks to its live tile always promoting other apps to download. And on the flip side of this, there's the problem of developers just not supporting live tiles well. Win32 developers weren't even able to take advantage of live tiles until 2017.

Lack of developer support

This restriction means the live tile feature was exclusive to modern apps for five whole years. Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and the first few Windows 10 releases were limited to modern apps supporting live tiles only. That meant that even if people wanted to use live tiles, they probably couldn't because the apps they use didn't support them. These days, things are better, but most Win32 programs still don't have excellent live tile support.

And that, ultimately, is the other big reason as to why I think Microsoft is pivoting away from live tiles. As the industry slowly moves over to building Progressive Web Apps that work across all platforms, there's even fewer chances developers are going to want to build out live tile support for their apps. Making PWAs fit into the Windows experience seamlessly should be Microsoft's number one priority and asking them to build a live tile is extra work many developers won't do.

Perhaps live tiles can evolve as "widgets" in the future.

Every app, whether it's a Progressive Web App (PWA), Universal app (UWP), or Win32 program, has an icon. Only a small percentage of those also have a live tile. So why build an entire user experience around something that a minority of apps support? It makes more sense to develop your user experience around the thing everyone has and make that experience the best it can be. It's also simpler, cleaner, and more straightforward for users to deal with icons instead of live tiles.

Perhaps we could see live tiles evolve as "widgets" you can pin to your desktop. But I don't think we'll see them around for much longer as an integral part of Windows. I don't believe this pivot away from live tiles is a bad thing, either. Sure, it's sad, but once Windows 10 Mobile went away, the live tile interface really didn't make much sense anymore. I'd rather Microsoft focus on a clean, easy to use and easy to understand Start menu experience for Windows going forward.

Over to you

What are your thoughts on Microsoft's possible pivot away from live tiles? Let us know in the comments.

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  • The only live tiles I really care about are Weather, To-Do and Calendar (mostly Weather). Calendar isn't too huge a loss because of the taskbar calendar but I wonder about Weather and To-Do. Will we still be able to customize the start menu layout, even though there is no live aspect to it anymore? I find the start menu more convenient than the desktop for this.
  • I'm in complete agreement. There should be a desktop "Widget" for these essential "live" apps. If there were, then I could move on from live tiles quite easily. Problem is, we've heard nothing about Widgets.
  • Yeah, it irks me that these articles keep talking about 'live' tiles. Why not just keep tiles without having them be live? Its still infinitely better than a generic cookie clutter smartphone menu.
  • Microsoft removed Gadgets from Windows 8 to push live tiles. I think it’s time to bring them back, possibly in Action Centre.
  • Live tiles only make sense with W10M... I just like to glance every now and then at these live tiles on W10M
  • They're useful for tablet mode too
  • I prefer Live Tiles to remain on the Start Menu, with a reemphasizing and opening of the capability for win32 apps to leverage them. That appears to be the path we're on, though Microsoft could show some belief in their own tiles by iterating on them and adding new capabilities. I think it's possible this lack of iteration has informed developers that Tiles aren't a focus for MS, so why would they potentially waste the development effort? It's a self fulfilling circle then. TBH I love the tiles for To-Do, very smart use of the paradigm. I have several lists pinned! I hope I don't lose this functionality.
  • The problem is that the current implementation in W10 is the anti-thesis to the whole principle of live tiles. Which is to supposed to provide information at a glance therefore moving the mouse over to the start button to open the start menu to look at the live tiles is counter intuitive. Secondly, how many people do you know actually use the windows key to bring up the start menu let alone use any of the short cut keys with a keyboard? Thirdly, people have learnt over years and past windows iterations that the start menu was the way to launch an application and thats it. If for instance if people had to go to the start menu to look at glanceable information from Windows 95 for example then the landscape of UX elements may very well have changed.
  • Since Windows 7 you barely use the Start Menu at all. You pin your most popular apps to the task bar and open them directly from there. The Start Menu is only used for the rare apps, which might be never.
  • Speak for yourself, I don't like to clutter my task bar with buttons of unopened applications. Then again I'm probably one of the few that set my taskbar to only combine when full.
  • All the same here, except I have mine set to Never Combine. I have a lot of games, websites and apps/programs pinned to my Start screen. So many that I've had to set some of them to "small" size, just so I can avoid scrolling. Wonder if I'm of just a small few who actually has an overflowing Start screen! :)
  • You are my friend but it does make sense if you are a gamer.
  • Pinning your most used apps makes sense. A quick swipe up gives you access to pinned folders, or quick actions, or recent files. This is the big change Windows 7 brought.
  • @bleached, you're speaking for yourself there.
  • Really? You open the start menu everytime you want to open an app? You don't use the swipe up gesture on pinned apps? Why do you think Windows 7 was so popular?
  • Windows 7 was popular because there were no smartphones or iPads to compete with it. Plain and simple.
  • I don't find it counterintuitive to hit Start to open up the information. I find it useful. I use my desktop like OG Windows users do: as a dump for current-project files. I find this to be completely natural and efficient. I don't want always-on information when I'm working - I only want the information when I want it. And what gives you the impression that people don't use the Windows/Start key? It's been almost 25 years, it's completely natural to me.
  • @Andrew G1 because the average person does not use the windows key nor do they use any short cut keys beyond control+v, control+x, control+c and control+z.
  • "... the average person does not use the windows key..."
    Do you have a source to support this assertion? I use the Windows key on my keyboard and mouse many times every day, but it would be interesting to have some idea how common or rare this is.
  • Microsoft has data on how many people use the Windows key to open the Start Menu: a LOT. You really should read Microsoft’s Windows Blog.
  • The problem with tiles in W10 is that... 1) the layout does not sync so you have to rebuilt them over and over again
    2) the tablet mode in W8x was far superior then tablet mode in W10
    3) Almost zero improvements for years such as interactive tiles demo's by Asia R&D for W8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnafElVF41s
    4) Never went the next step and make tiles into widgets for use on desktop and other areas
  • Couldnt agree more!
  • Number 3 and 4 didn’t happen because there was a massive push from Microsoft with Windows 8.1 to get it it to run on Android-style, low-end devices with Atom processors, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. Interactive LiveTiles took too many resources on such junk devices.
  • Well, the counter point to this argument is that live tiles in the smallest tile size is more than sufficient as an icon replacement. This way if people want their static grid of icons they can have it and if people want live tiles than they can expand them. Furthermore they can force all tiles to stick in the small tile size via a global setting as well - this option can either off or on by default during the out of box experience with prominent examples showing the differences between both. I'm not a fan of static icons and I'm not the only who is bored of using the same UX elements since the days of mono-chrome phone screens from the 90s.
  • Live tiles for most apps are just distracting. So I turn them off. BUT, for other apps, in my case weather, radar, to do, and calendar, they are useful. If Microsoft allowed a mix of conventional app icons AND widgets (as in Android) that app developers could offer when they make sense, then all would be good. I keep very few things long-term on my desktop. So Start is my control panel. I want to be able to put almost anything on it, in named groups, including links to apps, websites, documents, folders, and OneNote (notebooks, sections, or pages), plus resizable widgets. And for my desktop setup, with several screens, I'd like to be able to keep my Start control panel open all the time, either windowed or full-screen.
  • Allowing Icons on the desktop is the absolute worst idea. It is a holdover from older versions of windows. New installs should default to Show Desktop Icons = false. Then maybe neophytes would understand what the start menu is for. People are never going to it if you make it easy for them to stay stuck in their old outdated methods.
  • Personally, I find the desktop a convenient place for icons to land TEMPORARILY. I then move them to another folder since having a desktop full of icons all the time just looks so messy and cluttered. Also, I rather like to see my desktop wallpaper without icons all over it. I do not hate the Windows menu system, but I'm not that emotionally attached to it as a visual paradigm either. I'm fine with whatever they decide, so long as they keep Windows relatively attractive and simple enough that things are not made harder for the less accomplished computer user. Anyways, my 2 cents.
  • I agree. The desktop is like your desk where you spread out all the documents you are currently working on or need for your current project. I find this completely natural. Maybe it's just because I'm old enough to remember W95 - but in my experience everyone I know including "old" millennials like me uses their desktop this way. A grid of icons or something like that is just useless; a grid of icons plus some widgets is only marginally better.
  • That's exactly how I use my desktop. Keep anything I am using at the moment and toss it the Document folders to gather dust or die
  • I do still use the weather tile. So I hope they at least keep that as an option. But it's the only live tile I have.
  • I use the live tiles all the time, they are useful. Getting rid of them is going backwards, we may as well be back in Windows 7 era.
  • Agreed. I personally find live tiles more work than they're worth.
  • well, I for one love the live tiles. I customize my start screen on each of my PCs. What I wish is that it was easier to synchronize a start screen layout from one PC to another that I use, and to install the apps that may be missing as part of that. I do agree though, there are some live tiles that get "lost" because they change their image and colors completely as events happen. Slack (desktop version) is one of these. I always forget where my slack tile is because it tends to change to the image/icon of the last user who sent a message to me. So it tends to change a lot.
  • From a dry business mindset I can understand the decision to deprecate live tiles. There is major outcry on the value of live tiles on a desktop and laptop pc. From a UI perspective in my experience it makes great sense to have live tiles front and center on a tablet pc device, especially with touch and pen input, even for navigating and productivity. I use it daily on all my pcs, desktop and windows tablet pcs, full screen. A critical point I have is that in my view of using live tiles as my standard on all windows pcs and mobile (phone) devices Microsoft never really went the extra mile to make customization of the live tiles more granular. The live tiles are not as customizable as the icon packs of the competition, let alone more options to customize the full transparency, color, hue, design and text size of the live tiles. The current options are "curatedly" limited, even though interesting. Most of live tiles was are left at the control of the developers. From the start this should have been at the control of the end user. An oversight in my view. No wonder end users experienced the start menu with live tiles as too colorful, chaotic and overwhelming! I think Microsoft's strategy is still me too. I think there is some merrit to regress to the mean as many people have shouted, for the longest time, to get better cross platform support. Micorosft has shown great strides of delivering on that. Live tiles is unfortunately not part of that narative. Live tiles I think is original and makes me think windows. With this new model, I don't see the difference between windows, android and iOS. The only thing Microsoft has left to build upon is a legacy backbone, but not the OS or apps or Edge. But if microsoft does manage to evolve the live tile utility as the future evolved icon that would be great. Live tiles are refreshing to the stale and limited scope of the current desktop and icon design on all platforms. Even today going from windows to android still feels like going from a new OS to old windows 3.1 on a modern device! Nothing wrong with that, but the UI just looks ancient despite the new modern designs. I think Microsoft should be aplauded for their guts for trying (speaking in the narative that most likely most people don't care about live tiles and just want windows to work and look nice, conveniently....from the "Surface" (kind of shooting myself in the foot as I love my Surface!)).
  • My Surface Go sits in the kitchen as a tablet with the keyboard nearby if needed. The Mail, Calendar, Photos, and MSN Weather live tiles I look at all the time in tablet mode. That would suck if they were just a sea of icons in tablet mode.
  • For some reason tablets are being ignored in this discussion. While tablet mode has its issues (what UI doesn't?), it has its usefulness and live tiles are a big part of that. Too much focus is being put on the desktop start menu when discussing the usefulness of live tiles, which is easily the least useful implementation of them.
  • Tablets are being ignored by everyone except Apple. It is pointless it you aren't iPad. No one else is getting traction, there just isn't a point when you have a big smartphone.
  • High end tablets are being ignored by mostly everyone except for Apple. There are a ton of cheap Android tablets that people buy as basic consumption devices. I know a lot of people that have one or a Chromebook because they just wanted something cheap around $200-$250.
  • Right, cheap tablets that are tough to make money on though and higher end ones are impossible to sell, especially if you aren't Samsung or Apple. Microsoft and Google seem to have no reason to continue pursuing that market.
  • This. What's the answer for tablets? Surely they aren't going to promote Surface with some big grey screen with random icons everywhere.
  • Live Tiles = not consistent. Make that damned OS consistent, for crying out loud. And let people choose the icons' color.
  • I was an Apple only user for 29 years. As the disenchantment with Tim Cook's Apple grew, I eyeballed Windows. I refused to use Windows 7 because it 'felt' 10 years previous to Mac OS. I gave Windows 8 a shot but sent the PC back because of the horrific OS. Windows 10? Not bad. However, in these last 4 years I've observed something that (I guess) Windows users are very used to. Windows never finishes anything. Where Mac OS (typically) improves and refines, improves and refines, eventually starts with a new idea, and then improves and refines -- -- Microsoft seems to 'try something new', puts little to no effort into refining it, and then ditches it for 'something new'. That, urm... sucks. What is wrong with Windows tiles? On most PCs they ship with a bunch of crapware nobody wants. Childish games, Ms apps which are obviously adware, and 'look at this cool app you'll never actually use' apps. Worse, apps we need front and center (like Defender) aren't there. And the user interface is appallingly bad but easily fixable if a group of pinheads ever bothered. This means that the new static menu will have similar shortcomings, users will complain, nothing will be fixed, and then they'll just move on to the next new idea.
  • I agree with screenplayhouse. Microsoft do this a lot.
  • Maybe they should try another idea like advertised features in Windows so people actually use them. LoL 😂
  • Windows has been refined for decades now. There isn't much room left for improvement, it is near perfect. It is tough to develop new features that aren't just gimmicks. Tabbed explorer is the biggest thing I could ask for.
  • Is that really you bleached? You have actually posted a couple of things that kind of make sense, not just trolling, sure you are ok?!
  • Yeah, but things like cloud clipboard, timeline and other newer features are obscured to many users. Most of my co-workers don't even know you can have multiple desktops.
  • They aren't useful, or it isn't at all obvious how they can be useful. They are gimmicks, but that doesn't mean Microsoft shouldn't try new stuff. Not much will stick these days though.
  • Maybe they could have the Alarms, Calendar, and Weather apps have icons that change or maybe just tiled widgets in the Start Menu for those three things. Wouldn't that make a just about everybody happy?
  • I would argue to leave the live tiles in tablet mode, but there is no need for icons in the start menu in desktop mode. Nobody will click those because most people just type a few characters to bring up a program in the start menu. I wish they would bring back the Favorites menu on the start menu. They got ride of the Favorite menu I think in Windows 8. Favorites was customizable with shortcuts just like the desktop and could be navigated with just the keyboard.
  • Perhaps I'm in a small minority but I find Live Tiles very useful and the current implementation of the Start Menu close to my ideal. I use my Surface Pro as a docked desktop PC about half the time and as an on-the-go laptop/tablet the rest of the time. I only have so much space on my taskbar to pin apps; I have 30+ apps I regularly use and these are the ones that are on my Start menu, clustered by theme. One thing I like in particular is the ability to make the tiles larger or smaller, making touch/click targets bigger or smaller depending on how regularly I use them. I also think the Start menu is a natural place for widget-like information to be displayed. Now, I'd probably be happy with some other system that gives me one-key-away information at a glance plus thematically-sorted touch targets with customizable sizes to launch apps. I'm open to suggestions. But what I definitely don't want is the Android app drawer or iOS's grid of icons, or some sort of long-press to open widgets from icons. Something a bit cleaner and more consistent than Android's widgets might work.
  • Perhaps they could imitate MacOS by putting the Live Tiles in the Action Center and making them actionable, like widgets. Could work.
  • My thoughts usually start with "people suck" but what do I know? 🙄
  • I haven't used the start menu in years. Decades even. All my apps are pinned to the Quicklaunch section of my 2 row taskbar. Running apps on the top row, app icons on the bottom. Some files on the desktop for whatever I am currently working on. Been doing this since XP at least, maybe Win2000. Can't remember when it was introduced. I never understood people who constantly wade thru 3 or 4 levels of menus, just to launch an app. I got tired of that very quickly.
  • For me, I NEVER used live tiles on PC, for my needs, I just don't see the added value in using them. Taskbar for life, it's the fastest way to launch apps, period.
  • I loved live tiles on Windows phone and love tile launchers on lagdroid such as launcher 10 or Square Home, but don't really use them on Windows laptops/desktop etc. Traditional things like the taskbar are far more useful IMO.
  • TBH we (the people who visit sites like this regularly) are the only ones who care about live tiles. We're a small number of the Windows user base. I'll argue forever that live tiles and WP are superior to everything but that doesn't change the fact that they just aren't popular. I don't like it but it is a smart move on Microsoft's part.
  • I recently reconfigured by desktop with rainmeter and rocketdock. I generally only use the startmenu for less accessed programs OR to check on my mail, calender or weather livetiles. I would love a widget for those for the desktop, and if that existed (maybe plus news), I'd be way more likely to use it. I also use kodi, launchbox and musicbee, and I wonder why no OS maker has built out a unified media launcher system (especially one that combines local with streaming and purchasing services). A neat, singular system for all games, movies, tv shows, and music would attract users away from pretty much any platform whether they are streamers or collectors. And, as a bonus, it would provide cross selling possibilities this situation that is 'everyone trying to be king' doesn't, like pitching audiobooks to people who like a tv show, or games for a given movie.
  • I loved the windows 8.1 desktop experience ! What I would like is a second and third desktop where one of them would show the live tiles and another would show the start menu full screen like when you swiped right from the desktop in win8.1 . That would be an enjoyable time in front a computer for me! If it has to end, Microsoft could you please leave the code support in so a dev could sell me something like I described? hint, hint
  • I just want Windows 10 Tablet Mode to just basically switch to Windows 8.1 mode with the gestures. I do not like having to tap everything which seems to be located in awkward places while in Tablet Mode.
  • Good riddance! I hate live tiles... And i hate icons that are two and four tiles wide.... if I could launch everything from the command line without using weird powershell commands...I would...
  • Weird powershell commands to opens modern app from commmand line.... “command-openlet -cypticid 485485588543387765377645775fuck475575477” thank you microsoft... well done modern app... I can now open calculator from command line where previous I could type “calc”
  • Open-microsoftlet -id “475475373754856fuckumicrosoft47474464367444” Wow 😮 my metro app has opened from command line...
  • I prefer the Live Tiles. I use Start Screen on all my PCs because I like my information at a glance. I use the desktop for temporary work and the Taskbar for a few most used applications. Even that has been dwindling in favor of a less cluttered desktop. I stopped using Start Menu because I pin most of my most used apps in categories in Start Screen. Would I would like to see is the option to boot, in desktop mode, directly to Start Screen. I'd also like to see the improvements to Live Tiles they were experimenting with before happen. Static icons is going backwards and being more like boring iOS and Android. Hell, I might as well go back to throwing all app icons on the desktop and clutter everything up if they do this. Im seriously tired of Microsoft regressing. Maybe if they actually put forth the effort, they could really turn some of these things into awesome features. Oh, BTW they need to work on showcasing their features and how to use them. Maybr if mobile was still here and Microsoft put forth the effort towards actual progress, Live Tiles would be in a better situation. People would probably use them more as well. But what do I know? It's not like their leaders are regretting their decisions with mobile lately.... But hey, one thing leads to another. In this case, no mobile, less to showcase how useful Live Tiles really are. Especially if they actually put development into improving Live Tile functionality.
  • Live Tiles are terrible on PC, and always have been. They were terrible on Phone, as well, due to the fact that they barely updated reliably... but they at least made sense there. Should have just added App widgets for Action Center, like Apple did.
  • Either through the widget or whatever, I would still like to have live tiles. I don't mind if they make it user-configurable such that those of us that rely on it can have it for use and those who have no use case scenario for it can be done with it. But, they should not totally take it away.
    Live tiles are good for a quick glance of one's most-used apps for information.
  • They’re heading in the right direction if they’re simplifying things. They don’t need any tiles at all, just need a launcher like the ones IMacs have that expands your list of app icons. The current start menus with a list of apps/programs plus tiles is just redundant.
  • MacOS has either an Apps folder (grid) that expands from a folder on the dock, or you can press F4 and have a full screen icon grid which you can swipe to see more (like a smartphone).
  • I would love to see widgets make a comeback from Windows 7 "widgets" or however you called them.
  • Don't these apps have APIs? Not sure what the difficulty is in passing along a small snapshot of data to a standardised tile structure. I like the full screen takeover version of the Win10 start menu (I'm coming from MacOS btw) - With snippets of content in small widgets, I could quite easily build a dashboard of relevant data before loading anything.
  • It's called change, it's a natural process, if you don't evolve you will be outdated, iOS really hasn't only changed the phone game it's now making Windows be "more icony"
  • Microsoft must do succeed with live tiles because it's the choice for modern Dashboard
    The lives tiles can be used with a mouse
    What mat have been a problem us thar live tiles occuped the entire screen, and it seems more difficult for move them
    There are no possibility to choose solid color and others choices, fluent design ? 3D? Popularity ?
    You want really a Microsoft phone, you do that
  • I have always felt that live tiles are best used in Tablet mode on Windows Tablet & 2 in 1 devices
    like Surface Tablets and Surface books & only live tiles that have data that changes within in
    them should be shown everything else can be shown as small tiles or icons. I have always
    felt that live tiles that have data that changes within them should be able to placed on the
    Desktop if one desires the weather tiles is a nice tile to have on the desktop to show temps ect
  • No one is using them. I never use them on laptops or desktops and since they dished Windows phone and windows 10 mobile they have only become less relevant. Sadly... They were great on the Lumia 950 XL though.
  • I hope Microsoft will find a place for tiles (a bit like Timeline) if they no longer fit in the Windows interface
    Not direction 8.1
    8.2 ?
    Use in actualities and news format ?
    For devices touch only ?