Start Screen

One of the fun features of Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to add a background image to your Start Screen and let it shine through transparent Live Tiles.

There is a new Windows Phone 8.1 app in the Windows Phone Store that lets you take this customization one step further. Start Screen Customizer provides you with the ability to choose a solid colored background or adjust the tones of a background image to give your Start Screen a little more pop.

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The Start Screen is a unique way to personalize your Windows Phone. Not only do consumers have access to (and can customize) app launches, but there's the possibility to pin Live Tiles that update with relevant information for apps. Part of the Start Screen layout series from Windows Phone Central staff, it's now my turn to share what I have pinned to my Start Screen and how I've configured the layout to suit my needs.

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We are now less than a week from officially seeing Windows Phone 8.1 for the first time. The unveiling is happening next week at Microsoft’s Build conference in San Francisco. Not only do we get to see the new mobile operating system from Microsoft, but Nokia is expected to announce two new Windows Phone 8.1 devices – the Lumia 630 (Moneypenny) and the Lumia 930 (Martini).

We’ve seen quite a bit of Windows Phone 8.1 over the past few weeks. Generally we’ve seen the Windows Phone community pleased and excited about all the upcoming changes. But there’s one feature that has a lot of you divided. That’s the new Start screen on Windows Phone 8.1. We’ve all wanted a little more customization options for the part of Windows Phone we spend a lot of time looking at. Microsoft is adding background image support, but in a way not a lot of people expected. Do you like it?

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As we reported earlier, the leaks for Windows Phone 8.1 are coming in at a steady pace now. Following up on this morning’s video that showed off the new OS is one focusing on the new Start screen options.

Not much has happened with the Start screen since Windows Phone 8 was announced, but with 8.1 users will have at least two new features to help customize and personalize their phones: Start background and Show more Tiles.

As revealed in this admittedly poorly shot video, users can choose from a pre-selection of background images for their Start screens. Alternatively, users can select photos from their Facebook, OneDrive, or camera roll as well. Perhaps the neat thing is the parallax movement when the user scrolls, giving the Tiles a true “windows” feel to them, much like looking outside a window pane.

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Windows Phone 8.1 is only a few weeks away. So with that, let’s jump onto the latest rumor floating around today, namely the one dealing with background images on the Start screen.

There was some confusion about this feature – codenamed ‘shadowbox’ by Microsoft –with people believing that it was the background of the Start screen that would be skinned. As we cautioned in original report, that was close but not exactly how it will be (our lede image was the clue).

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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’.

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One of the key features of the Windows Phone platform are Live Tiles, which provide a snapshot of information on your Start Screen. We have Live Tiles that will deliver weather information, appointments, TV shows, and even gaming progress.

But how often do you rely on the Live Tile information, or do you overlook it and just use the Tile to jump into the app or game?  Personally, I like how I can glance at the weather and appointment Tiles to see what the current temperature is or how long I have until the next meeting.  Other than that, I generally use the Live Tiles as a shortcut to the many apps I have pinned to my Start Screen.

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Rumors have been floating around for a while the Start button would be making its return in the Windows 8.1 (Blue) update; those rumors are now confirmed by journalists, Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley.

The start button will be returning to Windows 8.1, but the start menu will not. The newly designed button will instead take you to your machine’s Start screen. This sudden change seems to be an attempt to help those who have been getting lost on the desktop and weren’t yet familiar how to get back to their list of applications.

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With the announcement of Windows Phone 7.8 and the parallel announcement that current devices won’t get Windows Phone 8 Apollo, many have wondered if the new Start screen with customizable Live Tiles is all it will contain.

In essence, there are two camps on the matter—those who say Microsoft have only promised the new Start screen and those who pin their hopes on the “all we’ve announced so far...” line often touted by Microsoft when asked about the update.

Microsoft recently and directly told a few of us who cover tech media that Windows Phone 7.8 will only be the new Start screen with nothing else hinted at or mentioned. This is why we find many of the big players who cover Microsoft news taking this more conservative position because they are reporting, correctly, what they have been told.

But it is also true that Microsoft constantly uses the “all we have announced” line to cover themselves when certain plans are not solidified yet. And here at Windows Phone Central this is the position we’re taking. Yes, Windows Phone 7.8 is only the new Start screen but there could be more. When you add in the fact that Windows Phone 7.8 won’t come till after Windows Phone 8, you realize that Microsoft has a bit of wiggle room to change how Windows Phone 7.8 will be defined.

That doesn’t mean they can or will add more features but we think clearly Microsoft is leaving themselves the ability to be flexible.

This is backed up a bit further by Senior Product Manager and Windows Phone team member Larry Lieberman who recently gave a talk at TechEd 2012 on Windows Phone App and Game development. The presentation, available on Channel 9, is mostly a rehash of current trends in WP programming but at the end Lieberman takes some questions from the audience and one of them deals with 7.8. He responds to an audience question thusly:

“Will Windows Phone 7.8 get new features as well that you can access as a developer? Maybe. We haven't announced it yet.

All we've announced is the new Start screen at this point. Sorry, nothing new to announce. You're asking me stuff I can't answer."

Lieberman’s answer is interesting only because you can tell he is hedging. Hedging an answer is certainly different then taking a firm position on the matter and we believe this is for a reason. If Microsoft is only planning a new Start screen for 7.8 then they could easily come out and just say so putting an end to the speculation.  That’s not what Microsoft is doing though and we don’t think they’re being coy—we honestly believe that some of these decisions are still being made, hence the grey area on these answers.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this stuff is complicated. You can’t simply copy and paste a new Windows Phone 8 (NT) app or function into Windows Phone 7 (CE), instead you have to rewrite and re-code that function. It’s work, it’s money, it’s time and it requires appropriate management to make sure what is committed to is what is matched in the final product.

So in the end, we still believe Microsoft has more to show on 7.8 or rather, nothing is final just yet. That doesn’t mean you should assume that more than a new Start screen will come late in 2012 but we have a feeling that Redmond is looking to do what they can, when they can.

In other words, maybe. 

Thanks, Tasos, for the link

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Microsoft's Ben Rudolph is shown in Microsoft's latest video giving the new 7.8 Start screen a brief tour. The video was part of Microsoft's new 7.5/7.8 page which just covers some basic features that we already know about.

Call it damage control or Redmond genuinely being excited for the update, but the video featuring the Lumia 900 seems designed specifically to remind us that Nokia's flagship phone is alive and well. 

Nothing new is revealed in the video that we haven't seen already but with the recent faux-rumor that Microsoft would be building it's own phone (and then their denial at Information Week), Nokia needs as much positive spin as they can get. There is little doubt that the "no Windows Phone 8 for current phones" is hurting the Finnish quite hard, as their stock has dropped to a 16-year low, hovering at $2.16 a share.

Between Nokia's commitment to continually deploy new software (like this weekend's Play To and Camera Extras) plus the 7.8 update, we're not feeling too bad about the 900's status but clearly it has divided the community

The question though is how soon is this 7.8 update coming? Obviously it's still in testing though it doesn't look too far off either. Here's to hoping for end of the summer, at the latest.

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Now that the dust has settled on the Windows Phone Summit and we have a feel for Windows Phone 8 and a definitive answer as to the future of existing Windows Phones, how are you feeling?

There was always an air of uncertainty that existing Windows Phones would be eligible for update to Windows Phone 8. Still we had hoped that these phones would be updateable but with limitations.

While our Nokia Lumias and HTC Titans won't be able to run Windows Phone 8, they will see a Windows Phone 7.8 update. Some may see Windows Phone 7.8 as window dressing by giving Windows Phone 7 the appearance of running the Windows Phone 8. Some may not care for NFC or Windows 8 platform additions but will enjoy the more customizable Start Screen.

But is the Windows Phone 7.8 update a nice touch or not enough?  A bitter pill of sorts.

While some may see today's news as a bitter pill, there is some solace in knowing that Nokia is continuing its support of the Lumia line by releasing new apps and updating current apps. While our existing phones may not be able to make the jump to Windows Phone 8, it's nice to see they aren't being left completely behind. The 7.8 update may not be what everyone wanted to hear but it will add to an already nice Windows Phone system.

So what say you?  Does Windows Phone 7.8 do the trick until you can upgrade to a new Windows Phone or is Microsoft leaving existing devices out in the cold?

 

Are you satisfied with the Windows Phone 7.8 update?
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Microsoft today showed off the new Start screen for Windows Phone 8. The new Start screen in Windows Phone 8 has three new elements, including

  • Variable tile sizes, including user customizable selection between small, medium and so-called “double wide” tiles
  • Removal of the “gutter” aka “the gap” known as the off-centered space to the right of the Start screen. The gutter was a carry-over from the Zune days but now Tiles will be evenly distributed on the Start screen
  • New tile colors – yes, while the 10 + 1 model of Accent colors for Windows Phone carried us for nearly two years, Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 7.8 will offer a wider selection of colors

The Windows Phone 8 new Start screen offers a more personal experience by being more customizable, giving users greater choice and control. Whle it doesn't match Windows 8 desktop exactly, it's fairly close and should please many users.  

Hit the break for more pics and a video highlighting the new start screen.

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Here's a weird little story but we're worried it may get legs so we want to nip in the rear before it spreads.

Some are peeking at those official LinkedIn app screenshots and noticing a lot of oddities. Indeed, on the Start Screen the icons near the top for the time, WiFi and cell signal look tiny, the fonts are a bit smaller over all and the IE logo looks different too. You can see it above compared to our phone.

So what does this mean? Some are wondering if these might be accidental Windows Phone 8 captures instead of normal screenshots from a Windows Phone 7 device--you know, higher resolution and stuff. If anyone were to have access to Windows Phone 8 dev tools, a major Microsoft partner like LinkedIn would be up there so in that sense, it's interesting to entertain the idea.

But to be honest with that missing direction arrow near the top, the oddly sized telephony icons and the now-centered Tiles, we're more likely to believe this is just a bad composition made in Photoshop. More than likely these were mockups used for internal presentations and demonstrations rather than a Windows Phone 8 conspiracy or accident.

In other words, nothing to see here folks. But keep those eagle-eyes out as you may never know.

Thanks, ClubDirtHill and Jose P., for the tip

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Windows Phone Folders concept

As we reported a few days ago, Nokia was asking for feedback on the AT&T Nokia Lumia 900 via a user survey. Those who participated even qualified for a $50 Amazon gift-card for their trouble.

While user surveys are nothing new (and AT&T has done them in the past) one interesting question was noticed by reader Jonathan W regarding folders: "I would like to be able to arrange apps into folders on the apps screen" was asked with a rating system ranging from "Disagree strongly" to "Agree strongly".

That's an interesting item to raise in a survey only because Windows Phone does not have a folder system at all for apps on the Start screen. There is, however, a homebrew folder solution which works very well by Windows Phone Hacker and we know users in the past have asked for such a system (especially with all the apps we now have).

Is Nokia watching the homebrew community? They would be silly to ignore it. Are folders on the table for a Windows Phone OS update? Possibly. We know that Nokia can modify the Start screen and aspects of the UI much deeper than other OEMs.

So far, Nokia have not exercised that option but with the proof-of-concept homebrew folders working out, they could easily (and more elegantly) instantiate such a concept in the OS, should they choose to do so. Alternatively, they could also lean on Microsoft for such a feature for everyone including competing OEMs, much like the 4G LTE experience.

We'll certainly be watching Nokia closely to see what they do with this survey information. Oh and Nokia, yes, folders are a very good option and we'd like to see native support for such a feature in Windows Phone..

Thanks, Jonathan, for the image; Windows Phone Folder concept by WPCentral member Sebastien "ArtSooby" Bruneau

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Looks like those folks at Windows Phone Hacker, specifically Jaxbot, have been working on some neat ideas for our devices. This latest trick involves making custom Tiles for the Start screen, allowing a theme of sorts to give a more unique look for your phone. Previously, they released the "Folders" option for the Start screen.

The method is not yet available as Windows Phone Hacker is once again feeling out if there is any interest in releasing it--those man hours in creating and refining this don't come out of no where, after all. Personally, we think it's pretty great looking and would be fairly excited to see this happen.

Best part is this doesn't require any deep interop-unlock, just a simple developer unlocked phone (either official or ChevronWP7 Labs), making this a seemingly straightforward hack. If interested, head over to Windows Phone Hacker or hit them up on Twitter @wphonehacker to let them know!

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Here's a cool little thing. Inspired by Google's trick of making their Search icon pinnable for Windows Phone, reader Miguel Rochefort has created a nifty little web-tool that will allow you to do basically the same but for any mobile site out there.

There's no installation, just a simple bookmarking of his script within Internet Explorer 9 on your phone. When you come across a site you like and want to pin, you pull up his site and it will create a perfectly-sized icon of the site for pinning. The benefit? Instead of pinning a screenshot of the website, you can pin the site's logo, resulting in a much cleaner and organized appearance.

It's cool, it's free and takes no time, so why not? Check out the above video to see it in action. Hop into our forums to interact with Miguel for any requests and issues or just hop to his site on your phone to get started: http://www.web2tile.com/

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Yesterday we ran a story on a fan concept that gave the ability to shrink down the program tiles on the Windows Phone Start screen. The post turned out to be wildly popular, with over 80 comments from you folks where you actively (and cordially) debated and discussed the merits of such a proposed UI. Very impressive and some great ideas too.

Today, we have a follow up to that, asking the question "What if Windows Phone had folders?'. This was the route taken by Apple and their iOS as a means to organize programs. While Windows Phone has a "jump list", it's the Start menu where users can customize and organize. It's that latter part where we've seen users create iconic separators to help better tidy up.

WPCentral member Sebastien "ArtSooby" Bruneau has posted up a few shots of what he thinks would work, namely those folders. His idea is take off of the current People Tile, where you have little photos flashing around of your contacts. But instead he envisions having a "Folder tile" with the apps inside flashing in the same manner. Once again, an elegant idea as it is keeping within the bounds of Metro's design principles. We could imagine that tapping on a folder tile will expand to show it's contents, allowing a quick selection (we'll leave the mechanics to Microsoft, ahem).

In the image above and to the left, you can see a tile called "News". In the second image, how a second menu option can be added called "Pin to folder' from the jump menu and finally in the third shot (the right), we can see how they would populate the "News folder". Looks good to us.

So like yesterday...sound off in comments on why/why not this would be a good solution!

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