With the preview of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 and RIM’s BlackBerry 10 operating systems, the race for the third place position in the mobile world is heating up. The first thing many may notice about these two is their use of homescreen tiles. Instead of a grid of icons, Windows Phone 8 uses exclusively live tiles on the homescreen as the primary user interface. Images on the tiles can change and display live information, depending on the app running. BlackBerry 10, on the other hand uses the standard icons but also has a multitasking screen which runs live versions of the apps. In this screen, the apps can show the entire minimized app, a smaller live tile like Windows Phone 8, or simply a fixed image.
If you love live tiles, you’re going to like Windows Phone 8 much more. Windows Phone 8 doesn’t give you much choice otherwise. To me, it’s a toss-up. Either it was either inspired by modern art, or a weird obsession with right-angle quadrilaterals. In my opinion, the vertical scrolling with Windows Phone 8 live tiles is also confusing. With many tiles potentially looking too similar, reading and identifying the right tile may become annoying as well.
With defined pages and positions of live tiles as in BlackBerry 10, the experience becomes simpler and easier to navigate. With BlackBerry 10, only apps that are running are shown as live tiles. The multitasking screen adds live tiles in a simple grid as they run. There are hints that small menus inside the live titles can be used to make live tiles actually useful. Swiping away from the multitasking screen, you can launch closed apps as icons. I find that this configuration provides the best of both worlds, allowing you to function within either configuration. In addition, you’ll most likely have your favourite apps open most of the time in the multitasking screen for easy access.
BlackBerry 10 is like a simpler version of the Android operating system. Where some would find the Android operating system too cluttered and confusing, these same people would feel right at home with BlackBerry 10. The live tiles in Windows Phone 8 are really just Android widgets with stricter design constraints. And the live tiles in BlackBerry 10 can be all that, as well as be a full-fledged app running.
As a cohesive experience, Windows Phone 8 does look prettier. The consistency of the experience, as well as the fluidity of the navigation is superior. But I feel it becomes a little plain after a while. I still find it astounding that Microsoft has managed to create a user interface that is more boring than iOS. While the UI does look good, everybody wants to customize their phone to suit them. It just so happens that BlackBerry 10 allows you to do this to a larger extent. I mean, no background image? Come on Microsoft!
Overall, I believe RIM has the better solution with the BlackBerry 10 user interface when it comes down to practicality and long-term success. If you’re downloading hundreds of apps, you might find that windows 8 becomes either too ridiculous having too many tiles, or the alphabetic list of apps too populated to quickly find the app you’re looking for. With Windows Phone 8, the live tiles look great, the responsiveness is great, the aesthetics are great. These days, buying a smartphone is like buying a house. It’s an important purchase, you spend hours upon hours with it, and live part of your life through it. With Windows Phone 8, it’s a little too cookie-cutter. It’s missing that charm you need to feel at home. You may always be doomed to feeling foreign to your own smartphone. With BlackBerry 10, you achieve the right balance of elegance, practicality, and charm to suit you without the overabundance of 90 degree angles.