Introducing Windows 8 & 8.1: What are the Tiles?

start screenWe are all used to the old and familiar desktop shortcuts on our Windows computers. But with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, we have a new way of launching and organizing things, using a concept called tiles. What are they, what do they do, what’s the difference between them and the classic desktop shortcuts? How do you customize tiles? These are the questions answered in this article.

Understanding the Tiles in Windows 8 & Windows 8.1

The classic shortcuts that we are used to, are simple icons that point to applications (files), folders, network locations or libraries.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Desktop Shortcuts

They still exist in Windows 8 & 8.1, but they are no longer the only kind of shortcuts we can use. In Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 we also have tiles. They are still shortcuts but with some important differences and characteristics:

  • They are non-transparent rectangles or squares - larger than normal sized icons used for the shortcuts found on the Desktop.
  • They are placed in a grid ONLY on the new Start screen. They won’t be found on the Desktop.

    Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

  • If you click or tap a tile, the result is that the application to which it points is launched. For example, if want to open the Music app, then all you have to do is click or tap its tile.

    Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

  • Unlike shortcuts, tiles are also designed to display information in real time, from the application they point to. This is what makes them so special and more useful than shortcuts. Look at the screenshot below: you learn the weather forecast without opening the Weather app, you know the subject of the last email you received and from whom, you know what’s next on your calendar and which are the latest pictures you took. All this without opening any app, just from looking at the live tiles displayed on the Start screen.

    Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

  • The information displayed can be presented in various forms, depending on how the tile was designed, ranging from simple text to an image or even a set of images. For example, if you take a look at our 7 Tutorials app tile, you see a preview of the latest three articles published on our website, plus our logo. Other apps present different information, in a different way.

    Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

    Another nice example is the Mail app. Its tile will sequentially display your latest received e-mails and, in the bottom right corner, it will display the number of your unread messages.

    Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

  • They can point only to Windows Store apps and not to desktop applications, files, folders, network locations or libraries.

Before going to the next section of this article, I would like to make sure you remember one very important fact: tiles work only for apps you get from the Windows Store. Yes, you can place shortcuts to desktop applications on the Start screen. Also, these shortcuts are shown inside squares that look like tiles, but they are not tiles. They are simple shortcuts placed on the Start screen. Apart from being square, shortcuts don’t share other properties with tiles and they never display live data.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

How to Select One Tile or More

The first step in the process of customizing a tile is, of course, selecting it. To select a tile, simply right-click or press and hold on it (on a device with touch), while slightly dragging downwards. Upon selection, a bar with the options available for this tile is displayed on the bottom of the screen. Below you can see a screenshot taken in Windows 8.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

In Windows 8.1, the options are the same, only one of them has been renamed. Now you have Resize instead of Smaller or Larger.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

If you select the shortcut of a desktop application found on the Start screen, instead of a tile, you will notice that the contextual options available on the bottom are very different. You can upin the shortcut from the Start screen, pin it to the taskbar, uninstall the application, open a new window of that application, run it as administrator and open the file location of that application.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

In Windows 8.1, there’s one additional button for resizing shortcuts on the Start screen. It is named Resize and it allows you to change the size of the shortcuts, something which can’t be done in Windows 8.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

You can also try to select multiple tiles at once. For this, you just have to continue right clicking all the tiles you want to modify (or press and hold on them until they become selected). However, the options available will narrow down. Below you can see the options available in Windows 8.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

Windows 8.1 displays more options, even when selecting a group of tiles.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

How to Customize a Tile

With a tile, you can do the following: Unpin from Start, Uninstall, make it smaller or larger and Turn live tile on/off.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

These options do exactly what their names imply:

  • Unpin (remove) the tile from the Start screen, without removing the application it points to.
  • Uninstall the app to which the tile points and remove its tile from the Start screen.
  • Display the tile as a small square or as a large rectangle, depending on what you choose. In Windows 8.1 the button has been renamed to Resize and more sizes are available.
  • Choose if live data from its app is displayed or not. If you turn off the live tile, the tile will be a static square (or rectangle), showing just the name and the icon of the app.

If you make multiple tile selections, a Clear selection option is available alongside Unpin from Start. Below you can see a screenshot done in Windows 8.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

In Windows 8.1, you have more options, including the possibility to uninstall the apps whose tiles you selected and resize all the selected tiles at once.

Windows 8, Windows 8.1, tiles, apps

Conclusion

Working with tiles is a new and interesting way of interacting with Windows apps. Personally, I find tiles refreshing and useful. Hopefully, with this article, I managed to explain clearly what they are and how they can be used. If you have any questions about this concept, don’t hesitate to share them using the comments form below.