Isn’t “tile” just another word for “icon”? Infography vs iconography explained.

Icons are everywhere. Literally everywhere. They have become as mainstream as apple pie and any time we’re in front of a computer or other digital device, chances are you’re launching an app through an icon. But what if there was a better way?

We are inundated with icons wherever we go.  On the PC desktop, on tablets, on websites, on phones and pretty much everywhere else.  Icons are very useful as they are an abstraction of a concept that our brains can associate with that makes it easy to understand and launch an app.

But as an abstraction of a concept, all an icon does is act as a gateway to the user to launch an app.  It doesn’t provide any real information.  When we introduced Windows Phone, we also introduced the concept of the “tile”.  A tile is much more than an icon.  In the very base case, a tile is like an icon, but to you as an Windows Phone application publisher, the tile can become much, much more.  The intent of a tile is to provide information to the user, not just an abstraction of a concept.  This is what we call being infographic vs. iconographic.


The intent of Live Tiles is to present information that the user can act upon.  The tile becomes more than a a picture; it becomes something that allows the user to find information about that particular app without even getting in it.  For example, looking at the Windows Phone start screen (right-most phone screen), without getting into an app I know that that I have:

  • 2 missed phone calls
  • 3 new text messages
  • 25 unread emails from Exchange
  • A picture from a family hike (that may be posted by me or one of my friends on Facebook)
  • Pictures of some of my recent contacts on my People hub

All of that information at a single glance, without needing to open a single app.  As an app developer targeting Windows Phone, you can take advantage of Live Tiles in your app to drive further value for your users and differentiate your app over others in the Marketplace.

If you want to find out how to use Live Tiles in your apps, you can find more information on programming with Live Tiles here.

To see live tiles in action, take a look at the video below by Daniel Egan, a colleague of mine in the US:

Daniel Egan demonstrates how Live Tiles on Windows Phone works.

This post is the third in a series of posts on Metro found on this blog. The first post (“Unlocking the motivation of your mobile app user”) can be found here. The second (“My app has principles – understanding the Metro design principles”) can be found here. The fourth post (“Going with the flow… Using Metro to control the experience”) can be found here. The fifth and final post (“Making users awesome in the moment”) can be found here.