Windows Phone 8.1's Clever Background Masks

14 April 2014

Windows Phone Central:

So with 8.1, users now have the ability to basically skin the Tiles by overlaying an image of their choice. That’s not entirely accurate though as what is really happening is some Tiles are becoming transparent, with the user image showing through the Tile.

How it works is if an app uses the ‘Iconic design’ for its Live Tile, it will show the image behind it. If the tile uses a ‘Flip layout’, any area of the background that is transparent will show the background image. As a result, some apps will have a ‘see through’ ability with the new background images, while others will remain a solid, preselected color e.g. Facebook.

As long as all your tiles support the appearance, the effect is really really slick. By contrast, iOS 7’s parallax wallpapers feels gimmicky and cheap. I’m really happy to see Microsoft experimenting here.1

The importance of wallpaper customisation cannot be understated. Users love setting images of their pets or loved ones as their background. A common iPhone behaviour is for users to put all their apps into one folder, just to maximise the amount of wallpaper they can see.

Unfortunately, apps like Facebook or Twitter (which currently stick to their own branding regardless of user options) spoil the illusion somewhat. It’s particularly disorientating when you scroll; there is a visual clash between the static backgrounds and the one that tracks the panning.

1 I am reminded of the time when Steve Jobs spent several painstaking minutes demoing custom wallpapers with iOS 4. There wasn’t anything flashy about these either — they were just static images.