Matt Gemmell

Windows Phone

A guide for iPhone users

Tech 31 min read

General interface

The interface of Windows Phone is clean, high-contrast, readable, and uses large text and flat colours throughout. There’s almost no embellishment at all, instead providing information spaces rather than discrete screens or objects.

The aesthetic really speaks to me. It’s easy on the eyes, and very sci-fi.

Where iOS has a single Home button, Windows Phone has three buttons, which may be hardware switches, or (more commonly now), soft keys at the lower edge of the screen. In the latter case, the button strip can be swiped off the bottom of the screen to hide it, and swiped back onto the screen whenever desired.

The buttons are: Back, Start, and Search.

The Back button goes back to the previous screen, either within the current app or in another, similar to the Back button on Android devices. It’s surprising how quickly you come to depend on the ability to always get back to where you came from.

Because of this button, many Windows Phone apps lack in-app back buttons to travel back up through a hierarchy or such; you just use the global button. It takes a little adjustment if you’re used to the omnipresent top-left back buttons in iOS navigation bars, but you quickly acclimatise.

Tap-holding the Back button (or holding it, if it’s a hardware button) shows the app switcher.

Buttons Switching apps

The app switcher

The most recently-used screen is at the right, and you can scroll horizontally back through previous screens. You can remove screens (which closes their app) by either tapping the Close button at the top-right of a screen, or by swiping it downwards, off the bottom edge.

The Search button provides search functionality, locating items on your phone or via Bing web search. It’s analogous to Spotlight on iOS.

If you instead tap-hold the Search button, you’ll trigger Cortana, the voice-interface intelligent assistant.

Buttons Search Cortana

Cortana's ready screen

There are some notable elements of the general interface style of Windows Phone that differ from iOS. The main example is tabs.

On Windows Phone, tabs are textual, in large fonts across the top of the screen. Their size is determined by their title, and they scroll off the right of the screen when necessary.

In the screenshot below, “all” (selected), “unread”, and “urgent” are tabs.

Email inbox

Tabs on Windows Phone

You’ll also notice the second interface element you’ll see a lot of: the navbar. It’s the toolbar of icons along the lower edge of the screen, just above the softkeys.

The ellipsis “…” indicates that the navbar can be expanded (either by tapping the ellipsis, or dragging the bar upwards) to peek at the titles of each button. It’s very, very handy to get a quick idea of what a button does, if the icon isn’t as obvious as you’d like.

If there are some other menu options available, they’ll be stacked below the expanded navbar too, instead of in a menu/basement/hamburger icon as is more common on iOS.

Email nav bar

Expanded navbar with menu

Now, let’s talk about the on-screen keyboard. Here’s an example:

Keyboard predictions

On-screen keyboard

It works just as you’d expect, and will be very familiar to iOS users. The keyboard glyphs become uppercase when the Shift key is engaged. Double-tapping the Shift key enables Caps Lock. Word predictions are shown above the keyboard as you type.

You can also tap-drag across the keyboard to quickly enter words, without any third-party software.

Keyboard swipe

Flick-typing on the keyboard

As with iOS, tap-holding on letters shows a pop-up menu with accented or phonetically-related variants.

Keyboard accented characters

Accented characters popup

Emoticons are also present and correct, via a dedicated key to the left of the spacebar.

Keyboard emoticons

Typing emoticons

Text selection again works as with iOS, including tapping on words, and dragging selection-handles. The contextual menu of text-related options uses icons instead of command titles. In the screenshot below, the word “tweet” is selected, and the available contextual option is Copy.

Keyboard text selections

Copying selected text

You can configure how the keyboard behaves with regard to corrections, shortcuts, and suggestions. You can also disable flick-typing (dragging across the keyboard to enter words), if you like.

Keyboard options

Typing options

As you’d expect, a variety of system and keyboard languages are available.