Simple Questions: What Windows tiles are and what they do?

We are all used to the old and familiar desktop shortcuts on our Windows computers. But in Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and in Windows 8.1, we also 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 tiles and classic desktop shortcuts? Do you want to know how to customize these tiles? These are the questions that we will answer in this article:

What tiles are and what they do

The classic shortcuts that we are used to working with since the first versions of Windows, are simple icons that point to applications, files, folders, network locations or libraries.

They continue to exist in modern Windows versions for computers, but they are no longer the only kind of shortcuts that we can use. In Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 we also have tiles. They are a special kind of shortcut , with some important differences and characteristics:

  • They are colored rectangles or squares - larger than the normal sized icons used for the shortcuts found on your desktop.
  • They are placed in a grid only on the Start Menu from Windows 10 or on the Start screen from Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Phone and Windows 8.1. You won’t find tiles on your desktop.

  • If you click or tap on a tile, the result is that the application to which it points is launched. For example, if want to open the Weather app, all you have to do is click or tap on its tile.
  • Unlike shortcuts, tiles are also designed to display information in real time, from the application they point to. This is what makes them special and more useful than traditional shortcuts. Look at the screenshot below: you see the weather forecast without actually opening the Weather app and you know what’s next on your calendar. All this without opening any app, just from looking at the live tiles displayed on your Start Menu in Windows 10, or on your Start screen in Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Phone and Windows 8.1.

  • The information displayed can be presented in various forms, depending on how the tile is designed, ranging from simple text to an image or even a set of images. For example, if you take a look at the Mail app, you’ll see that its tile will sequentially display your latest received e-mails and, on the bottom right corner, it will display the number of unread messages.

  • Tiles can point only to touch-friendly apps from the Windows Store and not to desktop applications, files, folders, network locations or libraries. Yes, you can place shortcuts for desktop applications on your Start Menu , but it’s important to acknowledge the fact that although these shortcuts are shown inside squares that look just like tiles, they are not tiles. They are nothing more than classic shortcuts. Apart from being square, shortcuts don’t share other properties with tiles and they never display live data.

Now let’s take a look at what tiles look like in Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Phone and in Windows 8.1 and the minor differences between these operating systems.

Tiles in Windows 10

In Windows 10, tiles are found in the Start Menu and they can take four different sizes: large, wide, medium and small. Depending on their size, tiles can display a lot of information for the apps they represent, or they can be as small as a simple icon. Here is a screenshot of all the different kinds of tiles you can have in Windows 10:

And, if you want more details about tiles and how to work with them in Windows 10, these guides will might help:

Tiles in Windows 8.1

Although Windows 8.1 doesn’t have a Start Menu , its Start screen is like a full-screen Start Menu. And just the same, tiles are available in four different sizes: large, wide, medium and small. Here’s a screenshot with all of them in Windows 8.1:

If you are using Windows 8.1, we have plenty of articles and guides regarding the tiles and their use. Here are some of them:

Tiles in Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone

In Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile, tiles look and work the same way as in Windows 10, with only one difference: you can’t use large square tiles. Windows 10 Mobile supports only wide, medium and small tiles on its Start screen. If you’re curious to see what these tiles look like in Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone, here’s a screen capture with all different sized tiles on it:

If you’re looking for ways to customize the way tiles are displayed on your smartphone with Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile, we have a few guides which might help:


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