Death to the Snap View! Well, it didn’t exactly die, but it is very different now. Snap View used to restrict your app to only 320 pixels wide and you could not change this. Now the fixed 320 width is the minimum, but users can grab and drag the bar between two apps and adjust the size to their liking. Users can also have more than two apps viewable on the screen if they have larger monitors. The Snap View size used to be required when submitting your app for review, but no longer. Microsoft still recommends you design for a smaller view with 500 pixels…and if you want to go the extra mile, make sure it looks nice in 320 as well.
In Windows 8, you had to do a cross swipe to select an app. It could get a little hairy if you were scrolling through your list of apps really fast, so they changed it. Now you tap and hold for a brief second and that app is selected.
One of the biggest changes in Windows 8.1 is search. While you were in an app in 8, search was global. Now your search can remain within the app in 8.1. Another big improvement is that the search box can go directly on your canvas if needed.
Start tiles can now be four sizes in 8.1 vs. the standard two sizes in 8. Microsoft added a 70 x 70 and 310 x 310 size. You can also group tiles together and give that group a name. I think this helps clean up the use of space a lot. (I only wish they would allow us to make folders.)
Microsoft wants us to be creative with design and put more branding in. We still should follow the grids and best practices, but we can also explore using more things like bleed images and going outside of the box. I think this is a great idea. All Windows 8 apps were really starting to look the same. More flexibility in the creative department is going to help us better distinguish the greatness and individuality of our apps.
These are most of the changes in Windows 8.1 from a designer’s perspective. I think Microsoft has made some great changes — and what’s even more impressive is that they are truly listening to what their users want.