Q&A: The new Windows Phone 8 lock screen

The new Windows Phone 8 Start screen, with its new resizable Live Tiles, colors, and other improvements, has been getting lots of well-deserved attention since it’s debut. Lock screen with callouts showing alarm status, detailed status, and quick status icons.

But Start’s sidekick—the lock screen—also received several juicy upgrades in the new release.

The lock screen, in case you’re not familiar, is the first thing you see when you turn on the phone, and serves to both shield Start from prying eyes and supply key at-a-glance info: things like your next appointment, number of missed calls or unread emails, plus the current time and date.

To get the scoop on what’s new, I turned to program manager Danielle Ellbogen, who walked me through some of the notable changes she and her team made and revealed her own favorite.

Q: So let’s dive right in. How’s the lock screen different in Windows Phone 8?

A: We now let you customize the notifications at the bottom of your lock screen. Before we showed the calendar in the detailed status area. Now you can change that calendar slot to things like your email, your phone, your messaging—so you can see who the missed call was from, or read the first couple lines of a new text message. It’s the same amount of detail you’d see in the large Start tile.

Apps can also register to be on the lock screen. For example, Facebook could show you new comments or if someone posted on your wall. CNN could show you their top story. Skype could show missed calls.

And we made it possible to customize and add new apps to the quick status notification area at the bottom of lock. These are the little icons that show how many missed calls or text messages you have. You can even switch up the ordering of the slots.

Q: That’s cool. Is that all done in the phone settings?

A: Yeah. We figured we shouldn’t be deciding these things for the user because it’s such prime real estate. Users should decide what’s most important to them.

Q: How have you taken advantage of this new power on your own lock screen?

A:  I get tons of work email so that status number just constantly goes up. On the weekend, I don’t want to think about it. So I like to be able to take that icon off.

Q: In Windows Phone 7.5 we added an option to show band or artist images when playing music—a fun touch that I don’t think many people are aware even exists. Anything new on this front in Windows Phone 8?

A: Now we’re allowing apps to set the lock screen background photo for you. So Facebook, for example, gives you the option to display images from your Facebook albums. Every 30 minutes or so you’ll see a new picture. CNN shows you a picture of their top story. And since we have Bing on Windows Phone, you’ll also now be able to see the Bing image of the day—something people asked for on Suggestion Box. People love those pictures, so we made a really big push to get the feature in.

LockScreen_Bing03_16x9LockScreen_04_artist_16x9

The new Windows Phone 8 lock screen includes lots of new personalization options, including the ability to show the Bing picture of the day. You can also change the order of quick status notifications and add new ones. And don’t forget the option to display band art (right).

Q: A sharp-eyed blogger recently noticed that we addressed another customer request related to the music controls that show up on the lock screen when you’re listening to something. What’s that all about?

A: If you’re listening to music we show you controls to pause and resume the music or skip tracks. But in Windows Phone 7.5, these controls didn’t go away. People thought they persisted too long, and there was the fear of, What if I accidentally hit play in a meeting?

So what we did in Windows Phone 8 is, if you hit the power button, it brings the controls down for three seconds, but then they disappear. This way they’re not always there anymore.

Q: The lock screen can also prevent the wrong people from getting into your phone, by requiring a four-digit PIN to get past it. I hear there’s a new security-related improvement in Windows Phone 8.

A: We made it harder for someone to accidentally erase everything from their phone. Many companies require employees to set up a PIN on their smartphone. If someone taps out the wrong code too many times, some security policies require that the phone be automatically wiped. If your toddler picks up your phone and starts playing with it, you could accidentally lose all your data. Not good.

To help prevent that, we now show you a simple alphanumeric phrase before the final PIN attempt. You need to enter this phrase exactly to try your PIN again. We think this should help prevent people from having their phones accidentally reset.

Q: Was the lock screen fun to work on?

A: It’s nice to work on a feature that people see and use every day—even though you get a lot of grief [laughs]. Because it’s so prominent, everyone sees it and everyone has opinions about it. But to me those are just good problems to have—people talking about your feature and caring what it looks like.

Q: What’s in store for the future? Did you use up all your good ideas in Windows Phone 8?

A: We have a pretty long list! We probably won’t even get to everything we want to do.

Learn more about how the lock screen works in Windows Phone 8.