What’s on your home screen?

What’s on your home screen can say a lot about you. Have you just stuck with the home screen Apple gave you when you bought your iPhone? I’d say the answer for most people is “yes”. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to swipe through multiple screens to get to what you want. Yet every swipe you don’t need to do makes it easy to navigate.

Then there’s those people who not only stick with Apple’s home screen, but they just let their notifications pile up. Unread email counts and missed call counts just keep increasing, and they doesn’t seem to mind. For me, this would be unacceptable. The more notification badges you have, they eventually start to lose meaning. But a notification badge is a very powerful thing when used right.

With the introduction of folders in iOS4, there’s also those people with hundreds of apps, all filed into different folders. This compounds the problem of the swipe: not only do you have to swipe to get what you want, you then have to tap the folder you want. Of course, this can all be circumvented by using the search feature; but you really should keep the first home screen for those things you use the most, so all you need to do is tap them to launch them.

Clearly, as a usability designer I’ve put a fair bit of thought into the arrangement of my apps, and how I access them. I thought I’d share the way I have my iPhone organised.

The dock

While people may rearrange the apps on the home screens, I rarely see people swapping apps in and out of the dock. At first glance, the starting configuration of Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod seems fairly logical. They’re the things you use the most, right?

For me, this wasn’t ideal. The main thing I found that needed to be in the dock, but wasn’t, was Messages. The main reason for this is that with the somewhat inadequate pop-up messages for text message, I could possibly miss a message if I didn’t see the notification badge on the app icon. I wasn’t going to see the badge if I was looking at another home screen. So, Messages needed to go into the dock. The Phone and Mail apps belonged in the dock for the same reason: I wanted to be able to see notification badges from these apps all the time. So, do I lose Safari or iPod to fit Messages in? I moved iPod out of the dock because, for the most part, there are many ways to get to the iPod, and I usually didn’t need to launch it as immediately as I might want to launch Safari. The iPod was moved to prime position in the top-left of the first home screen, so if I wanted it I just needed to hit the home button to fly back to the first home screen, and there it was. Considering I can also usually launch it from the shortcut bar in iOS4, it was fine not being in the dock.

The first home screen

I believe the first home screen should be for the apps you use the most. For lesser-used apps, it’s OK to swipe to another screen or enter a folder, but these apps are the ones you use so much it would just be annoying to have to do anything other than tap. If I launch an app from another home screen, I also tend to go back to the first home screen when I’m done; it’s just an extra tap of the home button to jump back to the first home screen, and it saves you time next time you want to launch one of your favourite apps.

The philosophy is similar to Patrick Rhone’s for his home screen experiment on his blog MinimalMac. While his approach certainly gets you the stuff you use the most, I found it wasn’t perfect for me, since some of the apps I wanted on the first home screen not because I used them every day, but when I did use them I wanted to access them immediately. An example of this would be the Camera app: I’m not snapping photos every day, but when I do want to snap a photo I want to launch the Camera as quickly as possible. In fact, I want my access to the Camera to be so quick I’ve put it in the top-right, where it is easy to launch (apps in the middle are slightly harder to find and launch). Maps and Photos probably also fall in this category; I don’t need to check my location or show friends photos all the time, but when I do I want it to be immediate.

So, here’s my first home screen:

Note there are no folders. If something is in a folder, it’s a whole extra tap away, and that isn’t good enough. I’ve also kind of grouped similar apps near each other, though this is mostly an obsessive-compulsive thing: Calendar and Clock, Contacts and Maps, Camera and Photos. Settings also needs to be on the home screen so I can quickly go to it from any app; in fact, if I could pin things in the shortcuts bar, I would pin the Settings, so all I need to do to go to an app’s settings while I’m in the app is bring up the shortcuts bar by double-tapping the home button.

The other apps are nearly all third-party apps that I use regularly. I should point out I’m not getting paid to endorse any of these :)¬†However, I might leave why I like these apps so much and have them on my home screen for another day; suffice to say I want them all there either because I use them all the time or I want immediate access to them.

If I wanted to go completely minimal, I could certainly remove a few other apps from the screen. The Contacts app isn’t totally necessary, since I can technically swipe then search for a contact. But searching for something isn’t my first instinct; I just want to bring up the contacts quickly. In the end, though, minimalism for the sake of minimalism isn’t helping anyone, and I have sufficient space on the first home screen to fit all the apps I want quick access to. If I had a blank spot on my screen, it might look more minimal, but it would be one more app I can’t launch immediately, and that immediacy is the type minimalism I’m going for.

I may, in a later post, reveal what’s on my other home screens. I have, after all, put a fair amount of thought into them as well. Because I’m just that kind of person :)