Organize Your iPhone Or Android Home Screen For Smarter Daily Use

A rather nerdy analysis of the typical iPhone and Android home screen setup, and how each could be made more efficient.

The folks who designed your life-capturing, brain-augmenting smartphone did the best with what they had, which was a phone meant to appeal to everyone. But you probably do some quirky things with your phone: shoot more photos than most, use very specific apps all the time, or maybe write a lot of notes to yourself. If you think you’re tapping, swiping, and sighing more than you need to, you’re probably right.

Luckily, a few folks have put big thought into their tiny screens. Here’s a deep analysis of the typical iPhone and Android home screen setup, and how each could be made better.

iPhone’s Home Screen: Think With Your Thumbs

The iPhone’s dock, the bottom-most row of icons that stay constant when you swipe between screens, is meant to be a repository of apps that you use most, with defaults of Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod. Seems about right--except, maybe, the iPod, because you probably listen to music and shows in other apps, too: Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, and so on. Consider the most underrated of apps to replace it: Settings. Yes, the gray gears icon that lets you turn Wi-Fi and airplane mode on and off, forgets Wi-Fi networks that don’t work, and adjust brightness when automatic isn’t good enough.

As for the other apps on your first screen, don’t try to outsmart your thumb. Hold your iPhone in your hand, and note where your thumb is most comfortable. Chances are, it’s near the top-middle of the phone, so that hitting the top three rows of apps isn’t too tough. It probably looks something like the box Stephen Hackett uses to explain his app organization.

Notice, too, that Hackett keeps the bottom row of his first screen empty. He and other iPhone obsessives use that space to swipe between screens (or to the left-most Spotlight search screen) without accidentally opening apps. If you’re ambidextrous, or happen to have very long, flexible thumbs, you could do something like what Ben Brooks of BrooksReview.net does, and prioritize the corners:

iPhone And Android: Use Verbs, Not Categories

Coder and writer Gina Trapani, who formerly headed up Fast Company’s Work Smart section, makes a smart case for creating folders with verbs instead of categories. You usually click your phone on, because you want to do something, even if that something is escape boredom. So name the folder you tuck your social network stuff into “Share,” rather than “Social,” and “Play,” rather than “Games.” It’s less constricting, and your brain will eventually get quicker at understanding where to go to find things.

Android: Get Better Folders, Widgets, And A New Launcher

Android’s folders are just like the iPhone’s folders, with one difference: They’re really annoying. That is to say, creating, naming, renaming, and arranging them is a twiddly, trial-and-error process. But even more annoying is what happens after you open a folder and select an app: The folder stays open when you come back to the home screen. It’s an extra click every time, and it will come to drive you nuts.

So grab Apps Organizer from the Android Market, then open it up. You can either go through each app and assign it to a verb-based label (think folder) of your choice, or click on “Labels” and assign apps to each label (folder). When you’ve got your labels set up, press and hold on an empty space on your home screen, choose the “Shortcuts” option, and select Apps Organizer from the choices. If you’re toting an Android phone that’s picked up an Android 4.0 upgrade, you’ll need to open up your drawer full of apps, then swipe over until you see the Apps Organizer shortcut.

Android phones also allow for adding widgets to your home screen, though it’s hard not to blame the average Android owner for failing to get excited about them. The default Calendar widget, depending on your phone, can be either a blocky, one-item-only blob, or an unwieldy thing that takes up an entire screen. Consider the Simple Calendar widget, a free download from the Android Market that offers different sizes of calendar widgets, all of them stylishly translucent and very customizable.

Then again, maybe the whole feel of your Android home screen isn’t so appealing, especially if your phone has been saddled with customized “skins” from HTC, Samsung, or other manufacturers. To get a simple, adjustable, and quick-moving interface on any phone, along with more widget options, download Launcher Pro. After installing, you’ll get a prompt the next time you hit your Android’s Home button--choose Launcher Pro to test it out, and check the “default” box the next time around if you like it. Be sure to hit your Menu button and choose “Preferences” while at your home screen, because Launcher Pro can do a lot of neat things, like hide apps that you never use.

Is it obsessive, nerdy, and weird to think that deeply about your phone? Sure. But nerds are prepared, nerds get their money’s worth from gadgets, and nerds don’t blame their phones for missing important phone calls. It’s your call.

Read more from the Work Smart series.

Follow @KevinPurdy and @FastCompany, too.

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4 Comments

  • robert bell

    re: Android - Ice Cream Sandwich does folders really well. I never used them before, and now I can keep everything on one screen. The 'folder stays open' issue is gone. 

  • Jonathan Wall

    ICS is just like iOS, you hold an icon until it becomes moveable and then drag it on top of another icon - instant folder.