The iOS Home Screen Grid of Apps Doesn’t Need Changing

3 minute read
| Analysis

From time to time, especially when a new version of iOS is released, articles are written about how the iOS home screen layout of app icons in a rectangular grid is tired and needs updating. One in particular that’s just been published is by Paul Thurrott: “Apple Stays the Course with iOS 10.” In that article, author Thurrott says:

I’m interested, more broadly, in the fact that Apple has only once issued a major upgrade to the iOS look and feel, with the introduction of the Windows phone-inspired design that debuted in iOS 7. And that it has never—not once—updated what I still consider to be iOS 10’s biggest shortcoming. I am referring, of course, to the ‘whack a mole’ grid of icons, an overly-simplistic interface that has not aged well, or scaled to the needs of modern users.

iOS Home screen grid

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days because I, myself, have often wondered if there’s a better way to present and activate apps on an iOS device. Here’s what I’ve concluded.

The iPhone Rules

The iPhone is Apple’s best selling device. As such, it drives the UI design on, in turn, the iPads. Unless Apple wants to go down the the path of changing the user experience on the iPads—which I don’t think it does— then what’s best for the iPhone’s smaller display is best for all.

When users unlock an iPhone, they want to do something fast. That’s the reason for fast camera access on the lock screen. In order to do something fast, the app of interest has to be easy to find, readily identifiable and easy to activate. There’s nothing better I can think of than a grid of apps in which the user can control placement.

By the way, author Thurrott makes a mistake in his article about how one can personalize the first home screen. See, for example, “How to get the perfect iPhone home screen…

Next, reference is often made to the way Android does things. But different isn’t better. Authors with varying personal tastes may be enamored with Android’s widgets, but there are things to consider. There may be patents that Apple doesn’t want to license. Apple may have a plan for the future that’s orthogonal to widgets. Apple may have found that iPhone users value simplicity and predictability above all else.

Finally, author Thurrott asserts that this current interface “has not aged well, or scaled to the needs of modern users.” However, it’s obligatory after a statement like that to at least present a notion or a vision of what kind of interface would better meet the “needs of modern users.”

Scalability, Disability & Voice

For example, the average iPhone has about two dozen apps installed. It’s not as if the proliferation of installed apps has made life unbearable for the customer. Scalability would only be an issue if the typical user had several hundred apps installed. They do not.

Also, there are disability issues to be thoughtful about. A grid of apps that fills the display makes it easy for people with limitations in motor skills or vision to more easily recognize by position, tap and launch an app.

And while it makes sense to launch apps with Siri, Siri stil has some limitations that suggest manual, physical backup is always essential. Here’s what happend when I asked Siri (iOS 10.0.1) to launch the PCalc app, one that’s been on my iPhone since forever.

Siri tries to launch PCalc

Wow. Siri doesn’t quite grasp its own installed apps.

Plus, Siri can’t quit apps. So Siri is not the answer. Yet.

All in all, I don’t see that Apple needs to change anything here. After a billion iPhones sold and a multitude of copycats, no one has come up with a better, faster, more intuitive method than tapping an app icon right after unlock. However, as technology moves forward, I predict that someday, something obvious and better will come along. We’re just not there yet.

Next page: Home screen layout management. Please?

5 Comments Add a comment

  1. TheRealJTRay

    I think the ability of an App Drawer to remove all Apps or folders from the home screen would be great. For example on my Mac I have a dock that I can hide and launch center with all my apps. Additionally a task bar at the top showing me information. Again not what I see in iOS. Two completely different thoughts.

  2. Stargate2077

    You are correct that the notion of a home screen of apps does not need changing. What needs changing is the idea of saved app positions on the screen. For example, when you have to restore an iPhone or iPad or replace it with a new device, you should not only be able to download the apps that were previously downloaded on that former device, but also that the apps arrange themselves in the order that you last put them in saving hours of work recreating folders and moving apps into specific positions. A feature like that would reduce a MAJOR pain point.

  3. John Martellaro

    Stargate2077: I have restored new iPhones out of the box with a backup of the previously owned model many times. As I recall, the restore process places only the apps I had on the old phone in the same position. I could be wrong. My memory will be refreshed when the iPhone 7 arrives.

  4. JustCause

    @Paul Thurrott the tech blogger who never understood Apple and never will, Apple would be bankrupt if they listened to him.

  5. Rahman

    You couldn’t be more wrong! I absolutely hate the fact that my phone is clearly designed for an elderly person with bad eyesight or morbidly obese person with 1″ diameter fat sausage fingers. Also, I do not need to see the text-names below the app icons, I know what friggin’ apps I have because they have little PICTURES and I have a good memory! And why should I have to have 6 screens of apps when I can comfortable fit twice as many on each screen? With Cydia I can change the layout to 5×8, 6×10 or more, and guess what, my normal-sized fingers can hit every one! I hate that apple doesn’t give me a choice, and thinks I will be happy with this handicapped phone. This is like a real-estate developer deciding that all new houses should come with a wheelchair-door roll-in shower instead of a Jacuzzi tub, and then selling these houses to young professionals. I have seen the light thanks to jailbreaks and now I will never buy another apple product without one. I am hesitant to even give them another cent for anything since they actively work against my ability to make my device not suck. If I were the average American with minimal tech skills I might not care, but that’s partially because most people don’t realize what they’re missing with a simple firmware adjustment.

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