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Home Screening – thinking different about apps

It’s time to ditch the Home Screen and let your iPhone do the hard work for you

The Home Screen on the original iPhone was a delightful innovation. A world away from its clunky contemporaries, it was an exercise in user-friendliness and elegant simplicity.

Soon, though, complexity arrived. With version 1.1.3 of what was then called iPhone OS, Apple allowed you to add ‘web clips’ to your Home Screen. This required the introduction of Home Screen management, and thus ‘jiggle mode’ was born.

A long press on an icon made all your apps and clips jiggle. You could then drag and re-order them, along with creating additional Home Screen pages. When the App Store arrived in July 2008, this nice-to-have feature became essential, letting people put their most important apps front and center.

Home sweet Home Screen

If you’re thinking all this sounds very familiar, it’s because relatively little has changed in over a decade. iOS 4 shook things up a little, through Home Screen folders. Although, really, this just meant squeezing yet more icons into the same space. It got harder and harder to remember where you’d stored anything, but then Spotlight evolved, letting you launch apps via search.

However, the feature that most pointed to a smarter future arrived with iOS 9 in 2015. Siri Suggestions were — and still are — dynamically created, based on your habits. The idea is to present apps and actions most suitable for your current context, be that the current time of day or wherever you’re located. They are, though, rather hidden away under the Search panel.

App to the future

In iOS 14, this mix of artificial intelligence and machine learning is now at the heart of Apple’s new thinking regarding launching apps. Although traditional Home Screens still exist, they can now be turned off. Apple instead hopes you’ll prefer using the new App Library.

This screen is a dynamically generated page. Suggestions and recently added apps appear in widget-like folders at the top of the screen. Other apps are automatically organized by category. If you want to avoid these folders, the Search bar provides access to an alphabetized list of everything you have installed.

Make us ’appy

The system as it stands at the time of writing is not without flaws. Apple has placed the App Library after the last of your Home Screens. If you have a dozens of the latter, getting to the former is tiresome. As mentioned, you can turn off Home Screens entirely, but perhaps Apple should also let you decide where App Library lives. Also, bafflingly, App Library doesn’t (yet) exist on iPad, which remains stuck with an iPhone-like app launcher that looks increasingly out of place.

Still, App Library is a good start — or, rather, a solid new beginning — when it comes to managing apps on iPhone. It lowers cognitive load and makes apps easier to find. With minimal effort, it should regularly serve up what you need at any given moment. And that’s good — after all, whatever time you spend on your iPhone is better used doing interesting and fun things, rather than wasting precious moments figuring out where you’ve left favorite apps and games in the first place.