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Home screen hacks: four genius ways to organize your app icons

Four different ways to get at your favorite apps and games

Apple’s not one for allowing a great deal of iOS customization. But ever since the very first iPhone, you’ve been able to move your app icons around. These days, you may have dozens – or even hundreds – of apps and games installed, and so giving your Home screens the personal touch is a smart move. If you’re stuck for ideas, we in this feature outline four ways of arranging Home screens that should provide some inspiration. Before that, though, a quick refresher on how to organize your icons.

How to organize Home screen icons

Tap-hold an icon to make your icons all wiggle. Now tap-hold an icon and drag to move it elsewhere. Let go to drop it.

To drag multiple icons at once, drag the first a little – until the button at its top-left fades – and don’t let go. Now tap other icons with another finger to add them to the stack. During this process, you can also swipe between pages and open/close folders with your other hand.

To make a Home screen folder, drag one icon on top of another. The folder will automatically be named. Tap it and then tap within the text field to type a new name if you wish. To remove a folder, all apps within must be moved elsewhere.

Whatever edits you’re doing, tap Done when complete.

The minimalist

Apps and games can be a distraction, especially when you’re trying to get something done. Therefore, consider stripping back your main Home screen and Dock to solely display apps you consider vital for your ongoing device use – moving everything else to the second Home screen and beyond.

On iPhone, you only have four spaces in the Dock, so ensure those are the apps you need to get to on a very regular basis. On iPad, you’re afforded a little more flexibility, but still don’t stuff everything into the Dock – only those items you consider important.

This needn’t always be about productivity. If you mostly use your iPhone for communication, there’s no reason to avoid placing social media apps on your Home screen or even in your Dock – the point of the minimalist set-up is to ensure apps/games you use often are front and centre, and everything else is relatively hidden away.

Note that the minimalist approach can be combined with the next option, ‘the artist’, to position a small number of Home screen icons towards the bottom of the screen, so they’re more readily accessible when using an iPhone one-handed.

The artist

On iOS, app icons automatically sort themselves from the top-left to the bottom-right of the screen. Delete an app, and all those to the right/below will adjust their positions to fill any empty space. Android phones/tablets don’t do this, instead allowing you to place icons in specific locations.

Apple doesn’t make aping that behavior easy, but there are workarounds. If you use a jet black Home screen background (which can be nice – your icons really ‘pop’), head to David Smith’s website, and share multiple iterations of it to your Home screen. Each ‘blank’ icon can be moved, shunting app/game icons into position.

For pattern- or image-based backgrounds, Makeovr does something broadly similar. However, it requires you upload a copy of your background image, and then place icons you’re provided into specific Home screen spots. It’s like completing a basic jigsaw puzzle. It’s also a hassle, and means you’ll need to start the entire process from scratch should you want to rearrange things significantly. Still, short of Apple changing its own approach, it’s the best option there is for precision placement on any Home screen background, bar plain black.

The pack rat

If you have loads of apps and games installed, many of which you use often, you probably don’t want them spread out over a dozen or more Home screens. It may therefore pay to organize the bulk of them into themed folders. If you want the folders to stand out, use Emoji rather than standard text for their names.

Folders can also be added to the Dock, allowing fast access to potentially dozens of apps from any Home screen. Stashing folders in the Dock is also beneficial on iPad for more rapidly making an app part of a Slide Over or Split View set-up.

The pack-rat approach does have some drawbacks, however. It can be visually very busy, and you get diminishing returns in terms of accessibility. Be especially mindful getting at an app in a folder takes an extra tap (since you must first open said folder), and you then swipe to access the folder’s own pages.

Therefore, it’s best – unless intentionally ‘hiding’ apps away – to treat folders as single-page entities. Also, to avoid a visual bombardment of tiny icons within folders, consider a mixed set-up on your main Home screen, with apps from a specific category sitting alongside a themed folder containing the ‘best of the rest’. For example, on the top row, place Camera and your two favorite editors next to a folder containing your other iOS camera/photo-editing apps.

The full reset

Should you hanker for that ‘out of the box’ new iOS device feel – or just have a thing for alphabetized lists – consider resetting your device’s Home screen layout on a periodic basis.

To do so, open Settings, go to General > Reset, and tap Reset Home Screen Layout. Your iPhone will ask you to confirm this action. One more tap and your main Home screen and Dock will be as per a new device; for example, on an iPhone, you’ll see Phone, Safari, Messages and Music in the Dock.

Swipe to subsequent pages, and you’ll see the rest of Apple’s pre-installed apps, swiftly followed by everything you’ve installed yourself, now listed alphabetically. Any folders you previously made will have been removed during this process.

Do bear in mind if you’ve a really large number of installed apps, iOS only supports up to 15 Home screens. If your 15th stops at ‘J’ and you can’t get at anything beyond that, don’t worry. Your apps and games are still installed, but you’ll have to use Spotlight to access them. At that point, perhaps consider deleting a few!