Towards a Serene Home Screen

I enjoy a spot of mobile onanism as much as the next man. I really do.

I can swipe around on the iPad all day. I love the sight of hundreds of icons swooshing around under the awesome power of my right thumb.

I was doing something silly, though, and I wanted to fix it. This article describes my solution and rationale.

Prepare to be enthralled. I have written this is the hope that it will help anyone frustrated with their iOS home screen layout. If you’re not interested in that, I suggest you don’t read any further.

The Problem

When I actually wanted a specific app, I was using the search. The home screen had become a toy for me to dick around with when looking for something to do, but not a place to actually find apps. Something needed to be done. Thankfully half the world and Apple agreed.

Apple’s Solution

The introduction of folders in iOS4 made my heart sink. Folders?! Just as I was being unwillingly nudged along the gangplank into a post-filesystem future (which I was willing to accept was *for the best*), I was also being encouraged to re-order my shit into something that was named after a metaphor used in the filesystem present. Mind: BLOWN. We’d now put apps into the imaginary things that we’re not supposed to think our files are in.

However, I was thoroughly overwhelmed by my many, many pages of 16 or 20 icons. For the next 12 months or so, conversations in our home ran thusly…

“What are you doing, honey?”
“Oh, you know… just re-arranging the icons on my iPad.”
“Really? That’s good, dear.”

“What are you doing, honey?”
“Oh, you know… just re-arranging the icons on my iPad.”
“Again? Did you not get it right last time?”
“Yes, but there are new apps.”

“What are you doing, honey?”
“Oh, you know… just re-arranging the icons on my iPad.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“No, I didn’t like them all in folders, it looked awkward and felt imperfect with the borderline choices. Plus, there were folders there that I only created for consistency, containing only one or two apps.”

“What are you doing, honey?”
“Oh, you know… just re-arranging the icons on my iPad.”
“You are a mental case.”
“No, I’ve got it this time… each screen represents a type of app, and…”

“What are you doing, honey?”
“Oh, you know… just re-arranging the icons on my iPad.”
“I am leaving you.”

Every time I tried to use folders I would forget something. Is the twitter client in the “reading app” folder or the “messaging” folder? Should I have two twitter clients just to do that?

No kind of organisation was satisfying and perfect. In folders it was hard to dig around, but all out on the desktop looked overwhelming to me. I couldn’t find the things I wanted quickly by scanning. It was a FIRST WORLD NIGHTMARE.

Eureka Moment!

Then it hit me. The thing was enraging me. It was frustrating me because I was trying to organise for productivity. The idea was to create a layout that would save me seconds of time, and only if I committed it to memory.

Saving seconds was clearly crazy. I had wasted hours arranging icons that I would never get back by knowing exactly where an app was before I even opened my iPad cover, and being able to navigate to it in the smallest number of swooshes and taps.

That was foolish because I enjoy the swooshes and taps! That’s why I got an iPad.

I was not arranging for serenity.

I wanted to enjoy opening up the cover and using the device. It didn’t matter if it too a few seconds to get to the app I wanted.

What mattered was:

1) Everything would look beautiful
2) Any app would be easy to find (not the same as quick)
3) The app would be easy to see (not the same as find)
4) The layout would not require maintenance (new apps could slot in without reorganization)
5) The screen would feel uncluttered at all times

4 and 5 became crucial to me forming the following notion:

Having four or five lines of four or five apps is not serene.

The logical question was: “How many lines is optimal?” My answer is two.

1) Spotting the app you want out of 10 apps is easy*.
2) It’s possible to swipe around in the middle of the screen without obscuring icons.
3) It looks *calm* somehow.
4) There is lots of room for manipulation/reorganisation.

*I am an almost universally portrait-oriented iPad user.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you… The @achipinthesugar iPad Home Screen Layout.


The Dock

Tweetbot, Messages, Safari, Mail, Evernote, Omnifocus.

Capture and messaging, basically. Easy.

Home Screen 1 – Quick!

Calendar, Maps, Dropbox, Screens, App Store, Airport Utility, Settings.

This is the home home screen, and the temptation was to put the apps I use most here. Error. The apps that go here are the apps that are needed briefly. A quick look at the calendar. A quick look at the map. A quick look on the App Store… you get the idea.

Basically, finding the app shouldn’t take longer than using it.


Home Screen 2 – Writing

Simplenote, Elements, Byword, WordPress, Textastic, iA Writer, Anyfidelity (website), achipinthesugar (website), Our Man in Hong Kong (website), (website).

Writing apps! Why so many? Believe me, this is the reduced list. I enjoy text editors. Don’t judge me.

This is Home Screen 2 so that it jumps on me and tells me to write before I can find the other stuff. The website links are there just so I can easily check how my writing looks.


Home Screen 3 – Passive Consumption

Mr Reader, Instapaper, Kindle, Eng Launchpad, Comics, Chinagram, Downcast, TED, CineX Player, VLC

Watching, reading, listening… new things appear here and I consume them. These apps are collected by the context “I have time to consume something, give me options”. More than two lines on a screen like this is overwhelming. Ten apps seems just right.


Home Screen 4 – Games

Folder: Board Games, Zen Pinball, Civ Rev, Pirates!, Where’s My Water, Broken Sword 2, Minecraft PE, Super Stickman Golf, SMRPG, Chaos Rings 2

A folder! Why?! After all that we’ve said! I feel cheated.

Gaming feels different. If you’ve got time to sit and play a video game, you’ve got time to browse a catalogue.

That said, I felt overwhelmed by game overload, and the size of many games was taking up so much of my 32GB that it was frustrating filling/emptying my DivX player apps.

Again, 10 spots seemed like a happy medium, with special dispensation given to board games because, well, they’re board games.


Home Screen 5 – Lay That Shit Out

Folder: Drawing Apps, Keynote, Pages, Skitch, PS Express, Photos, iMovie, iPhoto, Camera

Ugh. This page doesn’t seem satisfactory to me, but it’s basically “doing something visual”. To be continued…


Home Screen 6 – Music

iReal B, Garageband, Music, Spotify, iBooks, DM1 (Drum Machine), ThumbJam

Self explanatory, really, and not very exciting if you’re not into music. iBooks may seem strange here, but my iBooks/PDFs are mainly music ones.


Home Screen 7 – AAARRRGGGHHHH.

Folder: Gubbins, Newsstand

Things I cannot remove from the device, but never use. I won’t rant. Just take a deep breath and move on…

SO! You made it!

Well, thanks for checking this out. It has been a few weeks since I started writing this, and it holds up pretty nicely on iPad and iPhone.


1) I’m not Spotlight searching for apps anymore at all.
2) I spot apps easily, rather than memorise their location, taking weight off my mind.
3) I enjoy using my iPad more than I did now that I have removed a frustration.
4) I don’t obscure the things I’m looking at (even more so on my iPhone).

I think it’s easy to criticise an OS before you’ve really had a think about how to use it in a way that suits you. It’s not the OS’s responsibility to make you use it well.

If you’d like to get in touch, or learn about it when I next make a lengthy and fascinating post of this nature, I am @achipinthesugar on twitter.