Homescreens are an important place when it comes to productivity. They’re the basis from which you launch everything on iOS, and even on Mac to a certain extent. They’re the start of any task, the links between each task and the place that you visit most frequently on your device. Therefore, having a well thought out, well organised and aesthetically pleasing homescreen is key - for me anyway - to getting anything done effectively when I’m on the move.
I have unique homescreens for each of my devices - not only to differentiate between them, but also because I perform very different tasks on each of them. Take my iPhone for example, unlike my iPad I’m never going to spend a long time writing an article on it, so I don’t have any writing apps on my homescreen. It would be a waste of precious screen space, there’s no need for it to be there.
Throughout a series of posts, I’m going to talk through my homescreens for each device, and my essential apps thereof. Today, lest’s focus on the iPhone.
Let’s go over aesthetics first, as I have a couple of rules for constructing a decent homescreen. The first thing you’ll notice, is that I hate full pages. I think having a page full the brim with apps is always a no go, it feels cluttered, messy and it stops me getting things done. Your homescreen should just be the apps that you use the most, that you need easy access to to be productive.
Don’t use it multiple times every day? Get rid of it, it doesn’t need to be there.
Second up, no folders. Folders are useful on iOS, but they don’t belong here. It’s just as quick to swipe as is it is to tap, so the tap opening a folder and then the additional tap to open to app is just as time consuming as swiping to your second page and opening the app from there. Again, they look too busy to belong on a front page.
Thirdly is all about colours. I don’t know how this came about, but I don’t like having two icons that are the same colour directly next to each other. Sure that is a little OCD and in sometimes impractical, but it brings a certain level of balance and serenity to the screen, you eyes aren’t drawn to one location by a solid block of colour. Diagonals are fine, but adjacent similarities are a real no go.
That’s house keeping taken care of, let’s dive into my essential apps. Rather than talking about each one individually, I’ll group these into four categories.
Social networking is likely to feature highly on anyone’s homescreen. Where they are an important suite of apps, I try to keep them to a minimum on the homescreen, mainly because they’re distracting and I’m easily distracted. As such, Facebook, Tweetbot and Messenger are the only three that I keep within arms length. Of these Messenger, is the one that I wish I didn’t have to use.
There are so many Messaging services available on the App Store, from Whatsapp - which I really wish people would move away from - to iMessage, newcomers Telegram and the freshly announced Allo from Google. The problem is that as everyone has a Facebook account, the easiest way to get hold of someone is through Messenger.
Really, Messenger is a flawed service, I loathe read receipts, I hate that someone I have on Facebook can just contact me without needing to have my phone number, it’s just too open.
The problem, is getting everyone you want to talk to to move to the same messaging service. iMessage, despite it’s many flaws, is the service that most people have become reliant on despite a lack of any real update to is since it’s initial announcement. It’s a service that is oblivious to the internet and the kind of content people share through text messaging now and again. Previewing links has improved since the onset of Peek and Pop on the iPhone 6S, but come on Apple, build in some link previews direct to the message, let iMessage open links in other apps, we’re not asking for a lot.
Moving on, Tweetbot is without a doubt the best twitter client available on iOS. It’s flawless support for multiple user accounts and seamless switching between them, as well as it’s iCloud sync for timeline position makes it essential for me. The attention to detail within the app also makes it irreplaceable, I’m a big fan of the sounds behind the action, as well as the Apple Watch companion app and the well thought out power user functions such as Topics.
There are a few apps I keep to hand to control the devices that I have set up around the home. I’ve already spoken about Sense so I’m going to skip over that and focus on Home and Remote. Remote is fairly self explanatory, it’s Apple’s solution to control your Apple TV. I’ve got a 3rd Generation Apple TV, the one before the introduction of the Siri Remote, so for my needs, the Remote app is on the money.
Home, however, is a different kettle of fish. This is the app that I hook the majority of my devices up to. By that, I mean it controls my Hue lights, any smart plugs, a Nest thermostat and more, all from the one location. It’s a well thought out, all in one solution, and is something that it’s rumoured that Apple will try to emulate in the next iteration of iOS. Capable of recognising voice commands at a level of different rooms, Home is a slick and comprehensive solution to the smart home in the absence of a first party Apple equivalent.
Productivity is where iOS has been making real progress in the last operating system updates. Apple’s desire, particularly for the iPad, is to become the computing solution to the majority of users has meant that they’ve had to adapt the abilities of the system to meet the needs of the consumer. Take multitasking, the introduction of split view and slide over.
This is also the sector that has brought me apps that I couldn’t live without now. I’m talking specifically about Fantastical and 2Do. Both of these apps have some very deep lying features that when integrated into workflows, can be very powerful. However, as I mentioned from the start, I’m not a power user - yet. As such, the comments here are going to be pretty general.
The reason that I can’t like without Fantastical, is the native language recognition. Being able to type ’Meeting with Supervisor 2PM next Wednesday in Conference Room 1’ and have it added to my calendar saves me a lot of time in fiddling with options, finding the day and entering all the requisite information. Now, you can do this with Siri and the native calendar app, but I think that talking to Siri in public is not natural, and not publicly accepted. Until Apple allow you to effectively text Siri, Fanastical will be staying put. In fact, even after this, it would take some serious work on Apple’s part to create a calendar app as powerful and aesthetically pleasing as this. In addition to this, the Fantastical Apple Watch complication is superb.
The second life saver for me is 2Do. I’ve used several task managers over the years, namely Things and Omnifocus. Things was great, but slow to move forward, where OmniFocus was a little overwhelming in terms of advanced features. 2Do, strikes a perfect middle ground, with effective UI elements, as well as enough advanced features to automate task entry, as well as providing enough space to link to other documents within tasks, and add tasks to your 2Do list directly from email. Combine this with great dropbox syncing, keeping my tasks in check across multiple iOS devices and multiple Macs, and looking a hell of a lot better than the almost antiquated Reminders app from Apple, it will take a lot to get me to ever migrate away from 2Do.
Again, 1Password is essential particularly if you have more than one account for anything ever on the internet. Having the same password for everything is a real no-go, and most sites - particularly academic institutes - require a more complex password. 1Password comes with a built in password generator, to help create unique and complex passwords at the touch of a button. Using Touch ID to keep all of your passwords secure, as well as collating a list of favourites for your frequently used, 1Password is something that I have become totally reliant on, to the extent that I don’t actually know my passwords for anything anymore. What’s more secure than that?
Copied is also a life saver. When you’re doing a PhD you read a lot, and I find reading to be easiest on an iOS device. You’re just closer to the medium. However, a fault of mine is that I like to write on a physical keyboard, and as such like to work on a Mac for any kind of substantial writing. Therefore, getting information from one device to an other was problematic before copied. Copied takes your clipboard and puts it in the cloud. I can copy a piece of text from my iPhone or iPad, then collect it from Copied on my Mac. It’s seamless, and saves me a hell of a lot of time.
Reeder is my RSS reader of choice. I already mentioned that reading is a task that I feel is best suited to iOS. Reeder beautifully collates all of the RSS feeds that I follow, giving me instant access to the news that matters to me, from Science to Playstation and from Apple to Sport, Reeder is where I spend most of my time on iOS. With comprehensive sharing export from the app, Reeder can integrate with a number of other reading services, such as the inbuilt reading list in Safari, read-later services such as Instapaper and Readability enabling you to read things at your leisure, in the scenario that suits you best.
Finally, although I have been using this less and less over time, comes Screens. Screens is the go to client for VNC on iOS, allowing you to take control of a Windows or Mac computer that has the companion app Screens Connect installed on it. This is perfect for me to check the progress of lab experiments from home, seeing how far a run as got and even going as far as analysing the consequent data. I can also check the progress of downloads happening at home from wherever I am, as well as being able to set a video converting ready for when I get home. For those reasons, Screens is a priceless app and where it doesn’t get as much use as the others, has earned its’ place on my homescreen.
The apps that are left in this section, are ones that I use everyday, but don’t perform any really essential tasks. For example the Mondo service let’s me easily track my expenditure, while Apple’s Wallet app keeps payment close, as well as keeping my boarding passes within reach.
The newest addition to my homescreen is Pocket Casts. Pocket Casts, handles all of my podcasts, from the excellent PS I Love You XOXO, to the hilarious The Magic Sponge. There are a number of podcast apps that do excellent jobs at this, such as Overcast - which has added great syncing to the second features in recent updates - but I much prefer the UI and interaction of Pocket Casts. Both of these apps are light years ahead of Apple’s own Podcasts app, in terms of UI and experience. This is a bit of a reoccurring theme across iOS.
To round this article off, I want to talk about the Music app. Where this lives in my dock, so is an ever-present across all pages of my device, I loathe this app. It is the most poorly implemented, most congested and visually unappealing app on the device, and I am I desperate for an alternative. To my dismay, development for Ecoute ceased, so it will never gain Apple Music support, or be supported in future iterations of the operating system.
Ecoute proved that there could be viable alternatives to the inbuilt Music app. It could access your iCloud music library, and it could do it beautifully. Where improvements to the Music app are coming, looking across the design elements of Apple’s other first party apps, I already know that it won’t come close to the quality of Ecoute. If anyone ever finds a solution to this problem, I’ll be eternally grateful.