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2024

How Guardian readers arrange the icons on their smartphones

On Friday, I shared what I believe to be the correct way to sort the icons on your smartphone: a slow-and-steady system for shifting them up and down the screen, and across multiple pages, each time you tap on one to open it. Eventually, you end up with a rough frequency sort, adjusted for whether or not you open a particular app more from notifications or widgets than from tapping it on the home screen.

People disagreed with my method. This is fine. They are wrong. But in the interests of fairness, here are some of the best alternative suggestions from readers.

Reachability

The strongest criticism is a function of phones being too large these days: by putting my fifth to eighth most used apps – those four which aren’t quite used frequently enough to make it on the phone’s dock – at the very top of the screen, I’ve rendered it hard to reach the very icons I touch most often.

It’s a legitimate problem, but one which is essentially set in stone by Apple. The priority order for iPhone apps is left to right, top to bottom – as seen by the behaviour when dragging an icon around – and it’s hard to follow my system in reverse.

For those who exercise a more free-form icon approach, though, the layouts used by Sam Bowman and Tom Phillips are solid. I still maintain that having to manually place icons leaves you having to make choices you don’t need to make, and risks ossifying your app usage, though.

Colours

Arguably, the second best way to arrange your apps is by colour. It’s aesthetically the best by far, leaving you with a neat, minimalist and pretty home screen, but it also works surprisingly well on a functional level, due to how visually most people’s memory works.

(@Acccent)

yass pic.twitter.com/g7aVovHWOR

July 14, 2017 robin in v🌀gue

For apps I rarely use, it’s often easier to remember the colour of the icon than it is to remember the specific name of the app (cam scanner? camera scan?), and it’s certainly easier to sort all your apps into eight to 12 colours than it is to sort them all into eight to 12 categories.

The downside to colours is that if you have quite a lot of apps, you can end up just pushing the problem of organisation down a tier – having six pages of orange icons in your orange folder isn’t ideal – and sometimes app icons change colour, which absolutely wrecks your muscle memory.

Siri and spotlight

Who needs icons at all? Sure, the first page of your home screen is accessible, but once you start swiping, you’ve already lost. These days, iOS has spotlight – the search tool permanently available by pulling down when on the home screen – so why not let it do the hard work for you?

(@lukebrewster)

*Spotlight for everything. pic.twitter.com/7S95QtPBM7

July 14, 2017 Luke Brewster🕴🏻

I like the idea, and in practice it’s regularly how I deal with the large number of apps in my “zero” folder, of icons I’ve never clicked on directly.

But the combination of remembering the actual name of a few rare apps, and the occasionally significant number of letters I need to type to open specific apps (try selecting the correct sequel to text adventure game Sorcery! through spotlight, when its sequels are called Sorcery! 2, Sorcery! 3, and Sorcery! 4, to see what I mean), meant that I found it too frustrating to rely on long term.

Named folders

I’m sorry, I cannot condone this. Loads of people love the idea of breaking up their apps into convenient folders like “utilities”, “games” and “maps”, then putting them on the homescreen, occasionally randomly interspersed with a few apps which are too frequently-used to be shoved in a folder. This is bad.

(@maxrothbarth)

Am I the only person who uses folders? pic.twitter.com/8jU3QMs6eN

July 14, 2017 Oliver Rivers

There is no categorisation scheme that can leave you with folders small enough to be usable, no ambiguities in which app goes where and enough simplicity in the application to not be a fairly high cognitive load every time you rearrange apps.

(@aeoye)

Am I a monster?Also I’m only over 40 in my mind ☹️ pic.twitter.com/0lOAA4gR6x

July 14, 2017 ᴀʟᴇx ᴍᴏʏʟᴇʀ

Even I made this mistake once.

(@alexhern)

At least it’s not the time I tried alphabetical order pic.twitter.com/O7q8xqGcSp

July 14, 2017 Alex Hern

Never again.

Android

Finally, they do it different over on Android. Some of the distinctions are minor enough. For instance, some Android users insist on having no home screen icons at all and exclusively using the app drawer for launching everything. If you want to do this on iOS you could just put all your apps in one folder. It’d be just as weird there too.

(@peterdroberts)

pic.twitter.com/b5PtYnLjTm

July 14, 2017 Peter Roberts M0STK

Others take advantage of the fact that Android apps aren’t left-aligned to more precisely sculpt the white space on their home screen, either for aesthetic or usability reasons. That’s good, but doesn’t solve the underlying question of how you decide what does go on the home screen, and in what order it goes there.

A bigger distinction is found in those who go all in on the widget ecosystem of Android, picking dynamic icons or putting information from the app directly on the home screen. That’s something that iOS still hives off from the app launcher, and it’s getting harder to justify: now that most apps on the platform have widgets, why not let them be placed directly on the home screen?

Naturally I still think I’m right and everyone who disagreed with me is wrong, but hopefully these alternatives might be of use too.