Apple does not offer really individualized customization of its products or interfaces to its users, and if anyone wants to customize the look of their Apple products – specifically their home screens – they are ready for a time. With iOS 16 coming in September, there is an opportunity for Apple to give consumers a need for independence.
The only cell phones I’ve ever owned have been a Nokia (shoutout to Snake, my first love), a Blackberry and an iPhone, none of which I have ever fully customized.
I’m currently on my seventh iPhone, and I’ve always accepted that my phone’s home screen simply looks the way it does. Of course I can “edit” the home screen layout with apps, widgets and folders for organization, but I have never been able to do it again me – you know how Android users can make their phones more them. That all changed this week when I tried to customize my phone’s home screen using two icon packs I purchased from Etsy.
Using this article as my reference – and also its author, my colleague Michael Potuck – I slowly became familiar with the shortcut app, Widgetsmith, and everything in between required to create a custom home screen aesthetic on my iPhone. Here’s what I should do – which I will never do again because it took too long.
Select an icon pack
First of all, the large number of icon packs available online is overwhelming. It’s fun for a minute to explore the possibilities, but I quickly lost interest and patience; it’s a bit like the difference in shopping in the mall compared to a independently owned store.
You can find free icon packs, grab icon packs from Etsy, or create your own icon pack (though I hear it’s hard), and there are literally tens of thousands of packs to choose from. I spent about five minutes online before deciding on this $ 6 icon pack and off I went.
Download multiple zip files and PDF files
This step was where things started to hurt, even though at first it was only a little. Using instructions from the Etsy vendor, I had to download zip files and PDFs, drag them to my desktop, open them, and then open the folders that the zip file created, all of which were extremely tedious. Of course, once I had access to the icon and widget folders, I had to choose Which one icons and widgets I wanted out of the hundreds available in the icon pack – I really had no idea how bad it would get.
Copy and paste icons into Photos
I did not expect this step to be so cumbersome, however wow was it ever. You need to cross-reference the apps you already have on your phone with the matching icons from the downloaded zip folders, and then you need to copy and paste these icons into Photos. Make sure you have iCloud sync onor you will not be able to access the icons you selected on your phone.
Use shortcuts to redesign apps
Enter: the absolute epicenter of my frustration with customizing Apple’s home screen.
Never have I ever become so familiar with an app the way I have become with shortcuts during this process, and I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that shortcuts actually can.
I do not even know where to start.
Basically, I had to open shortcuts, tap the + sign in the upper right corner, tap “Add action”, type “open app” in the search box, then tap “Open app” under “Scripting”, and select SO from a list of apps I have on my phone to customize one by them.
Let’s say I wanted to customize the Instagram app.
Once I had selected Instagram, I had to tap three small blue lines in the upper right corner, select “Add to Home Screen”, rename the app, select the photo that synced from iCloud to accompany the app, and finally tap “Add. ” GOODNESS. Honestly, it’s way too much when I relive it and I hate that I feel so compelled to write about it, but here we are.
At this point in the process, I had the app in hand using the icon pack I purchased, downloaded, copied and pasted into Photos and then re-designed in shortcuts to do with what I wanted. I then had to repeat the re-design via shortcuts with each app I wanted on my home screen, which took me no less than two hours. Now the fun part?
If you’re like me – someone who likes things to look smooth and even – this part of customizing your home screen can take hours. You have your redesigned apps-turned-shortcuts! They are the right color palette (do you think)! You have renamed each app in lower case (with the exception of WhatsApp) for reasons that you can not explain eloquently!
Even if you’re not like me and you’re more creative in the way you use space, it can also take hours to decide how you want to use your clean home screen with your vibey new app icons. An important note here that takes extra time: When arranging your home screen, long press on the original apps to “Remove from home screen” to clear clutter and make room for your shortcuts while being careful not to actually delete the original app – otherwise your shortcuts will not work.
I really love how my phone now looks after a full morning of customizing my home screen, but there is still problems.
The gray widget calendar at the top, for example, does not actually sync with my iCal, but instead opens the Widgetsmith app – something I had to download to create that widget in the first place; there is no solution to this, so I do not download a third-party calendar app, which I certainly am does not. That means I either have to swipe right on my home screen to access my actual calendar or search for it in the drop-down menu. When I mentioned this to my colleague Kyle – an Android user – his only response was, “omg.” Oh my god, actually.
Additionally, every time I open any of my newly created, terrestrial apps (regarding: Shortcuts), I see this little swoopdy-woop coming and going – which can be rejected with a swipe – but will pop up every time I open one shortcut, forever, forever:
Last but not least, now that I’ve redesigned all my apps to look exactly like I wanted them to using my icon pack on my home screen, I’m left with a mess of icons, widgets and backgrounds in my photoalbum (s) i add on to zip files and folders on my desktop, which now needs to be cleaned up.
iOS 16 to the rescue?
After chatting with some of my colleagues over at 9to5GoogleI learned some things that Apple’s upcoming iOS 16 could do to improve this process.
To start with, iOS 16 could just include anyone available themes for our home screens, let alone customizable ones. Did you know that what took me four hours would take someone about a minute and a half on an Android? I’ve seen a video of this being done. Android users have lots of built-in themes to choose from, and it hardly scratches the surface.
More specifically, did you know that when you select a color theme on an Android for your home screen, apps that are native to your phone are automatically updated to the specific color palette? Imagine not having to individually create and customize each and every one of your apps to a shortcut, whether they are from a third party or not. If iOS 16 on at least allowed us to customize built-in apps and widgets with preselected themes, it would be a big step in the right direction.
I would say here for the record that on a scale of technical proficiency – 10 is extremely technically savvy and 1 is not at all – I’m like … a 7, probably, at least compared to your average person (does not compared to literally anyone by my colleagues). That said, this process was nothing short of damn violent, even with the help of my colleagues, even as someone who knows and understands a lot of niche information about very specific technology. In total, I spent about four hours creating the aesthetics of my home screen, from start to finish.
What did we do at Apple, other than be wild – and to me, inexplicably – loyal customers to whom they retain the ability to customize our own devices? Now that I’ve seen what my home screen might look like – while at the same time understanding on a level that I wish I did not – what it takes to get a home screen that you love, I want to all to have icons, widgets and themes that reflect their personality. Why does Apple refuse to give us autonomy as consumers?
As I lamented to my colleagues at 9to5Google about my customization test, Ben Schoon said quite happily: “Come to Android – it’s so much easier 😂.. ”I do not want to, again for reasons I can not explain, but that is not the intention.
The point is this: For Apple, gatekeeping customization from its user base is at this stage an outdated, frustrating, and frankly bizarre approach for a company that proclaims creativity, inspiration, and innovation in each of its individual products. If I want to joinsprouted of my device, to be creativ with my device, to innoon my device, why can not I make it my own?
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