Apple iOS ‘Edit Home Screen’ Interface Redesigned Pt. 1

Abstract—With millions of apps available to smartphone users, and the ability to potentially install hundreds or even thousands of apps on one’s mobile device, new interfaces and voice control integrations are helping to make accessing these apps easier. However, it is still a necessary task to visually organize one’s apps for easier future access.  On Apple iPhones, the “Edit Home Screen” function allows users to visually arrange and organize installed applications on their home screen.  This study analyzes the “Edit Home Screen” interface, the contexts in which users of a wide variety of backgrounds interact with it, and explores possible alternative designs that could improve its usability.


Figure 1—Example of the “Edit Home Screen” interface. Source:

For iPhones with iOS 16 installed, app icons and folders of apps on the homescreen are organized into pages as they typically have been in the past. Each page allows for a maximum of 24 icons to be displayed in the sequential order defined by the user in the “Edit Home Screen” interface.  These icons are automatically arranged by the system from left-to-right in rows of 4, which begin at the top of the page.  At the very bottom of the home screen, there is an extra row for 4 additional icons, which remains consistent regardless of the page the user is currently on.

It is impossible to have duplicate icons anywhere in the home screen; that is, unless one uses the Siri Suggestions widget, which may not show a duplicate of the desired app.   It is also impossible to have empty spaces between apps within a page.  Users can, however, create multiple pages as long as there is at least one icon on each page.

Apple has recently added additional features in iOS 15 to make accessing applications more efficient.  For instance, Siri can be asked to open any app by name.  However, voice is not the ideal medium to interact with an iPhone in all environments, as it is not always accurate nor discrete.  Also, one can now add a widget to home pages that will display 8 of the user’s most commonly used apps.  However, the displayed apps can change depending on usage, and this is not ideal when one intends to open a specific, lesser-used app.

1.1 The Problem Space

Ultimately, users need to be able to organize their apps in a way that suits their organizational needs or preferences.  When the “Edit Home Screen” function is enabled, apps can be rearranged by tapping and dragging one to a different place within the sequential order of the apps.   However, accidents occur easily, and can lead to frustrating, unintended consequences.  For instance, it can be far too easy to accidentally create a folder or even completely change the entire arrangement of icons on a page when the original goal was to insert an app between two other apps elsewhere.  The task of rearranging apps, and organizing them can be a very slow process overall, and the confusing interactions can make the process slower.

The scope of the problem space for this study will be limited to iPhones with iOS 14 and up installed.  This is due to their ubiquity, as well as their use in many different contexts by many different people.  The situations in which the “Edit Home Screen” function is used include periods of downtime where there is little distraction, periods of downtime where there is distraction in the form of a social element, and periods during which users are either traveling or physically on the move. 

The target domain of this study will be app icon organization on Apple iPhones with iOS 14 and up installed.

1.2 User Types

Users that this study will focus on will include a wide variety of adult iPhone users between the ages of 18 and 65.  User types of high importance include novice iPhone users, and expert iPhone users.  Another important set of user types that are of particular interest are users with below 50 applications installed on their iPhone, users with 50 to 100 installed applications, users with 100 to 200 applications, and users with above 200 applications installed.


In order to discover potential needs of iPhone users in organizing their apps, three potential needfinding plans will be able to provide comprehensive qualitative and quantitative data on user behavior in multiple contexts.  

2.1 Needfinding Plan 1: Survey

In order to obtain quantitative and qualitative data efficiently, cheaply, and asynchronously, surveys will be the first method of study.  These will be sent out to OMSCS students who are taking Human Computer Interaction this fall, as well as coworkers, and acquaintances online via social media websites.  All submissions will be anonymous.

For this needfinding plan, the survey will begin with quantitative interval questions specifically asking users if they own an iPhone, and have them select the iOS version they are currently running.  I will then ask for their age range, their self-evaluated level of expertise with iPhones, as well as the range of the number of apps installed on their iPhone that they fall into, and how many times per week they use the “Edit Home Screen” function to move apps around.

At this point, it will be important to ask users questions about their experiences while using the “Edit Home Screen” function. These questions will largely be qualitative in nature.  Questions of interest will ask users why they typically rearrange apps on their home screen, as well as what pros and cons they noticed when using the “Edit Home Screen” function. Users will also be asked for the degree to which they are satisfied with the experience.  Finally, users will be asked to accomplish specific app rearrangement actions (see Appendix 3.1: Survey Edit Home Screen Rearrangement Tasks).  They will then be given follow-up questions asking which of those tasks were difficult, or easy, and why (see Appendix 3.2: Edit Home Screen Rearrangement Follow-up Questions).

Regarding items in the data inventory, the survey directly connects to who the users are, their goals, needs, as well as their tasks.

Potential biases of this survey include confirmation bias, observer bias, and voluntary response bias.  I might want to interpret the data in a way that confirms my beliefs and opinions on the “Edit Home Screen” interface, so I will make sure to look specifically for where I am wrong.   Second, I might write leading survey questions, so I will make sure to provide users with possible answers that are positive, neutral, and negative.  Lastly, voluntary response bias is a possibility due to the possible inclusion of users who either passionately dislike the function, or passionately like it.  I will make sure no users have access to the survey questions in advance.

2.2 Needfinding Plan 2: Interviews

Interviews will be invaluable for obtaining firsthand insight into most items of the data inventory in a qualitative manner.  Specifically, who the users are, where they are, the context in which they use the “Edit Home Screen” interface, their small and big picture goals, and their needs, tasks, and subtasks.  For this needfinding plan, I will plan on interviewing 4-5 individuals whose backgrounds will vary across demographics and levels of iPhone expertise.

To get more information on the backgrounds of each participant, my interview will begin with basic questions regarding age, gender, the number of years of experience each user has with their iPhone, and the number of apps, folders, and pages on their home screens.  After this, I will then begin to ask questions that are qualitative in nature.  I will first ask about where the users typically utilize this feature and in what context.  Then the next question will be, “How do you prefer to organize your iPhone home screen?”  This will hopefully reveal patterns about the users’ goals, needs, tasks, and subtasks, as well as further insight into their backgrounds. 

I may ask follow up questions when users describe their organization preferences to get a better idea of their goals, needs, tasks and subtasks.  It is possible that this could drag the interview on, so I will move on if responses are no longer related to data inventory items.

Finally, I will then have users complete several reorganizing tasks using the “Edit Home Screen” function.  I will preface with a disclaimer that I will not ask them to delete any apps, though in the very unlikely event that any data or apps are unintentionally deleted, the user will need to accept responsibility.  If they agree, I will ask the user to do several actions using the interface, that are essentially the same as those found in my survey (see Appendix 3.1).  I may ask users about their thought process if errors occur during tasks, but I will generally err on naturalistic observation of their physical actions, and their behavioral response to the tasks and their outcomes.

Possible types of biases that may arise during these interviews include confirmation, observer, and social desirability biases.  Regarding confirmation bias, I may want to hear what reflects my own beliefs regarding the interface during interviews and questions, which is that the interface is difficult to use and prone to errors.  I will make sure to ask questions neutrally, and try to have someone else look over my questions beforehand.  Regarding observer bias, it is possible that due to the more free flowing nature of interviewing, I will need to be extra careful about asking follow-up questions in a non-biased way, and not have participants do unscripted extraneous actions that are meant to emphasize the faults with the interface. 

Because the users taking this survey may be friends of mine, it is possible that social desirability bias will be present, and responses will be kinder and less objective.  In response, I will be sure to hide what would be socially desirable by not reacting overtly positively or negatively to user actions or outcomes, and be sure to focus on taking notes on users’ physical actions, and behaviors during the rearrangement tasks.  

2.3 Needfinding Plan 3: Participant Observation

For the third needfinding plan, I will act as a participant and use the interface myself.  First, I will find data relevant to the study including my iPhone iOS version, the number of apps installed, and the number of pages and folders on my homescreen.  This will identify who I am as a user of this interface.   I will also take note of where I am, and the context in which I use this interface.  

Next, I will take note of my goals and needs when I use this interface.  Specifically, I will think back through the previous times I have used this feature, and the reasons that prompted me to enable it in the first place.  Lastly, I will set about completing the specific rearrangement actions that reflect those in the survey and interview needfinding experiments (Appendix 3.1).

There is a higher possibility that biases of several types might occur in this study, which include confirmation, observer, voluntary response, and recall biases.  Risk of confirmation bias is present due to my own issues with the way apps are organized on the iPhone.  I will specifically look out for, and note, aspects of the interface that are positive, neutral, and negative.  Reasons for observer bias risk are similar in nature to those for confirmation bias, so I will see to it that someone else is able to look over my participant observation plan, and my notes afterwards.  Recall bias will be possible especially when I am thinking about the times I have enabled this feature in the past.  I may have difficulty remembering, or finding quantitative data on the reasons why I reorganized my apps, and the number of times I did so for each of my reasons.  So before completing the rearrangement tasks portion, I will enable the feature, and record the rearrangement tasks I decide to do based on my personal preferences, during the participant observation itself.  Finally, regarding voluntary response bias, I will likely bring my dislike of aspects of the interface to the fore, or purposefully perform the rearrangement tasks poorly.  I will make sure to cross reference my answers with the other needfinding methods to account for this.  


3.1 Survey Edit Home Screen Rearrangement Tasks

“Go into ‘Edit Home Screen’ mode and do the following: 1) on page 1, move an app from the right-most column to the left-most column.  2) Move an app icon from the left-most column to the right-most column.  3) If you have more than one page, move an app icon from page 2 to the right-most column of apps on page 1. 4) Pick an app icon on page 1 and create a new folder with another app on a different page. 5) Undo all previous tasks/reset the app positions to the way they were originally.”

3.2 Edit Home Screen Rearrangement Follow-up Questions

“Out of each of these tasks, which were the most difficult?”

“Please describe what made the task or tasks you chose difficult.”

“Which task, or tasks, were the simplest/easiest to do?”

“Describe what made the task or tasks you chose simple/easy.”

Categorized as HCI