After 13 years, iPhone users finally have the opportunity to do what their Android-loving counterparts have been doing from the beginning: Customizing home screens with widgets.
Although iOS still isn’t as much of a free-form party as Google’s Android mobile operating system, with version 14 users now have the ability to see more than just icons on their home screens. Widgets bring useful information front and center, and they’re a long time coming in iOS.
There were a limited number of widgets available just after iOS 14’s release, but developers are adding them at a steady clip, allowing you to keep an eye on everything from the weather to the status of an airline flight to the current value of your bitcoin wallet.
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But give an iPhone user an inch and they’ll want a mile. Not content with this small bit of freedom granted them by the notorious control freaks at Apple, users and developers have figured out hacks that take this idea even further. Some iOS users figured out how to change fonts and icons, often to the point that iOS doesn’t look anything like iOS anymore.
There’s already a name for this trend: iOS aesthetic.
It began with an excellent app called Widgetsmith from developer David Smith, which is now at the top of the App Store Productivity chart. This is his second customization app, the first being Watchsmith, which allows for greater personalization of Apple Watch faces.
There’s just one big problem. While adding a standard widget is pretty straightforward, going beyond that is painstaking and time-consuming.
Widgetsmith includes customizable widgets for specific functions, such as calendars, clocks, reminders, health and astronomy. There are also tide levels and weather, but those require a subscription fee to cover the cost of the data feeds.
Once you choose a widget type, you can tweak the font, colors, photos and other aspects, depending on the widget type. You then add the Widgetsmith widget to the iOS 14 home screen (long-press in an open area of the home screen, hit the plus icon in the upper left corner, choose Widgetsmith), and pick the one you’ve set up.
Widgetsmith requires a little patience to learn and configure, but that’s nothing compared to what it takes to change individual app icons on iOS. Each one requires a separate action generated in Apple’s Shortcuts app, which you can download for free from the App Store.
To change an app’s icon, you have acquire photo you want to replace the stock image; create an “open app” action in the Shortcut app; choose the app you’re customizing; choose a name for the app (or keep the original); grab the photo you want for the icon and add it to the action, tweaking its look if desired; add it to the home screen; check to see if it’s actually on the home screen and how it looks; then go back to Shortcuts and tap done . . . twice.
Now, imagine doing this for every icon you keep on your home screen if you want a consistent aesthetic.
To get a feel for what’s involved, look at this step-by-step tutorial from 9to5Mac.
That’s not a level of obsessive tweaking to which I aspire; I have neither the time nor the patience. But I like the fact that, should I choose to kill an afternoon or two this way, I could.
Why has Apple waited this long to allow the limited, official customization it now does? The company has long touted the consistency of the iOS experience across devices, something that was important in the early days of smartphone usage. But when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, times were very different.
Android devices are infinitely more customizable, and while iOS 14 definitely borrows from its conventions, it’s doubtful Apple will allow users to go as far as to replace the entire app launcher, which Android owners can do. But clearly, there’s a pent-up demand among iPhone owners to make their devices unique.
Apple should move quickly to make this easier to do. There’s probably some profit in allowing it. After all, there’s an entire Personalization category on the Google Play store for Android. Apple could pocket a little 30 percent change with a similar area on the App Store.
I suspect iOS 15 will bring further customization. The handwriting is on the home screen, Apple. Make it so.