Hands-On with the New iOS 14 User Experience

Posted on June 24, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 51 Comments

OK, I wasn’t going to install iOS 14 this quickly. But then I rewatched the WWDC keynote. And, oh right. Live tiles.

OK, not really. But in bringing widgets to the Home screen and expanding their capabilities to include multiple sizes, Apple has, sort of, brought that feature that Windows phone users still lament to its flagship mobile platform. I mean, how can a boy resist?

There’s a lot going on here, but the biggest changes in iOS 14 are arguably related to the home screen, which is the previously static interface that Apple’s customers use to launch apps. So I’m going to focus only on that here.

As you may know, Apple slowly evolved the home screen interface in previous iOS releases to address the explosion of available apps with folders, and it added a feed to the left of the left-most home screen that contained widgets. With this release, iOS 14 is evolving further to better address the underlying need of each feature/

Home screen folders still exist, of course, as does the ability to create multiple home screen pages. But with iOS 14, Apple is adding something called the App Library that acts as a sort of a poor man’s All Apps screen (like we see in Android). Available to the far right of the right-most home screen, the All Apps screen automatically organizes all of the apps on your handset into very large folders.

Why not just have a real All Apps screen? It’s a good question. But Apple users can better approximate this useful interface by hiding app icons from the home screen. So they’ll still appear in the App Library, but not on any home screen page. It’s a dumb extra step, but it can be made a bit more seamless going forward by another new Android-inspired feature that lets you configure if newly-installed apps even appear on the home screen in the first place.

The App Library is pretty good, and I’ll probably take the time to hide all the non-essential app icons that are not taking up valuable on-screen real estate at some point. But the bigger news here, and not just to one-time Windows phone fans, is that iOS 14 finally lets users integrate widgets into the home screen. Tied to this, iOS’s widgets are now available in multiple sizes—sound familiar?—so that one can make fun arrangements like this.

What Apple is still inexplicably not doing is letting users arrange individual icons anywhere on-screen, as has been available in Android forever. Instead, all iOS icons must appear in the top- and left-most available position on-screen. And to be clear, this isn’t just some personal preference: This puts icons out of reach for people who prefer to use the phone one-handed; on Android, I purposefully arrange all of my home screen icons to be on the bottom half of the screen so that they are easily reachable.

And yes, I know there are non-discoverable shortcuts to scrunch the screen down to make it easier to access those top-most icons. Who cares? Apple has a dock for your most-often needed icons, and that dock is at the bottom of the screen, always. Why would iOS require all other icons to be as far away from that dock as possible? It’s illogical and inconsistent.

Well, the nice thing about putting widgets on the home screen is that you can somewhat mitigate this limitation by place a huge widget in the top half of a home screen page; that pushes the remaining icons to the bottom half. On Android, I have a weather/time/calendar widget at the top of the first home screen and then two rows of icons plus the dock on the bottom. With iOS 14, I can now somewhat approximate that.

Yeah, it’s not perfect. But you know. Apple.

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