Minimalism on the iPhone: From Three Home Screens to One
Last week I tweeted that I was going to undergo an experiment: attempt to reduce my three home screens down to one. This is the result. Three rows, one page.
How I Got The Idea
Much of this is inspired by Minimal Mac, a great blog on having a minimal computing experience on the Mac; I read through most of it, and found that not much like it existed for the iPhone.
I had three home screens last week. In order the pages were: default apps, App Store apps, and games. I realized that I used very few of the default apps, about six App Store apps, and had about two or three games I actually played regularly enough. I started to think if it was possible to strip down my SpringBoard and end up with one home screen.
How I Got There
The first thing you’ll notice is that my iPod is jailbroken. There are a handful of reasons for this, but the one relevant to this post is the ability to hide applications you don’t want to have visible and launch them by alternate means. My weapon of choice is a combination of Poof and Spotbright.
Poof is an application that will let you hide the apps you don’t want to see on your home screen; it is particularly useful for eliminating that damned Stocks app no one cares about. Spotbright is a Spotlight enhancement that adds hidden apps to the Spotlight search results so you can still launch them in case you need them; this means you can hide apps you don’t use regularly and launch them by name when you need them, keeping your home screen nice and clean. (Apparently the most recent version of libhide, the library powering Poof, hides icons in a way that they still show up in Spotlight results even without Spotbright. Thanks to Dustin Howett for pointing it out.)
iPod users may be interested in MobileMusicPlayer Flip; this merges the Music and Videos icons into the iPod icon (like on the iPhone), letting you regain one spot on your home screen.
The Rules To Obey (The most important ones will be in italics.)
Restore instead of upgrading on firmware updates and restoring from a backup. This will give you a blank slate to work with.*
Never keep a list of apps you have installed; only sync the apps you think you need.
Impose a 3-page limit on yourself. Ideally, aim for one.
Leave the last row of each page blank. With a standard 4x4 SpringBoard and 3 pages, that’s 36 apps, which is more than enough. (40 with the standard 4-icon dock filled up.)
If there is an app you don’t need on a regular basis, but would like to keep around, hide it using Poof or SBSettings. Use Spotbright as a launcher.
Keep at most four games on your device. You should know your gaming patterns well enough to know which games you play regularly. When you haven’t played one in a while, rotate it out with another game you haven’t played recently or a new release.
Every week, go through your list of applications and re-evaluate if you really need each one. Uninstall the ones you don’t need.
Ways of Measuring If You Have Too Many Apps
If you thought iTunes 9 app arrangement was the best feature ever because now moving apps no longer takes over an hour, you have too many apps.**
If you were glad Apple upped the page limit from 9 to 11 pages in 3.0, you have too many apps.
On a related note, if you are writing me an email right now asking me to write Infinity-Billion-Page SpringBoard, you have too many apps. (And you should consider not sending that email, because I’m pretty tired of getting those.)
If you cannot name every app on your device, you have too many apps.
If you actually have to install FCSB/FiveIRows/some other layout extension to fit all your icons into 3 pages, you have too many apps.
No, Seriously, When Is This Post Going To End?
Soon, I promise. But first, some notes on my personal transition from three pages to one page:
I hid Contacts because if I want to find a contact, I can find it directly from the home screen; if I want to add someone to my contacts, I’ll just search for the app because that doesn’t happen very often.
As I don’t restore backups from iTunes ever, I bought Simplenote yesterday due to its over-the-air sync with its web app. This will keep me from losing the all-important “this is where your locker is” note I’ve grown accustomed to rewriting on every firmware upgrade.
Simplenote has also replaced the Tumblr app for me. My Tumblr workflow consists of writing drafts in my favorite text editor and formatting them in Tumblr before posting, therefore most of the time my drafts aren’t even on Tumblr, making the app pretty useless to me. Now I just paste my drafts into Simplenote and they sync over to my iPod so I can edit them on the go. Cool stuff.
Apart from Pennies, Birdhouse, and game saves, I have no actual information on my iPod, making the “start from scratch instead of restoring from a backup” point a lot less of a big deal. (I actually back up my app data for those apps manually using tar and sftp; no sane person would do that, but you could use Chronus or AppBackup to do the same in a user-friendly way.)
Congrats, if you’ve made it this far, you either think I’m the biggest douche ever for telling you you’re doing it wrong or you think this is pretty clever and resonates with your inner minimalist. So all that’s really left are the footnotes:
* Yes, this will make you lose all your apps’ data, and depending on how developers of your apps treat in-app purchases, you may lose in-app purchases. Take that into consideration before blindly following my advice.
** I am not dissing the app arrangement solely because it broke FCSB and Iconoclasm; I believe the effort should have gone into better features, like the possibility to create groups of apps to sync at once, much like playlists for music. Sure, you have no reason to trust me, but please, just do.
What iTunes 9 and OS 3.1 Means For FCSB, Iconoclasm, and Related Projects
When app arrangement was announced for iTunes 9, lots of people with an unreasonable amount of apps installed started freaking out. I started freaking out for an entirely different reason; I knew that meant the days of FCSB, Iconoclasm, and other related projects were numbered.
As soon as I got home today and was informed a jailbreak was available, I jumped on it and decided to see what this meant for users of FCSB. The good news is that as far as FCSB on the device is concerned, it works as well as it did on 3.0. Bringing iTunes into the equation is what makes the situation a tad more complicated.
If you use FCSB and all your pages contain 16 icons or less, you can use FCSB just fine and iTunes’ app arrangement will even work; the first icon of the second row will be on the fifth column of the first row, etc…
As soon as you plug in an iPhone with more than 16 icons on one of its pages, iTunes’ Applications tab will have Sync Applications unchecked, and you won’t be able to move your icons around. Checking the Sync Applications box also deselects all applications that are installed on the device.
Now, I’m not expecting iTunes to work with FCSB out of the box; clearly Apple could have just assumed they were working with a 4x4 SpringBoard and said “jailbreak users can screw off”. However, I believe this is a bug in iTunes, and not actually Apple trying to keep us from jailbreaking.
I say this, because clicking the “Apply” button and then clicking “Cancel” when asked if you want to uninstall all apps on your device unlocks the Applications tab, and everything becomes modifiable. Unless you rearrange icons in the iTunes window, your 5-column layout will remain untouched by iTunes.
So, FCSB is fully working with iTunes 9, but this bug makes syncing a three-click process instead of a one-click process. I have yet to try this out with Iconoclasm, but I assume the same applies.
I’m sure to get lots of emails regarding this in the coming days so let me sum it up.
FCSB works same as it always did if you don’t have 17+ icons per page.
If you have 17+ icons per page, you will need to Apply, Cancel, and Sync each time you plug in your iPhone or iPod into iTunes to keep iTunes from removing all your apps from your phone.
This is annoying, yes, but unless Apple fixes the bug (which no unjailbroken user should ever run into), there is no way for me to fix this or hook into iTunes to make it work with FCSB/Iconoclasm/etc..
On a related note, Five-Icon Dock does not cause any issues with iTunes. Note that if you have a fifth icon on your dock, it will be swapped with the fourth on each sync.
I have yet to decide what will happen with FCSB and/or Iconoclasm; I’m going to think about it for a couple days before actually announcing anything.
edit: FCSB will not uninstall correctly on 3.1 due to a change in the SpringBoard plist format; I will release a fix soon, either run apt-get remove net.r-ch.fcsb -f or disable it in the meantime.
A week ago, my programming teacher kept me from going home from class because my 5-line program didn’t contain enough comments. After a heated exchange on how ridiculous it is to comment a 5-line program using nothing but basic C++ syntax, I added more comments than there were lines of code to satisfy his needless urge.
I wanted to blog about it, but I couldn’t do so without calling my teacher all sorts of names in the process, so I canned it. Luckily, this sums it up pretty well.