Why a New iOS Home Screen is a Big Deal

In his iOS 6 wish list, Federico Viticci wishes for a new iOS Home screen. Viticci has written about the problem of the iOS Home screen before, concluding that “Apple needs to tear apart the whole concept and rebuild it from the ground up.”

I agree. I think Apple does intend to rebuild the iOS Home screen from the ground up. I also think their intentions for the new Home screen are exciting, ambitious, and will prove to be a big deal.

Not until recently have we felt much of a need for a revamped home screen. Since 2007 iOS has evolved significantly in both its functionality (i.e. multitasking and Notification Center) and in the amount of available apps (thus folders, and multiple Home screens). After five years the Home screen is feeling cramped and outdated.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that the iOS Home screen as we know it today is not Apple’s long-term plan. My hunch is that the Home screen is still the way it is because the long-term ramifications of what it could be are huge.

A reimagined springboard is a prime opportunity for significant innovation. And significant innovation takes time.

Rebuilding the Home screen isn’t just about increasing usability. It is also about innovating at that “front-door interface” of how and where we get to the stuff on our devices (you can hardly do anything on your iPhone without going through the Home screen). Moreover, the ramifications of a reimagined Home screen go beyond iOS. As we are now learning via Lion and Mountain Lion, innovation on iOS is a setting of the stage for innovation on OS X.

During a recent episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber talked about how OS X is stuck with the “Desktop” whether they like it or not. Twenty years ago the Desktop as a folder for quick access to your files and your file system made sense. But that was when people predominantly interacted with files first before launching an app. Apple is now steering people away from the need to interact with the file system. With iCloud, automatic and in-app document saving, and versioning, we are seeing a shift in personal computing where people interact less with files first and more with apps first.

Khoi Vinh recently said:

Right now the most interesting [design] thing happening on the desktop, by far, is Apple’s iOS-ification of OS X. They’re clearly in the process of upending a decades-old paradigm for thinking about desktop software, and whether it’s successful or not is going to be very interesting.

A new iOS Home screen is Apple’s chance to get the “front-door interface” right. When they change the Home screen it’s going to be a big deal, and it will become a core part of iOS for the next decade.

Another reason why a new Home screen is such a big deal is because what Apple does to reimagine it on iOS will impact OS X and the Desktop and Dock (or perhaps the next evolution of Launchpad).

Put another way: I don’t see Apple just stealing ideas from Android and Windows Phone and implementing “live widgets” onto the iOS Home screen. When they update the Home screen they’ll have skated to where the puck is going to be.

Why a New iOS Home Screen is a Big Deal