iOS 14's App Library and widgets prove just how amazing Android's home screen has always been
Apple's latest iPhone software, iOS 14, introduces one of the biggest visual and functional changes to the platform: a redesigned home screen experience with widgets and an app drawer. Like most iOS features from the past 10 years, there's some line that can be drawn to its appearance first on Android. But in this case, Apple's changes to the iPhone's home screen experience are actually directly competitive to what Android has — and in some ways, they're better.
One of the oldest tropes in the technology world is how iOS has a "boring" home screen that's just a grid of icons. Well, now that's over: iOS 14 has a robust framework for dynamic and resizable widgets across your home screens, as well as options for deleting home screen pages to house your less-used apps in a separate auto-managed app library.
I fully expected iOS widgets to be restricted and basic, but they aren't — they follow most of the same characteristics as Android's. Widgets can be resized to 2x2, 4x2, or even larger, and dynamically update with information. They can be placed anywhere on the home screen, and you can have multiple widgets on each screen. Apple also has its own "smart stack" widget that comprises widget views from multiple apps and can update depending on the time of day — for example with news in the morning, calendar midday, and an activity summary in the evening. The only area I don't see Apple duplicating Android's functionality is in small app icon-sized widgets to launch specific functions, and widgets that scroll. (We'll get a better idea of the full restrictions soon, I'm sure.)
But the core place where Apple's widget system could beat out Android is the place where it wins constantly: app developer support. Widget support on Android is good, but it isn't universally great, and the quality varies widely. Despite recent kerfuffles, Apple has an incredible track record of getting developers to adopt new operating system features, and widgets will be no exception. And considering just how competitive developers are to get prominent "first page" positioning on your phone, any chance they have to take up the space of four (or more) apps on your home screen instead of just one is too good to resist. Being among the first apps to roll out an excellent iOS widget in its category will be huge for that app's exposure.
With less room across the main home screens for individual apps, Apple has finally given in and replicated Android's app drawer model. Rather than have every installed app strewn across home screen pages, you can now choose how many pages you want, and if you have too few pages to hold your apps, the apps will be consolidated into a new "app library" — aka, app drawer. This library categorizes apps into groups based on their function, and then highlights specific apps at the top with "suggestions" and "recently added" folders. Every app is available alphabetically too, and Spotlight search continues to be a dramatically better on-device search for pulling up apps than on any company's Android build.
This is absolutely an improvement for iOS, especially this far into its life where people are more than capable of handling the separation of home screens and the app library. You can easily argue that Apple has even done better than Android here with the auto-generated categories in the app library, particularly compared to some of the convoluted systems that Android makers put in place in their launchers (LG, why doesn't your app drawer stay sorted?!). Pick up any normal person's Android phone and you'll see a cringe-worthy hodgepodge of default folders and cruft, from the home screen to the app drawer — it's tough to say that a little bit of automation wouldn't be an improvement there.
Customizability and personalized functionality used to be Android's big wins over iOS. Now Apple offers a lot of that practical customization in the home screen experience, and in some ways does it a whole lot cleaner than Android does. And depending on how developer support evolves, we could see a situation where iPhone users are having a better widget experience than Android users — an odd flip of the narrative. Sure iOS still doesn't have replaceable launchers, icon packs, fonts or anything like that; but these changes are big for the functionality and daily experience of using an iPhone.
Now there is something to be said for this being "too little too late," as most Android users have already gone through the entire arc of being really excited about widgets, stagnating through the years of finding out that most widgets just aren't that useful, and settling in to where most people just use one, or maybe two, widgets and never try anything else. One thing we've learned on Android is that not all widgets are inherently useful, and you often prefer to just go into an app. But at least iPhone users have the opportunity to see what the hype has been about — even if most people will only use a single widget at any given time.
And regardless, they can finally learn the virtue of having an app drawer separate from the home screen pages. Whether it's a copy of Android or not isn't the point — this is clearly better than what iOS offered before.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.
Part of Android Central's continuing "Why iOS is Better than Android" series.
I see what you're saying here, and to tell you the truth all this otherwise unknown news is making me look more at Apple as a possible choice seeing that I already knew that their phones hold their resale value MUCH better than ANY Android phone, and on top of that Apple supports their phones with updates WAY longer than any Android OEM. Even though I have only owned Android phones, most of the people I know personally use Apple and they have few complaints about their end use experience. Their phones just work and their car integration works very well. Soooo, I never thought I would switch but now if you can make your home screen the way you want it, then I just might be interested.
Well it's about damn time Apple changed up iPhone and gave their users some customization and say in their default apps. I mean us Android users have only been enjoying both those things since like day one. iPhone's launcher has been the same since day one back in 2007 and has become beyond dated. I think it's been long past time Apple loosened their seeming death grip on their users... If anything, when you turn on/sign into your iPhone for the first time, just have it ask you which you'd prefer and go from there.
That home screen reminds me so much of Windows Phone and its live tiles. Apple is doing this only almost a decade later.
This was a nice and rational article. I only use 1 widget and that is the OnePlus weather widget which isn't always accurate and I generally don't find widgets very useful outside of the weather one. Also I like the the iOS App Library is a quick swipe to the right and is more tdy and clean than the app drawer on Android and iPhone users are finally going to be able to change their default apps and while I'll definitely do that by picking Chrome over Safari I'll stick to Apple's mail app which in my opinion is better than Gmail on Android as I can mark emails as read and doesn't bombard me with "promotions" and other unwanted emails Apple's mail app is generally nicer and easier to use than Gmail. Overall I think that Apple's implementation of the features that Android had before, which are being introduced into iOS 14 are better executed than a lot of the Android equivalents.
Never been a fan of auto-categories, a feature available for years on several Android launchers. If you look at the photos above, why are LinkedIn and Instagram in Suggestions, but not Social? 🤔 And now, when you're looking for an app in the Dra... err... Library, you have to first look for a category, and then an app. No thanks.
No doubt, this will be called an amazing innovation on Apple's part, and seen as groundbreaking...