How to make the dock the most powerful part of your launcher

It's where you put your most-used apps, it's our quick-launch guide to our device. What we keep on our dock says a lot about who we are and how we use our phones, and what most docks today tell us is... they are woefully under-utilized. Docks aren't exactly the sexiest thing to talk about, and I seldom mention them in my themes beyond an icon pack because you don't tell someone else what to put on their dock. I'll tell you what widgets to use and what app shortcuts to place where, but the dock is yours; the dock is sacred.

The apps on your dock are there for a reason, but that's not to say they're the only things that have to be there, Docks may look boring, but trust me, they can be functional, fashionable, and downright sneaky.

To app drawer button, or not to app drawer button

With the Pixel and its launcher (opens in new tab) brought a number of tweaks to the traditional home screen interface, but the biggest was eliminating the app drawer button and instead using a gesture to open the app drawer. That's not to say users hadn't done it before, but few phones had ever come out of the box without an easily recognizable button on the home screen that led to your apps.

Which dock works best for you?

Using a gesture instead of a button frees up a space on your dock for another most-used app, and our Pixel theme will tell you how to get that gesture set up. The Pixel also added a slight white bar over the dock and the nav bar, but that's entirely up to you and your wallpaper.

There are also plenty of ways to add more functionality to your dock without eliminating our precious app drawer button, such as...

Dock size and dock pages

Docks can be big, and they can be small. The trick is figuring out which size works or you.

Docks can be big and busy or small and simple.

The biggest and easiest way to bring more functionality to your dock is to add more slots to it. This isn't always an option with some launchers, but if your launcher supports more than five icons in the dock, it's worthwhile to consider adding another item or two — or more. Some launchers like Action Launcher can support up to 12 icons in their docks, though this is more for tablets than for phones.

Dock pages aren't for everyone, but they are a handy setting to have.

The more icons in your dock, the smaller each of your icons get, so if you want to add space to your dock without downsizing their look, see if your launcher supports dock pages. Dock pages allow you to double or triple the amount of icons by simply swiping your dock back and forth like the pages of your home screen. Dock pages are not for everyone, but if you'd rather scroll through dock pages than pages in your app drawer, give them a try.

Folders and gestures

Folders are like having a TARDIS on your home screen, bigger on the inside.

Nine apps, one dock space. Ta da!

Another way to let your dock pull double duty is to stick folders in it. As mentioned in our guide to home screen folders, putting folders in your dock can help you achieve a cleaner home screen, or simply make way for more widgets and apps on your home screen. Folders allow us to take one tiny space on our dock and squeeze several apps into it. Folders are like TARDISes, and we can make them look as sexy as one, too.

There's more than one useful gesture you can make with your finger.

In Action Launcher, Covers let these folders look like a simple app shortcut and act like one in a tap, but you can swipe it open to reveal a folder of useful apps inside. Gesture actions are quite useful in folders, and in some launchers like Nova, the regular apps in your dock (and on the rest of your home screen) can, too. Gestures allow you to hide one app within another, or hide specialized shortcuts. You can have the phone on your dock, and a gesture shortcut can let you swipe the phone up to instantly dial your best friend, or your better half, or your mother.

Shortcuts are coming... hopefully.

Android 7.1 Nougat introduced App Shortcuts, which allow you to swipe up — or long-press, depending on the launcher — on supported apps to reveal a small list of direct action shortcuts. If you use Google's Phone app (opens in new tab), for instance, you'll be treated to three direct dial shortcuts.

Theming docks

As mentioned above, themers sometimes neglect docks, and that's a shame because theming a dock is simple and can either show off the apps in your dock or hide them from prying eyes and fingers. Docks can look uneven and unruly, especially when mixing apps and folders. The key to a successfully themed dock is symmetry and individuality.

There must always be balance.

Try to keep your dock looking even, whatever "even" looks like to you. If that means having six icons so there's three on each side, fine. If you need to keep three icons on each side of your app drawer to keep things even, that works, too. When choosing icons for your dock, pick one icon from your folder to represent the whole folder (if you're in Action Launcher, this decision is made for you) so that rather than a mix of bigger app icons and smaller icons in the folders we have one consistent line.

Accent icons can both fill gaps in an icon pack and bring extra style to your dock.

There's a fine line between a dock being consistent and a dock being boring, which is why I always try to add a little more spark to mine. Something as simple as a custom app drawer icon can pull your dock together with the rest of your theme.

What could be behind icon number 1? Nobody knows but you.

Custom dock icons are another tactic I frequently employ, as they can be subbed for any icon or folder and they can camouflage important apps. You see a line of Disney Parks icons, you laugh and hand back the phone. You see someone's email app, photo gallery, or banking app, and you might start getting ideas. It may make it harder for a stranger to find their way around, but so long as you remember what apps are on your dock, hiding the actual icon behind a custom icon can also had a small degree of protection.

Whatever form your dock takes, make it your own.

Whether you try to add more pages to your dock or just a custom app drawer icon, we hope these tips can make your dock more vibrant and more versatile. How does your dock look? What apps and folders have a place of honor upon it? Share your dock in the comments and stay tuned for more theming tips here at Android Central!

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

52 Comments
  • Love the Batman Beyond background!
  • Then stay tuned! That's in tomorrow's Wallpaper Wednesday.
  • Tomorrow is Tuesday.
  • http://i.imgur.com/I9qabAG.png there you go my friend PS: Sorry androidcentral
  • Lol... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Or.... forgo the dock altogether. On larger screen sizes, the dock's position way down at the bottom of the screen is awkward to reach with one hand. So, using Nova or other launcher apps, hide the dock and use icon themed folders to place the most used apps/app categories in more strategic locations on the screen.
  • Also an option, especially on more minimal home screen layouts, but once you turn it off and stick it somewhere else, it can be confusing for some if I still call it the dock. Having a dock outside the dock while the dock's turned off is possible, but since it stays on one home screen rather than on all of them, is it still a dock, or just a cluster of well-used apps and folders?
  • I have disabled the dock on Nova launcher for one reason, i really like full-screen widgets. Posted via the AC App
  • You are of a rare breed, sir. Posted via the Android Central App
  • ^yup™
  • I don't really see the point of having a dock if you don't have a ton of pages. The point of a dock is being able to reach your most important apps even when you're not on the first page. And that made sense for the iPhone 2 whiteout folders or an app drawer Wich resulted in you having to have all your apps on the start screen. #fridaythoughts
  • Then its not a dock, since the apps don't follow across screens.
  • Do we do phrasing here? Nice article, I think I might give action launcher a try... I'm using Nova at the moment, but the way action launcher uses gestures looks interesting. My main dock goes: phone, folder of social/communication/utility apps, chrome, folder of entertainment apps, messenger. Getting rid of the app drawer icon took a few days of getting used to, but I prefer it now. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Nova is more flexible with its gestures, but Action is simple, at least. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Until reading (and being confused by) your comment I didn't realise I could use swipes on folders and app shortcuts on nova's home screen/dock! That opens a whole new world of customisation! Thanks! How the hell did I miss this... Posted via the Android Central App
  • I dunno, it's right there in the screenshot in the article. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Well I kinda like action launcher, but the problem with it is that touch sometimes isn't taken into consideration. Especially when using it on my Motorola Moto g3 running Android 6.0. While the touchscreen of my phone works awesomely on other launchers including its default google now launcher..... Posted via the Android Central App
  • The app drawer icon stays!!!!! FTW!!!! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Calm down, bro. If you like it, you can keep it. But some of us find it a bit... redundant. Stuff like this is, after all, one of the reasons we use android. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Anyone know the red icons used with the grey wallpaper above? They look sick. I'd also like the wall if anyone has it..thanks! Posted via the Android Central App
  • That would be MERCENARY, which we used in our Deadpool theme (phon.es/deadpool) Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm dockless, not even nabvar, just pie
    ______
    Nexus6
  • That Batman Beyond wallpaper is a win.
  • Can anyone tell me who makes the silver icons icon pack with the Star Wars Icons?
  • Tha Phlash made those, the pack is called Metal and the icons were featured with our star wars themes in December (phon.es/starwars). Posted via the Android Central App
  • He is an awesome icon guy. Been buying from home for a long time Posted via the Android Central App
  • Thanks! I've picked up several watch faces from him, never tried the icons. Jumping over to the play store now.
  • Couldn't live without a dock, not just for apps and folders but some widgets work really well or putting Google search bar at bottom of the screen. Posted via the Android Central App
  • No dock I like my 10 main apps where my thumb is positioned the most when holding my device which is about the middle of the screen in usage order.
  • The more I think about it the more I find the dock irrelevant. I mean.. it just takes up screen space on the 2nd homescreen and 3rd homescreen and so on.. I do get it, maybe, if you have 10 home screens but... who has that? We've got folders now.. and launchers where you can customize the grid and put as many rows and columns as you like on one homescreen!
  • You just explained why LG screwed the pooch Posted via the Android Central App
  • I tried changing my app drawer icon (nova launcher) but all i got was a black square. Does the image need to be in a certain format or size? i was using a PNG. I'd love to replace the stock icon with the assassin's creed logo!
  • You need to use a png with a transparent background, and when you select the image in Nova, make sure you stretch the preview grid to cover the whole logo.
  • I've gotten rid of the app drawer icon altogether, and use a bottom-top swipe to open it. Currently using nova launcher. My dock consists of my Music folder, with swipe gesture to open Play Music straightaway, then chrome, then my addiction/obsession game, then messenger, then camera. Been rocking this setup for a good 6 months
  • Good article. I have 7 regular icons in the dock but also have a Zooper Pro widget set to be "behind" the icons using Nova Launcher to display useful info such as wifi SSID, IP address, battery life, etc, in small letters underneath the dock.
  • I really like these type of acticles. Keep them up!
  • I don't actually use it, but it's still there. It's kinda hard to reach down there on bigger phones. Posted via the Android Central App
  • where do I find custom dock icons?
    I'm Running Nova Launcher and I dig using The DockSwipe Feature. it gives you A Multiple App drawer inside an icon which is very smooth. I followed you all the way up to where you said hiding apps behind a custom dock icon,?
  • Good article, but I think I simply love you for referencing TARDISes.
  • So I wanna steal Peter Capaldi's coat, Sonic, and TARDIS...
  • Be my guest, because I'm stealing Tennant's versions of all the same. Including his hair.
  • I've been preaching the swipeable dock pages for YEARS! Yay another member of the church of the swipeable dock pages!
  • I actually don't use them myself any more, but I still preach their value. But dock folders for the win!
  • Love these articles Ara. I started using Nova a while back after one of them and have never looked back.
  • No dock, clean screen, all day!
  • Hidden dock activated any time by gesture. Big clean screen all day... until I want super quick access to an app!
  • As soon as launchers allowed us to turn off docks I kissed it goodbye and never looked back.
    A hidden dock is fine. I don't use that for my setup as it's just unnecessary, but it can provide an even cleaner appearance. Also the dock only (with scrolling/dock pages/hidden folders) look can be nice, leaving the rest of the screen open for widgets or a clear view of wallpaper. And no app drawer buttons. Ever. Swipe up gesture = app drawer for me. Always has, always will.
  • Uberclean... I could never do it myself, but as long as it works for you.
  • Donald Trump yuge fan of folders occupying the dock. A light bulb went off in my head a while ago to do it. I have 4 folders : media, phone, internet, and utilities.
    Makes everything nice and neat. It makes it feel more computer like for me as well.
  • I find the Nougat icons boring so tried the stealth icon pack in Nova launcher of course...
  • Nova launcher all the way.
  • I don't have a dock. I utilize action Launcher 3 with a single 5x7 home screen with 10 cover folders. Then I use quickpage with a few widgets. A swipe up gets me to all apps, and a swipe down drops the notification shade. Simple, easy, functional.