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How to customize your iPhone’s home screen with widgets and app icons

One of the biggest differences between iOS and Android has always been customization. Google’s mobile operating system allows for greater control over how the software looks and feels, while Apple limits these changes in the name of consistency and ease of use. But with the launch of iOS 14 last week, iPhone and iPad owners are suddenly discovering how to make their phones and tablets look and feel really different.

For example, search for “# ios14” or “# ios14homescreen” on Twitter and you’ll see hundreds of examples of themed layouts that combine custom app icons, wallpapers, and widgets. (Be careful though, as some of the results for these searches are very much NSFW.) TikTok and YouTube also show users custom home screens and layouts.

Many address pop culture phenomena such as Deer crossing, Steven Universe, Harry Potter, Minecraft, and BTS, while others focus on a single aesthetic, like line drawings or neon icons. Some even re-create older user interfaces by, for example, rippling the PlayStation 2’s memory card screen or making iOS 14 look like iOS 6. All in all, it’s the lovely visual mess you usually associate with custom PC themes or Winamp skins.

Why is this happening now? In part, this is due to the release of iOS 14, which allowed widgets to be added to their home screen. Widgets are typically used to add quick access features to your home screen that allow you to see information about reminders, weather, or calendar events at a glance. But you can also use them to display an image of your choice, which has resulted in users turning them into picture frames for their digital vestibules. You can also customize the look and feel of the default widgets with the right app.

The other customization options that users take advantage of are much older. Choosing your own wallpaper is obviously an option that has been around for decades, but creating custom app icons was only made possible by Apple’s Shortcuts app. This was first introduced in iOS 12 in 2018, and it allows you to automate certain actions in iOS. People have been using shortcuts to create custom app icons for years, but with the release of iOS 14 and the advent of widgets, a lot of people seem to be rediscovering this functionality.

Creating your own home screen is easy, but time-consuming. The main thing you need is the actual graphics: a custom background image and the accompanying icon pack. Some designers already share these in easily downloadable packages (such as the Deer crossing Example above), but a little googling will usually get you what you need.

For the Windows 98 layout I created for the top image of this article (inspired by this tweet), I found all of the wallpapers and app icons I needed through a quick search. However, it must be said that getting all of these elements into shape, including hand-coloring the backgrounds of the transparent PNG icons, was quite a pain, and it took me at least an hour. Definitely go for pre-made packs if you can.

To add custom widgets to your home screen, you’ll need to download an app called Widgetsmith. Once you’ve downloaded that, just open the app and click to create the widget size of your choice. You can then customize the standard iOS widgets like clock and calendar with different fonts and colors or create a widget that displays a static image. Once you’ve created your widget, just go to your home screen, long press the screen to bring up the customization options, then click the plus sign in the top left of your screen to add a widget. Scroll down to find your Widgetsmith creations.

To add custom app icons, you need to download the Shortcuts app from Apple. Once you have that, open it up and click the + sign in the top right to create a new app. Then go to> Add Action> Scripting> Open App> Select and choose the app you want to customize. Then click “Next” in the upper right corner, name the app and click “Done”.

To customize the icon and add it to your home screen, click the three dot menu next to the shortcut action you just created, then click the three dot menu again and Then select “Add to Home Screen”. Then click the icon in the “Home Screen Name and Icon” section and select the desired image from your camera roll. Phew! All done.

You now have an app with a custom icon, although there is one very annoying caveat: every time you click on an app it will first jump to the Shortcuts app and then to your app of your choice. This means there will be a slight delay every time you open an app. But who said it was easy to get the aesthetic of your choice? However, if you do know of a way, please let us know in the comments – and do share any creations you’ve been inspired to do!

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