5 ways to take charge of your smartphone's home screen

take charge smartphone home screen smart launcher 2
Image: Ben Patterson

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If the only change you’ve made to your iPhone or Android phone’s home screen is to swap out the wallpaper and rearrange a few icons, you’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Indeed, you can make your phone’s home screen your very own in ways from subtle to massive, from adding shortcuts for your favorite contacts to tucking little-used apps into folders.

And if you’re the proud owner of an Android phone, you can actually revamp your entire home screen, from top to bottom.

1. Create folders for your apps

Annoyed by the piles of icons cluttering your home screen? Sure, you can try rearranging them, but the best way to create order from the chaos is to embrace the organizational power of folders.

Not only can app folders help tidy up your apps into easy-to-manage categories, they also do a great job of hiding those rarely- or never-used apps.

Creating app folders is a snap. The process is the same for both Android phone and iPhones: Just drag one app icon on top of another. Once that’s done, you can drag more apps into the folder or tap and hold it to edit its name.

I’ve found folders to come in particularly handy when it comes to hiding certain “native” iOS apps that can’t be deleted, such as Compass, Stocks, Notes, and Newsstand. Out of sight, out of mind.

2. Add and remove icons from the app dock

take charge smartphone home screen swap icons Image: Ben Patterson

Tap and drag icons to move them on or off the app dock.

You know that little tray of icons at the bottom of your Android or iOS home screen? You don’t have to settle for the apps that were sitting there when you first powered on your device.

Go ahead and swap out the existing icons in the dock with ones of your own; just tap, hold and drag them into place. The icons you’re swapping out will simply scoot out of the way.

You can also rearrange icons in the dock by tapping, holding and dragging them. Want a completely empty dock? Just remove each icon one by one.

Bonus tip: Ever wish you could put an app folder in the dock? Yep, it works, both on Android and iOS.

3. Add a webpage to your home screen

Got a favorite website that you visit on a daily basis? There’s no need to dig into bookmarks of your mobile browser to find it. Instead, just add a shortcut to the site to your device’s home screen.

On an Android phone or tablet, just launch the Chrome web browser, visit the site you want to bookmark, tap the three-dot Menu button, then select “Add to homescreen.” You’ll get the chance to rename the bookmark before finishing up.

take charge smartphone home screen add contact Image: Ben Patterson

Placing a contact on your home screen works for Android phones (but not iPads or iPhones).

On an iPhone or iPad, launch Safari, visit the site you want to bookmark, tap the Share button (it’s the square one with the arrow pointing upwards), then tap the “Add to Home Screen” button.

4. Add a favorite contact [Android only]

Want to cut down on the number of taps it takes to call or text a friend, colleague or loved one? It’s easy to add a shortcut for a contact directly to your Android home screen. It’s a neat trick—and one that isn’t possible on iPhones or iPads, at least for the time-being.

Just search for a contact in the Google search box, open the contact card, tap the three-dot menu in the corner of the screen, then tap “Place on Home Screen.”

Now just tap the contact icon on your home screen, then tap a number to call or text. You can also tap the email button to compose an email message, or tap the map button to map the contact’s location in Google Maps.

5. Install a new Android launcher [Android only]

Ever feel like you needed a change on your home screen—perhaps even a big change? If you’ve got an Android phone, you’re in luck.

By installing a new Android “launcher” on your phone, you can change the entire look and feel of your handset’s home screen.

take charge smartphone home screen launcher menu Image: Ben Patterson

You can swap out launchers easily from Settings on your Android phone.

Basically, you can think of launchers as “themes” for your Android phone or tablet, except many launchers offer features that are more than skin-deep.

The popular Nova Launcher, for example, offers dozens of customization options for your home screen. Want to change the shape and color of the app dock, or hide it until you really need it? No problem. Wish you could scroll through all your homepages continuously, like a carousel? Easy. Want your home-screen folders shaped like squares rather than circles? Done.

Yahoo’s Aviate launcher boasts a series of different “spaces” depending on the time of day. The “morning” space, for example, details the weather and your commute, while the “work” space gives you quick access to productivity apps and lets you connect to scheduled conference calls.

Then there’s Smart Launcher 2, which organizes your oft-used apps in a sleek daisy wheel sitting in the middle of the screen (see the primary image for this article), and iOS 8 Launcher HD, which makes your Android home screen look like ... well, iOS 8.

Dozens and dozens of free launchers (many with in-app purchases, of course) are available in the Play Store, and they’re easy to try on for size.

To manage your various launchers, just tap Settings, Home, then choose one of the launchers installed on your handset. The generic “Launcher” option, by the way, is the “stock” launcher for Android.

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