Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This Week's Sponsor

Kolide ensures only secure devices can access your cloud apps. It's Device Trust for Okta. Watch the demo today!

By Jason Snell

iOS 14 customization: A tale as old as time

Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.

home screens
Image: 9to5Mac.

One of the big features of iOS 14 is the addition of home screen widgets. Combine this with a bunch of new widget apps such as Widgetsmith, designed with lots of options to add decoration or information to an iPhone, and iPhone users now have the ability to radically customize their home screens.

(iOS 14 isn’t quite the whole story here—users were previously able to use Shortcuts to create app-launching apps with custom names and icons, but the new ability to hide pages on the home screen makes those icons truly disappear.)

The result, starting immediately upon iOS 14’s release, has been a viral avalanche of home-screen customization tips, driven mostly by young people on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

So now comes the backlash—people complaining about other people having fun doing things to their iPhones.

I’d like to say I’m surprised, but this is the most predictable thing ever. People were jerks about Memojis, and Animojis, and emojis in general! Sticker shamers exist. People who hate flashy iPhone cases. Why wouldn’t people be jerks about this thing, too?

Some people can’t step outside their own point of view and imagine why someone else might want to do something they don’t. And some of those people react by denigrating the people who are having fun.

What’s worse, I’d imagine that many of these assassins of joy are old enough to remember when they enthusiastically customized their own devices!

The Mac has a long history of customization. When I became a Mac user in the early 90s, it was de rigueur to give your Mac hard drive a name and a custom icon. Ideally, you had a custom wallpaper pattern or image, too. Apps like SoundMaster let you set custom sounds for various actions. The list went on and on. Your Mac felt like home—and like no one else’s.1

What’s more surprising is that Apple was so slow in bringing real customization to the iPhone home screen.2 If adding widgets to iOS 14 has caused enormous burst of creativity, it’s only because all that desire had built up over years and years with very little outlet.

This is not a surprise. This is not the effect of young whippersnappers raised on social media wanting to do goofy things with their phones. Users of computer platforms have wanted to customize and personalize for decades.

David Smith, the developer of Widgetsmith, has watched his app rocket to the top of the App Store charts as a part of this trend. I’m sure his road map for new features has changed dramatically since discovering what people wanted to use it for.

Apple should be getting the message, loud and clear. The company realized a while back that new emojis and animoji characters and memoji designs and the like can help convince people to update the operating system on their devices. Surely it’s clear that iPhone users desperately want more tools to customize their home screens. If more customization features aren’t shooting up Apple’s priority list for iOS 15 (or before), something’s really wrong.

So party on, home screen designers. Don’t let the curmudgeons bring you down. You’re just the latest in a proud line of people who have wanted to do the natural thing and make their technology more personal.

  1. Every time I ejected a disk from my Mac SE, William Shatner shouted, “And she’s gone!!!!!” My college girlfriend’s Mac shut down to HAL 9000 saying, “My mind is going…” 
  2. And you still can’t arbitrarily place icons on the screen, a la Android! 

If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.

Search Six Colors