My iPhone Home Screen October 2018
If you've been following these monthly Home Screen updates you know that I've been on a mission to find the perfect Home Screen setup. Each month has been an iteration getting closer to what I want. Sometimes in these iterative cycles you see small changes, sometimes you see huge ones. This month definitely falls into the latter category...huge change.
As you can see there are now only six “apps” on my Home Screen. Each is the same color, a nice Dark Gray gradient, uses an icon from the same icon family, and has no icon label. In between the top row and the dock is a perfectly placed background image.
So clean. I love it.
“But wait, how...what...please explain what’s happening here.”
In a word, Shortcuts is happening here.
Each “App” is actually a shortcut that I created within the Shortcuts App. In what I think is a natural evolution of how I’ve been thinking about my Home Screen, these “Apps” now represent actions instead of stand alone apps. This is a big step down the road to make my iPhone work for me as much as possible.
So I think the best way for me to explain what I mean by all of this is to walk you through what each of these “Apps” does and why.
Home Screen Shortcuts
Today view in Things
The first “App” in the top row, represented by the check mark, takes me directly to the Today view in Things. This is a super simple shortcut but it serves a vital purpose. I tap one button and I’m immediately presented with the things I need to accomplish today.
“But Cam, how hard is it to open Things and then tap ‘Today’? Why would you do this instead?”
It’s not hard to tap on Things and then tap ‘Today’, it’s pretty simple actually. My method is simpler though. I only have to tap once and I’m exactly where I need to be. In addition to this, switching my overall Home Screen mindset from Apps to Actions, encourages this sort of intentionality. If I want to see Today’s tasks I should have a way to do that in one tap. Now I do.
New Sheet in Ulysses Inbox
This is another simple shortcut that is focused on action. I use Ulysses as a catch-all for text on my iPhone and iPad. As such there are many times where I want to capture some text immediately. This shortcut allows me, in one tap, to open a new Sheet in Ulysses and begin entering text.
This, and the previous Shortcut, are both very simple but they are both incredibly helpful to me every single day.
This shortcut, and the following two, are menus grouped by action. This first shortcut, as you’ve figured out by now, is for any type of writing I might do on my iPhone. When launched, this shortcut presents a menu to me asking where I want to go: Ulysses, Things, Fantastical, this Website, and Day One.
The reason I have both Ulysses and Things in this list, along with the specific shortcuts already mentioned, is because there are often times where I want to enter text that doesn’t fall into those two very specific scenarios. For example, I may want to work on an existing Sheet in Ulysses, or enter tasks into Things in a different list, or a specific Project or Area. I also want to keep those first two Shortcuts as set-apart for only one purpose, as a way to train my brain and reinforce these sweeping changes I’m making.
In addition to Ulysses and Things, I also have the option to enter new event details in Fantastical, go to my website’s back-end to work on new or existing articles (this one also fires another shortcut that starts a specific timer), and to create a new entry in Day One. With this one “App” I have the ability to interact with five different apps. This saves me Home Screen real estate and removes the friction of having to find the right app, navigate to the appropriate screen within that app, and then executing my intended action.
This menu presents me with all of my audio apps: Apple Music, Overcast, Anchor, Podcasts, Audible, and Spotify. When I tap on the app I want I’m taken directly there, but what's more, every menu item in this list is also tied to a separate shortcut that starts a specific timer in Toggl. So when I tap Apple Music or Spotify, my music timer starts, when tap on Overcast, Anchor, or Podcasts, my podcasts timer starts..and those timers fire in the background as well, which is a very nice touch.
The reading menu presents me with three options: Apple Books, Kindle, and the ESV Bible app. Exactly like the Listening Menu shortcut, this shortcut fires a timer in the background for each menu item when chosen and then opens the correct app.
Stop current Toggl Timer
The last shortcut on the list stops the current timer in Toggl. This is a very helpful shortcut to have because of how many of my other shortcuts will start timers as they execute.
One More Thing
The secret sauce to this whole set up is the Widget Screen. This is the screen to the left of the Home Screen that until now I hardly utilized. With this drastic Home Screen change, however, the Widget Screen has become irreplaceable in my everyday use of my iPhone.
I use the Widget Screen for two main purposes: quick glances at info and quick actions. In the category of quick glances I use these widgets: Dark Sky, Fantastical, Batteries, Airmail Inbox, ETA, and Screen Time. For quick actions I have these widgets: Things, Phone Favorites, Trello, Shortcuts, Just Press Record, Overcast, and Apple Music.
On top of this, pun intended, the Widget Screen also allows me to search my iPhone for apps, contacts, strings of text within apps, and more. By tapping on the Search Field I am also presented with Siri suggestions for apps that I may want to use at that moment as well as any specific actions Siri thinks I may want to take.
This new Home Screen paradigm allows me to accomplish my most regular actions with a single tap, or two in the case of the menu shortcuts, while also providing me with full control of the aesthetics of my Home Screen. With one swipe I can access the Widget Screen to take quick action, sneak a quick glance at information, or search my phone. With a swipe in the opposite direction I can access my entire catalog of apps, organized by color of course.
All in all, I’m very, very pleased with this latest iteration of my Home Screen. It truly is a pleasure to both look at and use my iPhone now.
App of the month
Shortcuts is an app that allows the user to build automation on top of a deeply integrated framework. As you saw with my Home Screen shortcuts you can do something as simple as stop a timer or take it much further to run shortcuts within other shortcuts to open apps in specific states while also interacting with Web Apps via APIs. This is just scratching the surface.
Every Shortcut can also be associated with a key phrase for Siri that allows you to trigger Shortcuts with your voice. You can also trigger Shortcuts via a Widget or the Share Sheet. Shortcuts is an incredibly powerful app capable of handling scripting, web API usage, Home Automation, and more. If this article has remotely piqued your interest then check out the incredible and in-depth coverage over at MacStories.
A Few Secrets
How did I center the top row of shortcuts?
Well, I didn’t center them actually. There are three app icons in the top row, the first one just happens to be black and matches the background image perfectly.
See, I wouldn’t lie to you. This icon is a web shortcut made by _David Smith. Tapping on it takes you to a page on his website. He even graciously prefilled the title of the web shortcut with an empty character, to remove the icon label. This obviously only works with backgrounds that are black but as you can see when you’ve got a black background it works flawlessly.
If you want to try this out yourself, you can follow David’s instructions.
How did I remove the icon labels?
This was frustrating for me to figure out but it turns out it's actually not that hard. The icon labels all use an “Empty Character” instead of letters. So iOS recognizes that there is a character in the title field, which is required, but because it is an empty character there is no visual sign of it. The OS is pleased and so am I, a nice win-win.
If you want to try this out you’ll need to know a few things first. You can only remove the icon labels from folders, shortcuts you share to the Home Screen, or web pages you share to the Home Screen. You cannot remove the icon label from an app.
When using this Empty Character to name your shortcuts, you will find that no two shortcuts can have the same title. This means that you need to add an additional Empty Character to the title of each new shortcut you make that you would like to hide the label on. So for example, if we were using ‘J’ to represent the Empty Character, the six shortcuts on my Home Screen would be labeled, ‘J’, ‘JJ’,’JJJ’,’JJJJ’, ‘JJJJJ’, and ‘JJJJJJ’ respectively. This same restriction does not apply to folders or web pages.
If you want to use the Empty Character trick to clean up your iPhone you can find it here.
Want to know where I got the dope Lock Screen and Home Screen images?
I wish I could say I made them because they are amazing, but alas I did not make them. In my quest to figure out how to remove the icon labels from my shortcuts I stumbled upon a Reddit thread where one gracious Reddit user shared both a helpful answer and a link to a treasure trove of space themed phone wallpapers. Enjoy.
Thanks for your time
Thank you so much for taking the time to read all the way to the end of this article. If you’ve made it this far you must be interested in this sort of stuff. I’d love to hear from you on Twitter. Say hi, ask questions, offer up corrections and suggestions, or just share a top-notch GIF.