Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to make your Android home screen useful (iphone -> android transition 4)

Common preamble: I'm looking to break my Apple iDevice addiction so I can get off the expensive hardware treadmill. So I'm transitioning to Android. I have a MacBookPro running 10.8.x as my main device. I'm currently on an iPhone 3GS after I sadly lost a pristine iPhone 5 in the woods, and my wonderful mother donated her used Samsung Galaxy S3 when she upgraded, so here we go.

One thing Apple does well is allow you to unlock the phone and get into the app you need with 2 taps maximum, when configured well. You've got your most used apps on the bottom available on all screens, then you can make folders to collect most-used apps of a similar type on your main screen, and you're just about guaranteed to be 2 taps from getting something done.

Android by default appeared to me to be a big pretty wasteland when I first turned it on. You can't fit too much on any screen and things are spread all over the place. You have to tap a ton to do anything. What gives? Apparently this is another part of the "just works" vs "you can configure everything" iphone vs android philosophy. And I don't mind that, I guess I'm just surprised that the defaults are so awful so much of the time, and this is an area I think the iphone gets right.

So how to fix it so you're back to 1-tap mostly, and 2-tap max for your apps? You need a "Launcher".

I read a bunch of reviews and settled on NovaLauncher. It does exactly what I need and isn't too difficult to configure.

I went hog-wild at first and configured something like 7 virtual screens etc, before I realized I was having to think a lot about where things were, at which point I went the other way and have just two screens now - one that is as efficient and dense as I can make it, and the other for "everything else".

I configured it for a grid of 5x8 icons (I'm on a relatively roomy galaxy S3 remember) along with a dock. I have dragged my most used single apps to the dock (mail, go sms pro, etc) so they are all there, then for the other icon spots I've added any of the apps I use to the launcher, then dragged them into 4-icon groupings by plopping them on to each other. I added a 1-row google search widget at the top so I can find anything quickly in a pinch, then a 2-row weather widget (which is pretty ridiculously inefficient but I like weather), and I still have access to 104 different apps with 2-taps maximum, and I can see all the icons so I don't have to think about it.

Not bad.

I know my app usage patterns change over time so I put apps I'm trying out, or infrequently use, or that are being kicked out in favor of new apps on the other "everything else" screen, and keep the main screen efficient. That's worked for me on the iphone for a few years so I can't see why it wouldn't work here.

You guys have better ways of organizing a screen for maximum getting-things-done-ness and I'm missing the boat on something? Clue me in if so. Cheers!

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