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home screen layout: when and how to use it
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Home Screen Layout: When and How to Use It

Alexandre Morin Alexandre Morin
Senior Product Manager at Kandji
10 min read

Just over eight years ago, at its 2016 spring media event, Apple made a batch of product announcements, including the brand new iPhone SE and iPad Pro. The company also announced the upcoming release of iOS 9.3—one of the biggest ever for the enterprise and education markets alike. It introduced Apple School Manager, Managed Apple IDs, Classroom, and Shared iPad, which allowed a single Apple iPad to be shared among multiple users. 

With that last one came a related new feature: The ability to control the layout of the Home Screen—which apps appeared where—of managed iPhone and iPad devices. The idea was that admins would be able to configure a set of iPad devices that would have the same apps in the same places, regardless of which specific iPad a student might choose to use on any given day. That way, students would always know where to find the apps they needed. 

One sample workflow that evolved from this: Admins would put every app any of their students might need on every iPad in their fleet, then use their chosen device management tooling to arrange those apps as needed for each individual class—all the science apps on one page, everything for language arts on another. They could also use another payload to show or hide specific apps, making the interface that much clearer for students.

Home Screen Layout: When to Use It

In time, Home Screen Layout—along with Apple Business Manager, Managed Apple IDs, and Shared iPad—were released for enterprise customers, too. As the practice of sharing iPad devices among multiple users migrated from education to business, the same principles applied.

You could, for instance, use Home Screen layouts to make sure that all your point-of-sale devices had the same check-out app in the same place on the Home Screen, so each sales associate could complete a transaction without hunting around. It’s something like a shared tool chest in a car shop: The wrenches are always in the same drawer, so that no matter who’s working in that bay that day, they can still be productive. 

It must be strongly stressed that Home Screen layouts are for shared iPhone or iPad devices, not for those used by single users (in Apple parlance, corporate-owned but personally enabled). The main reason is that the Home Screen layout payload provides no flexibility: Apps stay where the admin puts them. If a user tries to rearrange them, they can’t.

People are accustomed to control, particularly on their mobile devices. They want to arrange the apps on their Home Screens in ways that work for them. Some people arrange their apps by frequency of use. Others group them by function. There are people who arrange them all alphabetically or even by color. Whatever helps them use their devices effectively, that’s how they want to arrange their apps on the Home Screen. They may not appreciate it if IT takes that control away.

Taking that control away from them is not only a bad user experience. If you wanted to choke off innovation and creativity in an organization, mandating where apps appear on a user’s Home Screen might not be a bad place to start.

Home Screen Layout: Tips

Assuming, then, that you’re applying Home Screen layouts to the right kinds of devices (i.e. shared ones), there are some general guidelines that you should follow:

The Fewer Apps, the Better

You can pair Home Screen layout with a restriction to show and hide specific apps. (Kandji does so by default.) That way, you can arrange just the apps you want users to see, and hide the rest. That sidesteps the unpredictabilities of where iOS/iPadOS will put those unarranged apps.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

It’s easy to get into an ivory-tower mindset—"Here’s how they should use these apps and devices." Don’t do that. Instead, you’d ideally get out into the environment where those devices will actually be used—the factory floor, the hospital ward, the retail store, wherever—and observe how they’re actually being used in the real world. 

When one of your users is doing an inventory lookup, with an impatient customer looking over their shoulder, how could you make that easier? Where would the user keep the device—in a pocket, on a shelf, on the desk? When they’re operating it, do they pick it up? Do they have to show it to the customer? 

Or let’s say you’re configuring an iPhone for workers who will use it to monitor processes on a factory floor. That monitoring process (a) requires just three apps and (b) occasionally means the operator must interact with the phone one-handed. In that case, you want to arrange those three apps at the bottom of the screen or in the Dock, where they can easily be reached with a thumb. 

These are all little things, but anything you as an admin can do to make such everyday processes easier for everyone, the better. 

Remember Accessibility

The iPhone and iPad have many accessibility features that can make them easier for everyone to use. For example, the larger iPhone models now offer Reachability—meaning you can pull apps down to the bottom half of the screen just by swiping down. That, too, will have an impact on where you put apps.

Use Your Eyes

Be careful about the interaction between the app icons you’re arranging on the Home Screen and the device’s wallpaper. If you’re also specifying a wallpaper on these shared devices, avoid anything busy, with lots of colors or high contrasts. Such a background can make it harder to see apps. Stick with basic wallpapers and leave the corporate wallpaper and logo for the lock screen, where app icons won’t hide it.

Use Folders

Folders can be really useful places to hide the apps that Apple won’t let you hide any other way, such as Settings and Phone. Another way to get them out of the way: Specify that they appear on the second Home Screen.

Home Screen Layout: The Future

Kandji has recently finished the phased release of its Home Screen Layout Library Item, but we aren’t done. The way we arrange apps on iPhone and iPad could change dramatically, if and when Apple folds that functionality into declarative device management

If that does happen, you’d likely have far more control over which apps appear where and when, based on local conditions on the device. It’s possible that you’d be able to arrange those apps much more interactively based on time, device state, or user. Such conditions could theoretically be used in declarative predicates, which would then adjust Home Screen settings automatically.

But such aspirational functionality is still to come. In the meantime, the judicious use of tooling such as Kandji’s Home Screen Layout Library Item will do the job.

About Kandji

Kandji is the Apple device management and security platform that empowers secure and productive global work. With Kandji, Apple devices transform themselves into enterprise-ready endpoints, with all the right apps, settings, and security systems in place. Through advanced automation and thoughtful experiences, we’re bringing much-needed harmony to the way IT, InfoSec, and Apple device users work today and tomorrow.