The apps that make your phone’s home screen have special honor. The home screen can hold around 24 to 28 apps. You hand-pick them for easiest access. The other apps on your phone? Buried on secondary pages.
Chances are, over the years you fine-tune this list of apps that appear on your home screen. Comparing your home screen today to the on your phone five years ago is a nice blast from the past. You see how your app selection has evolved over time.
In the past five years, I’ve had a total of 39 different apps appear on my home screen. We can use this as criteria to build a list of the 39 most important apps to consider including on your home screen. Let’s break this list down into five tiers.
Apps that appeared on my home screen for five years.
- Only 8 apps have the staying power to remain on my home screen for all five years. Most of them are the default iPhone apps: Camera, Phone, Clock, Messages, Photos, Settings. How about apps that aren’t default iPhone apps? I have two other such apps in Tier 1:
- Toodledo: Toodledo, a to-do list app, has always appeared on my home screen. It’s the most feature-rich to-do list app on the market. However, I actually rarely ever use this app. I always like the idea that I’ll be better with my to-do list, so the app remains on the home screen.
- Foursquare/Swarm: This location app is now rather passe ever since Foursquare broke it off into a separate app called Swarm in 2014. I don’t use Swarm nearly as much as I did Foursquare back in 2012. However, I still enjoy checking into locations via Swarm. Given the low-frequency that I use the app, it COULD go onto the second page. I avoid shoving off Swarm, to the forgotten second screen, because one of my main criteria for getting onto the home screen is to remove any barriers from using a particular app. Swarm is still fun. It’s one of those apps where if it’s too much work to pull up, I won’t use it. Thus, Swarm remains on my home screen.
Apps that appeared on my home screen for four years.
- Evernote: The essential notetaking app
- GoodReader: The best PDF reader
- Messenger: Don’t pay for a texting plan, use Facebook Messenger instead. My wife and I refused to get a texting plan for a couple years, so we used Messenger all the time. Now family and friends have pressured us to get a texting plan, but we still use Messenger for non-urgent communications. (we reserve texting for messaging that is time-senstive)
- Podcasts: This should be in tier one, but in 2012, Apple didn’t have it as a standalone app.
- Chrome: Maybe Safari is good iOS browser, I just prefer the universe of Chrome instead. One of the main fuctions of a phone is an internet browser, so Chrome gets home row treatment.
- Google Maps: Another main function of a phone is being a GPS unit, thus Google Maps gets home row placement. Pretty funny that in 2012 I kept the iPhone’s Maps app on my home screen. Ack.
- Kindle: The Kindle app falls into the same territory as toodledo. I keep it on the home screen with good intentions that I’ll read more books. Rarely do I.
- Calendar: The default calendar. This app is no longer on my home screen, I removed it because there other better calendar apps out there.
- Fahrenheit: Want a quick look at the current temperature on your home screen? This app will tell you the temperature via the notification red circle on the app icon. However, as of this year, the app stopped updating the temperature, so I removed it.
- Hootsuite: I no longer use this app. Hootsuite is (was) a great tool for twitter. But now that Tweetdeck pretty much does everything Hootsuite does, I don’t see the point in paying $10/month to Hootsuite to use more then three twitter accounts.
Only one app has remained on my home screen for exactly three years: Instagram. Initially in 2012, it was a must-have app for me. Then in 2013 Instagram made really bad terms in their user contract, so I boycotted the app for a year. Returning back to the app, by default I placed the app back to its previous spot: the home screen. Even though it didn’t deserve such a place of honor.
Instagram is a simple 30-second time-kill app. Waiting in line? Pull up Instagram and do a quick scroll. But what you see in scroll is troubling for me. I personally see Instagram as a time suck. Why?
1) Most of the images my friends post are regular everyday photos. I could just see those images on Facebook.
2) A ton of awesomely creative people are on Instagram. Even though I don’t know these people, I could follow them for inspiration. However, they have such large followings that if you comment on their photo, they will likely never reciprocate and look at your images. Heck, they get so many comments, they may never even read what you say! I use social media to be social and connect with people. If a super-creative person is not going to reply back to me, then I don’t find it worth the time looking at their work. Yeah, it’s a rather brash opinion on my part.
I’ve got more to say about Instagram, and why it’s a poor service. But I’ll save that for another blog post. For now, Instagram gets second page treatment.
Apps that appeared on my home screen for two years.
- Feedly: The best RSS reader
- Fitbit: The Fitbit app should appear in a higher tier, but this is a list of the past FIVE years. Fitbit came around only in the past couple years. Fitbit is the best app to use to count your daily steps. The social functionality in this app makes it better than Apple’s Health app or any other step devices. People are on this service, and that’s simply why it’s the best to use. But if that was the only reason to use the service, then you basically have an Instagram service where people sign up for a crappy service because everyone’s on it.
Thankfully, Fitbit is not a crappy service that has most of the users. Fitbit is a great service that has the largest following. Fitbit has some really great API connections with other services. Connect your Fitbit to Walgreens and get an extra 500 Value Points per month. The GPS tracking can connect to most of the other exercise apps out there. Same thing with the weight tracking.
- Pro HDR: The iPhone can shoot HDR photos automatically, but they don’t turn out as great as the HDR photos from standalone apps. I’ve tried about 10 different HDR apps, and this one works the best for me. For a couple years the app was buried on another page. On my honeymoon in Paris, I kept using the HDR app soo much. The high-frequency of use prompted me to put it on the home screen in 2015, where it has stayed since.
- Byline: The best RSS reader for the Feedly service. With this app you can pick one folder within your feedly to use. I have about 75 different folders in my Feedly, it really gets to be too much on mobile. Having just one folder allows me to focus on a selection of feeds for my mobile use.
- Music: The Apple Music app. Chances are, you use Spotify, so I wouldn’t put the Music app on your home screen.
- Blue Letter Bible: Their desktop website is one of the best Bible websites out there. It features a great Greek/Hebrew lexicon. Very good commentaries. But it feels a bit clunky. I want to keep using it on my iPhone, but there are many other Bible iPhone apps that are much cleaner.
- Flickr: Ahh, Flickr. The best photo service on the internet. It’s a shame that everyone has flocked like lemmings to Instagram.
- Timehop: This service was fun until they pulled some features. I honestly can’t even remember what they pulled away. But whatever they did it prompted me to remove the app from my home screen in 2016.
Apps that appeared on my home screen for only one year.
- YouVersion Bible: Right now the YouVersion Bible is my preferred Bible app. It has the most social functionality out of any Bible app. Plus, the interface is clean.
- Dropbox: This should have been on my home screen for many more years than just one. Lately I find myself transferring files one and off my iPhone using Dropbox so much. It just had to belong on the home screen.
- Instapaper: Another new addition to my home screen. This is the cleanest interface for reading articles. For every article you read, you can automatically have it archived in Evernote. Heck, you can even set it up to save your highlights automatically to Evernote too. (use an IFTTT applet to make these happen). Instapaper is my go-to app while commuting.
- Last.fm: LOL Last.fm. At one point they had a nice radio feature in the app. But that was killed back in 2012.
- Tiny Death Star: Such an addicting game back in 2014.
- Contacts: Another default Apple app. Do you really use your contacts app that much? Probably not. Stick this on another page.
- Facebook: I try to limit my Facebook usage, so it was on my home screen for only one year. Keep your life in order by looking at Facebook when you are on the desktop. You don’t need to be on Facebook for every moment of your life.
- Reeder: This was a good RSS reader app.
- Maps: Apple’s maps app. LOL. Don’t use this app! Use Google Maps instead.
- Safari: This might be a good browser. I don’t know. I tend to use Chrome.
- Yelp: When I’m traveling, Yelp gets put onto my home screen. When I’m not traveling, it drops down to the second page.
1 thought on “The 39 most essential iPhone apps of the past five years”
I should really remove the Swarm app from my homescreen.