After Josh Centers wrote “iOS 14’s App Library: The FAQ” (September 9, 2020), we received a good response in the comments. Several people noted that they have long relied on a technique that is no different from the App Library, in that they use one or more home screens for a carefully organized set of folders that contain all of their less used apps. I admire such attention to detail, and in an ideal world I would use a similar approach.
However, I have 352 apps installed (check your number in Settings> General> About). Since the loss of the organization tools in iTunes, the huge effort to drag hundreds of icons around has discouraged me from cleaning up. Adding widgets to the home screen in iOS 1
As welcome as iOS 14’s app library may be to many of us, especially besides being able to hide the home screens, here’s a collection of tips that will help everyone reorganize their app icons more easily, regardless of iOS version or device.
Let us first make sure that we are all on the same page.
- To move an app, start by touching and holding it. In newer versions of iOS, you can start dragging the app as soon as you feel a click, or you can stop until you see a popover, where you can tap Edit Home screen. In earlier versions of iOS, touch and hold until you enter jiggle mode. (Interestingly, the Apple Style Guide is clear that it is not “wiggle mode.”) Drag the app to the desired location.
- To place the app on another home screen, drag the left or right edge of the screen and pause briefly to switch screens.
- To create a new folder, drag an app on top of another and pause briefly. Rename the folder as desired.
- To place an app in a folder, drag it into the folder. Pausing the folder opens it, and you can drag the app into place in the folder or even to other pages in the folder.
- To delete a folder, drag all the apps in it to another folder or home screen.
- When done, press the Home button or swipe up from the bottom of the screen to exit jiggle mode.
Want to see a demo of this? Josh Centers whipped up this fast-paced video.
Clear space on the dock and use it as a temporary holding zone
This tip is not new, but it is worth repeating. If you do a lot of app cleaning across multiple home screens, it can be tiring and frustrating to drag the app over a long distance, especially if you end up hovering over another app, just a little too long and invoking the process of creating the folder.
But if you think about it, you can save yourself a lot of stress by moving apps by moving one or more of your Dock apps to a temporary location and then using the Dock as your hold zone. You can then place a number of apps on the Dock, navigate to the desired home screen and drag them out in several small steps, without having to hold your finger down all the time.
It’s much faster than moving each app, one at a time, especially if you have many home screens.
Josh made another short video to show how this works.
Move a bunch of apps at once
John Clark’s tips take the idea of working with multiple apps to a higher level, so you can put together a bunch of apps and place them in a new place with a single drop. This is how.
Start by moving an app. After picking it up, I recommend dragging it to the lower right corner of the Home screen. It’s not necessary, but it does make it easier to see what you’re doing. Without letting go of the app you downloaded, use another finger (from the other hand, most easily) to tap on several apps that are grinning. Each app you press is added to the pile you hold, and a blue mark increases to tell you how many are in the pile. Repeat as many times as you want – I found no limit to the number of apps you can stack together like this. You can also drag the stack to other home screens to add icons from them as well.
Once you have assembled the stack, drag it to the desired location and lift your finger to release the icons. They fill in the destination folder or home screen from left to right, top to bottom, in first order.
This snazzy tip will be good just for dumping apps in folders quickly to reduce the number of home screens you have.
For a demonstration of how this works, watch Josh’s video.
Swipe to change the home screens as you drag
John’s tips made me use both hands to rearrange apps, something I had never done before. But when I did, I stumbled upon a hugely useful and painfully obvious (well, it is now, anyway) tip.
Dragging an app or stack of apps from the Home screen to the Home screen is slow and prone to error. All too often, you end up hovering over another app for too long, causing iOS to try to create a folder. The only way out is to drop the app in the folder, pick it up again and drag it out. Insane!
But here’s the thing. If you start dragging an app or a pile with one hand and then use a finger on the other side to swipe left and right to move between the home screens, it’s much easier. Essentially, you move the home screen under the app or stack you hold. If you hold the app or stack in the lower right corner, it’s easy to see everything on each home screen you reveal, and there’s no worry about hovering over another app or accidentally getting into a folder.
Is this not entirely clear from my description? Josh’s video gives you a preview.
Search for the full name of the app to find the folder
John Clark also pointed me to this little fact. I did not realize that when you search for an app by swiping down the home screen and typing in the search field, if your search only reveals a single app, iOS will also display the name of the folder that contains the found app. This gives you a greater chance of being able to find the app, provided you find the included folder.
Obviously, this trick has its limitations. If the app you want to find is strewn between your home screens but not in a folder, no folder name will be displayed. And if you can not limit your search to a single result (I have too many apps whose names begin with “Weather”), good luck.
It’s also unnecessary if you’ve upgraded to iOS 14 because you can always find the app and move it to a new location on the home screen from the app library. But for those who have not yet upgraded, or who work in iPadOS, it can be useful.
(Not) Use Apple Configurator 2 to rearrange apps from your Mac
There’s one last way you can theoretically rearrange apps more easily – by using Apple Configurator 2 to do it from your Mac. Apple Configurator 2 is designed to help IT administrators create and install profiles on multiple Apple devices simultaneously in an institutional environment, but it also lets you rearrange the icons on your iPhone or iPad from your Mac.
Or at least it should. I include the instructions below in case Apple releases an update that fixes the issue, but every time I tried to save my changes by clicking the Apply button, I got this error dialog and my changes were ignored. Apple released version 2.13.1 of Apple Configurator 2 just a few days ago, so I was expecting it to be compatible with iOS 14, but maybe not. In addition, there are quite a few reviews for previous versions that indicate that the home screen setup feature does not work even if this error does not appear. So do not waste your time, or if you are testing a new version of Apple Configurator 2, make sure it works by moving a single icon before spending a lot of time on it.
Should it ever work, here’s how the process should go. To get started, download Apple Configurator 2 from the Mac App Store. When you first start it with your iPhone connected via USB, you may get one of the invisible Mobile Device Updater dialog boxes indicating that your Mac lacks the software needed to communicate with the iOS version on the device. Unfortunately, Apple’s support note is useless, except to confirm that it is an official notice and that there is no problem installing.
Once you have Apple Configurator 2 and any updates installed and your iPhone connected via USB, follow these steps:
- Click the device to select it on the first screen of Apple Configurator 2.
- From the Home screen, select Actions> Change> Setup.
- Drag the sheet icons to rearrange them in the sheet that appears.
- When done, click Apply.
Although it is relatively clear what to do, the interface has some hidden peculiarities.
- There are no indications that this is true, but the sheet showing all your home screens can be changed in all directions, allowing you to make it much larger and easier to work with. Click and drag from any edge.
- No scroll bar is displayed, but you should be able to scroll left and right with the trackpad or Magic Mouse 2 gestures, or with a scroll wheel. You can also drag an icon to the edge of the sheet to scroll.
- You can select multiple icons at once by shifting and clicking or dragging a rectangle around them, as you would expect from a Mac-like icon view.
- You can not move more icons to a home screen than it fits on. In other words, if you select four icons, Apple Configurator 2 will not let you drop them on a home screen with fewer than four open spots.
- Just like on an iPhone or iPad, drag one icon on top of another to create a folder.
- Double-click it to open a folder without adding an icon.
- To navigate out of a folder, click anywhere in the gray area around the white folder sketch, or click the X button at the top left. Or press the Escape key.
- To remove an icon from a folder, drag it to the X button at the top left.
Have you come up with any other tricks for reorganizing or reorganizing apps on your iPhone or iPad? Let us know in the comments!