This single screenshot shows why iOS is years behind Android in usability

When it comes to home screen flexibility, the iPhone is even less flexible than the Palm handhelds were back in the 1990s. By comparison, iOS is positively regressive.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
2014-05-15 21.40.55
Android and the power of widgets

If you just use an iPhone -- or even if you just use an Android phone -- I don't think the deep gulf in usability would be nearly as apparent. But I jump between my old iPhone (which I use as an iPod touch) and my Android phone all day.

And boy-oh-boy, do I notice the difference.

Take a look at the screenshot above. What do you see? What you see is information and control. This is the home screen on my Galaxy S4. I've been tweaking it on and off over the past year, until I got it to be exactly the way I want it.

What you're looking at is a combination of widgets and icons. The iPhone doesn't have widgets. The iPhone presents simply page after page of icons. Even worse, you can't scale the icons, so if you happen to be over 40, you're forced to squint at your home screen to get anything done. It's even worse for those damnable folders, with their incredibly teensy icons -- and you can't even set a folder icon.

When it comes to home screen flexibility, the iPhone is even less flexible than the Palm handhelds were back in the 1990s. By comparison, the iPhone is positively regressive.

In any case, my Android home screen is going to be different from everybody else's. That's because what I want to see and interact with is different as well.

Let's work our way down. There are five main rows.

On the top row, I have a button that triggers Google voice search. Very useful. Then I have a small clock showing time and date. I can do this at a glance. I don't have to swipe up, or click an icon. That's a basic clock widget and there are roughly 47,000 varieties of these available for Android.

Next is a widget that opens a set of contact options for reaching my wife. I use this widget a lot during the day because, with one tap, I can send her a text, call her, Skype her, and more. Yes, the iPhone has apps that are similarly designed to focus on one contact, but what's next goes way beyond what the iPhone can do.

I have Hue lights in my house. They can be completely controlled by an app called Hue Pro. That's the first icon. Then, there's the ON/-/+ widget. Just one tap allows me to turn all my lights on or off, or dim them, or make them brighter. I don't need to launch an app. I just tap the widget.

At the far end of that row is Life360. My family uses it so, no matter where we are, we're able to keep track and locate everyone. I have a paid account and this program, which is also available on my iPhone, has proven invaluable for family coordination and project management.

The next row gives me much more granular control over my lights, and this is where I begin to really notice the difference between the Android and iPhone. If I've got my Android phone, I can merely tap the screen to turn on my desk lights. If I've got my iPhone, I have to launch an app, wait for the loading screen, and then find the icon to invoke my setting.

In day-to-day use, it's a huge difference. Oh, and as soon as I walk into the house, Hue Pro turns on my lights.

Let's move down to the fourth row. Here, you can see two status widgets and two icons. At a glance, I can use Overlook Whiz to see the status of the two Web servers I maintain (my personal site server, and the archive for the old ZATZ articles). I set Overlook to check on my sites every fifteen minutes, and if there's any issue, the status message changes in both content and color.

Again, on the iPhone, there's no way to make or use custom widgets like Overlook. Between the two overlook status widgets is the icon for Fing (made by the same people who make the Web status widgets). Fing (also available on the iPhone, unlike the Overlook widgets), is a very useful tool for network scanning. It's become a key go-to tool.

And finally, the Smart Tools app is an incredibly useful app that turns the phone into a full-featured measurement device. I tend to turn to it regularly as well.

Just for completeness, there's my app bar. On it, are Phone, Voice, Hangouts, and Mail -- the communications tools I jump in and out of constantly.

And, of course, the home screen isn't the only one that can have widgets. If I swipe to the left, I get my entire month's calendar, displayed for me beautifully as a widget. If I swipe to the right from my home screen, I get a display of the hottest to-do items on my list -- all without having to launch apps. It's not just widgets and it's not just apps. It's the ability to mix them and customize the display to each individual's needs that blows away iOS devices.

My point is not that my choice of widgets is going to be perfect for you, or even that I've chosen the best widgets and apps. It's just that -- for me -- this customized screen perfectly suits my needs. Every time I pick up my iPhone, it becomes completely apparent that the iPhone lags considerably behind Android in usability.

There really is no denying it.

What's on your home screen? What are your favorite widgets?

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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