Mobile Homescreen

The homescreen, or more importantly, active homescreen is an important and often overlooked part of an OS and App store and in fact the apps themeselves, so I struggled to see if this page would be here or in my mobile Apps and Content blog. Anyway, we are here - overlooked? yes, that can be the only reason it came as an addition to iOS in release 5, however, to be fair, Apple had a "homescreen" already in terms of the many pages where apps, bookmarks to web pages and web apps and the phones settings, etc could all be found in one place, one gesture or click away.

I will start at the end and work back to the beggining, as I find it fascinating that iOS 5 should be the first time apple bring a homescreen to the device, and to me this is more useful and worthy of promotion than ridiculous apps like Siri...
Apple introduced active homescreen in iOS 5
This can be achived by swiping down from the top of the screen, so does not take up real estate, it would be nice to be able to use other gestures, like waving over the devices, turning it over twice or shaking... but it essentially has all the info you need, more surprising is five days of sun during a british winter, but these are matters to be addressed in another blog than this one. I nicer feature would be the ability to easily click into and edit what is shown here, like on symbian homescreen, which I shall get to shortly. In short, i started here as I have noticed many people using this, and those who I have discussed with, say it is probably the only redeeming feature of the worst phone software upgrade I have even done (upgrading to iOS 5 deleted all my content, apps, music and more from my device and I almost switched phones at that point). being able to see / confirm / check your day and week during a meeting, during a call or whilst on the move without navigating a UI or distracting yourself from what you are doing is very, very useful.
Options for integrating a homescreen with a device or OS
For me one of the best homescreens was also one of the first, the Nokia symbian homescreen we first saw on the N97 in terms of publicity, however in simpler forms (being able to configure shortcuts on your main screen) it had been around for longer. The N97 brought weather, email, contacts and facebook to the homescreen, which then (and even now covered most of the angles) and in many ways makes it more useful still than others, even though once you navigate from their these benefits are lost on the now neglected symbian OS. Its a shame that updates to accuweather have not been incorporated and that homescreens for one device do not necessarily work on another (I have tried installing the N97 one on all the nokia I have had in my possession (X6, N8, C7, etc, etc, and no luck)
Nokia active homescreen intro in 2008 on the N97
One now famous homescreen is the one from sense by HTC. Famous as it is part of most their phone image marketing collateral, but also as it is truely cross platform, available whether you get an android or microsoft phone HTC, or indeed other OS.
HTC Sense active homescreen, now imitated on most Android UIs
The HTC one is interesting as it is clearly aimed at its market, the weather app has ice when its cold, raindrops and a windowscreen wiper when raining, which is great gimmickry and aimed well at the early adopter andorid purchaser, but as android and and its market (and HTC's market) mature then a few more bells and whistles on the homescreen and configurability would be better: at the moment you need to interact with sense on a homescreen level before going deeper into the sense and/or android UI, but that misses the point:

The homescreen is a passive interaction, read advert, for your apps and app store and other content and unique features on your device that should be passive: i.e. can be seen in an instant whilst in a meeting, on a call or otherwise engaged or pretending to be engaged - do this well and the active homescreen is a killer USP

So what else to say, well of course Microsoft has an interesting twist on the active homescreen, with users able to see many windows (forgive pun) into the OS from a slidy, wavy homescreen. Additionally, handset manufacturers have access to at least one tile that can be configured to their liking, here emphasising what each phone's target may want: a music phone, well music apps, a business phone email and calendar, a general phone social networks, etc. can they be configured: yes, should they be configured for the user out of the box: absolutely:
Windows phone active homescreen
The active homescreen is the first step for many users into apps and smartphone discovery. 

Many Operators and handset manufacturers have then added a "discovery portal", between this simple interaction and the full on app store, and discovery portals will be appearing on these pages soon as another page/post. however, in the meantime, it is very easy if we are reading this blog and most likely work in the industry and/or are already familiar with apps to underestimate how few people, even on higher end devices, especially once that device has become mass market, have never downloaded an app, let alone use or understand apps. Figures vary by device / app store but with early adopters, the uptake of app store usage its in high double digits, however, with the "me-too" purchasers, this falls to double digits percentage of adoption and by the time you are in mass market these figures can have even fallen to single digits percentages of uptake. This can be addressed, and reversed with a homescreen (and discovery portal) to drive these me-too and mass-market adopters to using apps.
Vodafone 360 homescreen

The Vodafone 360 homescreen for the hero devices was similar to many handset manufacturers "skins" that have been applied to android and other OS's since, and is important, as while 360 had its issues, its app adoption was not one of them, and in part this was due to the integration of the homescreen and apps. I would like to think that this was in part due to my weather app and other showcase apps that I put on the devices, but even if not, it is an interesting example as it has since been copied widely. This is probably because for various reasons I was allowed to work with a key member of the UX team extensively to produce just the homescreen tile you can see above: getting 3 days' weather, the location, time and present weather for the GPS location of the device right for all locations took man weeks' time, but does show an important lesson in quality over quantity, as this app has since been adapted and evolved as a key showcase app for other devices:
Photo in-store ad  for Samsung Galaxy S II: weather app & homescreen a key USP  for now mass-market  device
Likewise for Tablets, where the homescreen has greater real estate and importance
There are more... but imitation is the greatest form of flattery - Galaxy Tab pun fully intended :)

Its interesting times, I shall be updating this article as more interactions with clients and colleagues provide more scenarios, and will announce those changes here at my Google+ and my company, Virtuser's Google+

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