Essays on Technology and Culture

Other People’s Home Screens

People love to look at home screens. The current wave of interest may have started with Episode 11 of Connected, at least among the indie tech writers and podcasters I follow, but the launch of Betaworks’s #Homescreen app has way more people talking about what’s on their iPhone home screen. It got [the crew of Accidental Tech Podcast to post and talk about theirs](and how they organize them.). Hell, even I posted my home screen with #Homescreen, [1]mostly because I’m a sucker for an easy to climb on bandwagon. Plus, #Homescreen is way easier to use than, and lets you identify the apps.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The site First and 20 was posting the home screens of famous tech folks as far back as 2009, though stopped around the time Apple went to a phone with 24 app slots. David Sparks runs an ongoing series of interviews about home screens, going back almost as long. David, and his co-host Katie Floyd, even did a deep dive on their home screens on the latest Mac Power Users. Home screens are also common parts of interviews over at The Sweet Setup. Even when meeting fellow nerds in real life, we’ve swapped phones to check out home screens.

And I can’t get enough.

What is it about people’s home screens that intrigues us? In part, it’s a peek behind the curtain of people’s lives. When you see people’s phones—if you see people’s phones—you often see them running an app. If my morning commute is any indication, it’s usually Candy Crush. A home screen reveals someone’s priorities—the tools or toys they want immediate access to on a daily basis. These little rectangles in our pockets are capable of being so many things, the few we choose to give primacy says a lot about us. How we organize them—or if—says just as much.

Oh, and there’s the discovery thing. It’s hard enough to find apps in the App Store. To see the icon of something you’re curious about on the home screen of someone you admire is an endorsement. To see an icon you don’t recognize is a call to explore. I’m trying to get better at not installing apps without thinking about their utility, but I still can’t resist something shiny that could help me get more out of the screen in my pocket. As vices go, it’s a comparatively minor one. A voyeuristic desire to learn about other people, their relationship with their gear, and what I can take away from it a bad thing.

And I know I’m not alone.

  1. Bonus points to anyone who can identify the source of my wallpaper.  ↩