iOS 14’s App Library: The FAQ

Originally published at: iOS 14’s App Library: The FAQ - TidBITS

The new App Library feature of iOS 14 has generated numerous questions from readers of “Take Control of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14.” Author Josh Centers explains how it works and what it will do for you.

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Thank you for the nice article, Josh.

I have to admit I too was confused about what the whole deal was until I read your article and I realized that I had essentially already been doing something very similar since around iOS 8. On my last home screen page I have a single catch-all folder for apps I don’t want to look at or be reminded of, but don’t want to uninstall. I just throw them in there and never go back. I realize now that App Library is essentially like that folder (minus auto-arranging by category). And I can see how it makes sense for all those folks who don’t want to have to set up something like that themselves by hand.

I guess the main difference is that I always had apps either on my home screen pages or in my special folder, whereas App Library always contains all apps including those on home screen pages. I’m not too keen on Apple’s auto-arranging by categories so maybe I’ll end up keeping my folder after all. I’ll have to play with it myself to get a feel.

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I’ve used Android phones, so I understood the concept. I liked it on Android, but… (I’ll explain later)

When I got the iOS 14 beta, I immediately removed almost all of my apps from my Home screens. I whittled down from 11 home screens down to just three.

You can actually ignore the App Library screen. Just pull down any Home Screen to search for an app. Any app you have on your phone is in the App Library. It can also be optionally on a Home Screen too.

Because apps don’t have to be on a Home Screen, you can put apps in that you mainly use on your Home Screens and that parking app you needed that one time in Kalamazoo doesn’t have to take up space on your Home Screens.

The App Library is nice because apps are automatically semi-organized, and can be listed alphabetically. This makes it easy to find an app that you can’t quite remember the name of.

The thing I noticed on Android is how few people actually use home screens vs the App Draw which is their version of the App Library. I see people with their home screens loaded with default bloatware they never use, and the same people constantly go into the app draw for every app they need.

Apparently, setting up the Home Screens with the apps you use and removing the apps you don’t is too much work. If you don’t organize your computer desktop, what are the chances you’re going to organize your home screens? People are also hesitant to remove apps from their Home Screens worrying that it might delete the app too.

I think this was why Apple took so long to copy the idea. The separate Home Screen vs. App Draw confuses most people.

I like it, but I can see why people don’t get it or use it. Heck, I still see people type “Google” in the URL search field, find the Google page in the search results, and then pull up the Google search webpage to search what they’re looking for.

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I think one of the genius things Apple does is add these sorts of new power user features in such a way that many if not most can easily ignore them. Of course, the flip side of that is that these features are often hard to discover, like how you hide Home screens.

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I do something similar. I currently have 59 apps on my phone. All on one home screen, with most of them in per-category folders. It’s pretty easy to find anything I want with a minimum of scrolling around.

Apple’s solution is clearly aimed at other people I know who either don’t know about or don’t want to use folders. They have 5-6 home screens, each one packed with icons. Many of them haven’t even bothered to sort them, so they’re arranged randomly (I assume in the order they were originally installed). I don’t know how people can work that way, but those who do it seem to get by just fine.

FWIW, I use Launchpad on my Mac in pretty much the same way I do on iOS - 140 launcher icons on one screen, using folders for organization. I keep my Dock mostly empty - reserved only for apps that I use as drop-targets, or where I want to see badges and Time Machine (which needs to be visible when the Finder is in the foreground.)

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I never understood that either. I’m super picky about how I arrange things for maximum efficiency, yet others seem to just let things remain in the spot they fell. It would drive me crazy. I guess very similar to some people’s desktops. Mine is usually empty and only has 2-3 items max on it at times when I’m currently working with them or haven’t sorted them yet. Some colleagues of mine have many dozens of items all scattered around. Some items they don’t even know are there. Mind boggling to me. :laughing:

Interesting you compare with the Mac here. Didn’t even think about Launch Pad. Makes me realize I do these things very different on the Mac compared to my iPhone, I guess reflecting what I see as very different use.

I have to admit I never even tried LaunchPad and it annoyed the heck out of me when back in the day my new Apple USB KB came with an fn overlay for it rather than for Dashboard which I actually used a lot. :wink: On the Mac I launch almost all apps with cmd-space plus first few letters and return. I have come to depend a lot on Spotlight even for individual documents (forcing me in some cases to use better file names). I have less than a dozen most used apps in the Dock. Plus Activity Monitor and Memory Monitor just for their diagnostic display. Although with 32 GB RAM and macOS’ fancy memory management I could probably dispose of the latter. And like you, I want Mail, Calendar, and Sys Prefs in there for their badges.

I always configure my keyboards to “Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys”, since I use them in apps (especially Microsoft Office). In order to access desktop functions without using the Fn key on my Mini (with a wired aluminum keyboard), I assigned F15…F19 to Launchpad and the four Mission Control functions. On my laptop, I access these features using the standard 4-finger gestures on the trackpad.

The list of apps will be quite helpful, I think.

But I don’t see much use for the automatically organized folders unless you pare down your current screens to the point where the folders function as a scrolling set of screens. And you will still have to spend time getting the right apps into the right folders.

It strikes me that my best strategy might be to have a Home screen for the apps/folders I always use, a second screen which functions as a storage screen for overflow from the Home screen & a spot for new apps, & set up the Library as a kind of attic. This leaves swipe left for my current organization of weather/traffic/transportation apps, & my dock for System, Communication folder, and Audio folder, with a space left over for Camera.

What annoys me is that there’s no way to reorganize apps on iPhone or iPad using a Mac. Used to be there was a somewhat cumbersome way to do this using iTunes, including the ability to reorder all the screens. The screen on a Mac is large enough to permit the user to see a bunch of iPhone screens or, in 14, folders, at the same time, at which point it would be easy to redistribute apps to the folder you want them to appear on. It’s going to be tedious reordering & moving the apps in the Library folders using Edit.

As someone with 561 apps installed on my iPhone you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to this new feature of iOS 14, hence my interest in this article.

Currently when I download a new app it doesn’t even appear on a home screen because all spots on 15 screens are filled. App management has been borked for years so this is welcome improvement.

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I’m quite picky too, but over time, I lost control (and I have hundreds of apps too). I believe that various things—iTunes upgrades in the distant past, switching the display zoom setting in iOS, etc—have rearranged icons on me a few times, and it’s so tedious to fix them that I just didn’t after the first screen. What I’d really like is the opportunity to remove a Home screen and all its icons entirely such that I could build it back from the App Library.

As it is, there are quite a few apps I launch only from search, since I have absolutely no idea where they’re located.

I launch almost all apps that way. My only complaint is that if I want to delete an app, you can’t do that via search, and search won’t tell you where the app is located. I have over 500 apps on my phone, many installed for years that I never use, and it’s a pain finding them when I need to do more than just launch them.

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On my iPhone I have two home screen pages with app icons, some in folders, basically sorted alphabetically (plus, of course, the four dock icons). Those are the apps that I use most frequently. The rest are spread on the rest of my home pages in whatever order I installed them (or they installed themselves after rebuilding my phone from scratch probably.) Those apps I hardly use and I launch them either from notifications or from search.

I think the new app library sounds great. (An alphabetical list of all icons, like the Android app drawer, would also have been fine.)

It was clunky but I miss the ability of iTunes to arrange icons on iOS screens. Since that function was dropped by Apple my iPhone screens have become very confused and messy so this new feature of iOS 14 should be helpful.

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I would imagine. The only way I can still manage to organize things my way is to remove apps I do not plan to keep using (even if rarely) or apps I know I can always download again should I ever need them again (apps I don’t worry about losing settings/data). I have in total 80 apps on my iPhone, about half I use at least bi-weekly. I have no idea how I’d deal with 500. Most probably, by capitulation. :wink:

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I do this too, but it can come back to bite you if the app’s author goes out of business or loses his Apple ID for some other reason - Apple will yank all his apps from the store when the ID expires, making it impossible to re-download.

I encountered this on my Mac when I found I couldn’t re-download an app I use a lot (Cadence BPM Tapper), because the company folded at some point in the past. It doesn’t even appear in my purchased app list anymore. Fortunately, I was able to recover it from a backup.

Back in the old days when iTunes could backup/install apps, you could use it as your master copy and re-install from your hard drive in an emergency. I don’t know if you can do it today. iTunes doesn’t backup/install app packages and (I think) iMazing only backups/restores data, leaving the app itself to the App Store for installation.

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My only complaint is that if I want to delete an app, you can’t do that via search, and search won’t tell you where the app is located.

If you keep typing until the app you’re looking for is the only search result, it will tell you where it resides (if it’s in a folder). If it’s not in a folder, then I can’t help you. :blush:

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I have 487 apps right now, and they all exist on one of two home screens (I’ve set it up such that my first home screen is empty, so that I can see my wallpaper unobstructed*). On that second home screen, I have 16 apps, and eight folders (plus the four apps in the Dock). Thus, 467 of my apps are distributed throughout those eight folders. My largest folder has 14 ‘pages’, and contains 120 apps. I’m not sure if there’s a limit on the number of pages you can have in a folder or not…

Managing all this became much easier when they added the feature enabling you to move multiple folders/icons at once. In case you don’t know, you do that by putting your home screens into “wiggle mode”, then start dragging a folder or icon with one finger, and then add other items by tapping on them with another finger or your other hand. It can take a little getting used to, but I love that feature…

I’ve not played with the iOS beta at all, so I’ll be curious to see how the App Library affects my layout.

*An additional cool aspect to having an empty first home screen is that your apps all magically ‘disappear’ when you swipe up on any other home screen. :nerd_face:

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Oh, that’s a nice little tip—I so seldom type enough that I didn’t realize iOS would display the folder name once it was the only choice. Still pretty limited, but better than nothing!

Bonus points for another good tip! If I knew this, I’d forgotten.

And I’ll see your tip and raise you one.

Once you’re in jiggle mode (which Apple prefers to wiggle mode, for some reason) instead of dragging an icon to a home screen, instead start dragging the icon just a little and then pause. You can tap other icons to add them to the dragged stack, as per @jiclark’s tip. But here’s the thing I just discovered.

With another finger (probably on your other hand), swipe left and right to move between home screens underneath the stack of icons you’re holding. It’s very cool.

I HATE dragging icons to a home screen that’s multiple jumps to the right or left, in part because I always end up pausing on another icon, which wants to create or enter a folder. (You get out of that by dragging up to the top of the screen, above the folder name.)

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Imazing does have an option to save apps to your Mac, and reinstall them to your device. I haven’t tried it, though.

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Great Piece Josh.

The one thing I’ve found to be an issue at least on the beta is dealing with the widgets. Adding a widget and dragging and moving it results in a messed up set of screens if you don’t add a screenful of widgets, ie a screen with just widgets on it. If you add a screenful, it results in your pre-existing home screens simply shuffling down the order while remaining laid out as you have them. It can get messy if you add just a few widgets, the remaining apps all get out of place, and setting it back is not always straightforward. I’m sure they’ll iron it out.

I love the suggested apps widget, I use them on my Home Screen with a clock and a recent photos widget. That’s become my main go to screen.

I mainly find apps using Search but I’ve a few screens organised by activity, Travel, or Landscape Photography with relevant apps all from different categories, so I value keeping that organisation in place.