I've stumbled upon a post on Medium, that says that the home screen concept is outdated for mobile devices.

I think that home screen is great for basic user (thinking about my mother) as a "safe" starting point.

What do you think? Is there any research in this topic?


The proposal is horribly flawed!

There is a fundamental weakness in the author's design approach, which is he doesn't state what problem he's trying to solve. Instead, he just starts by sketching a "home-less" UI which he thinks will look cool....i.e he's starting with an imagined solution rather than trying to solve a problem.

By failing to properly consider user workflows for the UX, he is unlikely to come up with good UX design.

What's a typical workflow?

There are too many to enumerate here, but some of the more common/modal flows are:

  1. User picks up the device to call someone
  2. User picks up the device to open an app (email, music, facebook, etc)
  3. User picks up the device to check email/notifications
  4. User picks up the device to continue using the last app she was using (e.g. continue a game)
  5. User picks up the device to answer a call

Why the home screen?

  • The home screen provides users with immediate access to apps and (depending on the OS) notifications.

    • It provides a user immediate access to apps when the phone is picked up.
    • If the user is inside an app session, it proves a clearly labeled function to get the user out of the app and back to a familiar starting place.
    • It provides a clear way to "get out of jail" if an app crashes or the user is lost or disoriented inside an app and needs to abandon it or do something else.
    • It also provides a clear point of workflow orientation (or experience "anchor") around the entire mobile experience.
  • The "home-less" design creates some immediate problems with the workflow:

    1. You add one more level of interaction and one more cognitive hurdle (user has to swipe just to get to the tray, and then wait for it to animate, cognitively process the animated screen, and then make a selection) between the user and the task she wants to accomplish. UX designers know instinctively that this is not a good idea for a phone that the average user will pick up 200+ times a day!...you want to reduce, rather than add UX friction.

    2. You overload the swipe-up function on the screen, i.e. within the context of an open app, swipe-up now means 2 different things. For example, imagine opening a web page, and then swiping up in order to scroll the web page down. Suddenly, an app tray opens instead of the page scrolling! How about if we just make the app tray appear if the user swipes from a corner or from the bottom edge of the screen? BAD IDEA!!! You now have the same gesture mean totally different things depending on where the user starts it, with no visual labelling for where each gesture should begin. Which brings us to the next point...

    3. You are taking an explicit feature (dedicated home button) and making it implicit. Nooooooooo! There are almost 2 billion smartphone users around the world...it's a terrible design idea to have one of the most common functions (app tray) be accessed via an invisible, unlabelled gesture! This is like having a door with no clearly visible handle or label (just push to open) or a car with no visible ignition button (touch the steering wheel or press the brake to start the engine)....these designs may sound or look cool but they are terrible ideas.

In summary

There may be some merit to consolidating the app screen, recent apps and notifications. But the way to do this is NOT to start with a solution in mind ("I want a home-less UX") but rather to consider actual user workflows and have design flow from those key tasks and flows.

This is not an easy design problem....cellphones are a $200 billion industry so there are some huge R&D dollars at work here with mobile operating system UX. I know some of the OS designers and they are phenomenally talented individuals and teams. I'm sorry to be harsh but the design proposed here is not properly conceived and flawed from the very outset because it doesn't provide a streamlined way to address some very fundamental user flows for mobile phones.

  • The question is "is the home screen really needed?" and you started your answer with "nooo" but then your explaination seems saying the opposite.... But I agree with you about the need of an home screen. Feb 13 '16 at 17:38
  • 6
    @FedericoPonzi you're totally right. That original header was....bad design :-)
    – tohster
    Feb 13 '16 at 17:43
  • My car is basically started by ... pressing one of the pedals... :D
    – yo'
    Feb 13 '16 at 21:30
  • 5
    @Insane totally agreed. Inspired designs can be fantastic, even revolutionary. The litmus test, however, must still be whether it solves a real problem or problems, and this proposal doesn't stand up to that test for me.
    – tohster
    Feb 15 '16 at 3:51
  • 1
    @tohster He has pretty sketches, though! ;)
    – Insane
    Feb 15 '16 at 3:52

Searching around, I can't find any specific reasoning for having it. But the home screen is the continuation of the 'desktop' UI that has been the basis of all UIs since the Xerox Alto.

iOS is merely an extension of OS X, so it's fairly natural to keep the desktop concept.

It allows the user to have a section of the mobile OS that they can fully personalise to be how they want it - either with nothing on it, or every widget that they can find on it.

  • 3
    Note that in Windows, it's not the desktop that plays the role of "home", it's the start menu...
    – yo'
    Feb 13 '16 at 21:31
  • On iOS it's actually a bit of a merger of start and the desktop. Effectively the shortcut icons get put onto the desktop - which you can then move around and put into folders. However it then goes a step further which is if you delete one of the shortcuts then it deletes the app. On Android the home screen and the applications screen are completely separated which is more along the lines of Windows
    – icc97
    Feb 13 '16 at 22:15
  • 3
    On Windows 8 & 10, the start menu changed from being an generic app launcher to first nothing and then to a stripped down and specific launcher. Many people hate that about 8. Given the hatred that this changed caused, I'd be real careful about removing something the home screen.
    – Walter
    Feb 14 '16 at 6:03
  • 2
    @yo' Most normal users I know (not power users) have links on their desktop because it shows them what is available ("that blue thing at the top left to write letters with") and never use the start menu, especially since it has basically become a search - they would have no idea what to search for.
    – AndreKR
    Feb 14 '16 at 7:25

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