Mapping my iPhone space


Warnings on iPhones come in a different couple flavours. There’s the blue dialogue box that mentions how a person has surpassed their 100 twitter api calls per hour or mentioning that there was a loss of internet connection. There’s also those red pop up’s that cover the corner of an app mentioning how many “things” are inside to be clicked. I think those red dialogue boxes have been there from the beginning of the iPhon UI. As I was looking at them I kind of wondered why they were placed on the top right of the app? Was it more likely that there would be action taken if a red box popped up there. Why not on the left side, people read from left to right—maybe they flipped a coin… I’m not sure but looking at them this morning I wondered how that decision was made.


While looking at those red pop up’s I also noticed something else. There was a distinct pattern that I was clustering my apps. Curious to see how they fit together I blocked out the shapes to see the areas where my thumbs were pressing. As it happened I noticed five distinct categories of use. Task, photo, physics, reading, sound and communication. For the most part these groups came together organically. Taking a look at those patterns gives me a pretty good indication on how I use a mobile device that connects me with anything I want.


With that info in hand I figured I could map out the areas that I press the most. I could see how the proximity of my left and right thumbs related to usage on a daily basis. Each corner had varying degrees of importance while the middle was the least used.

My second screen is a lot more disorganized, but it’s not used nearly as often as my default first screen. Do you have similar usage patterns or do you have a unique system for the apps you use the most?

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  • mikedmouse

    From what you wrote, it sounds like your app organization has organically evolved to be what you've described. Now that you've discovered this, any plans to reorganize? Put another way, are you sticking with evolution/natural selection, or getting ready to play god? 😉

    At some point I became aware of how my apps were self-organizing, and decided to try to stick to a few principles in actively organizing them — and reached a similar result to you. My loose rules:

    — Move unused stuff far away from the “home.” You've apparently also done that, since many of the stock iPhone apps that can't be removed aren't in your screenshots.

    — Limit redundancy. I've removed the Phone app from the dock and put it with my other unused apps. A double-click on the home button, which is extremely easy to find (even without looking) will call up my phone favorites, which *is* the phone app, and displays missed calls, voicemails, etc at the bottom of the screen. With the addition of voice dialing on the 3GS. There's *really* no need for a phone app icon anymore, and it frees up a valuable dock space (I have my Twitter app there).

    — Value the corners, probably because they're easiest to hit. My corners on my home screen are Calendar, Maps, Camera, and Skype. I wish there were a way to leave holes in the grid — the only way to have an app in the bottom right corner is to have the page full.

    — Other than the first page, I try to group my apps by when I use them. Travel, photos, and nearly a page of music-related apps.

    I'm really interested in how systems like this sort of set themselves up, and often wonder whether consciously tweaking them actually adds anything.

  • Justin Pocta

    Interesting. I like the way you've charted your reasoning. I probably reorganize my app icons about once a day based on these ideas. I do cluster as well, making note-apps, to-do/event apps, comm. apps near one another.

    Placement wise, I tend to disregard the upper-left side since I use my right thumb most, particularly when on-the-go/driving. Interesting to see that you have that whole left side as popular. I wonder how much one's lifestyle, left/right handedness, and transportation affects the setup.

    I think about this type of thing but tend to leave it in my head…makes me want to visualize all sorts of my own personal data, which I am collecting all the time anyway.

  • Francisco*

    Hi Michael, My first screen is organized as ergonomically as I can put it – similar to yours. The other screens are kind of organized, but now, with Spotlight I don't feel the need to organize them.
    As for the warnings, if you notice the left corner is taken by the little “X” so… the warning is therefore on the right. I guess the “X” was the first element and the warnings came second. I'll call Steve and let you know…

  • Michael Mulvey

    Nice post Michael. I did a similar (but less thorough) post last July on the subject. This time, I decided to respond directly to your post, and include some visuals:

    keep up the great work on DesignNotes.