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How to help a friend or family member choose the right iPhone or iPad and make an easy to use home screen

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Apple's iOS and iPadOS operating systems are fairly user-friendly, but people who aren't used to technical gadgets can still find them a bit overwhelming at times.

In fact, anyone who is simply unfamiliar with a certain device could potentially benefit by a friend or family member setting up their iPhone or iPad to enable easier access to a range of the most frequently needed functions.

This is where you can help, and hopefully my Mister Icon app can help too.

Device selection

Firstly, if you have the privilege of selecting an iPhone or iPad for a less-technically-able family member or friend, it is important to choose the device that will be the best for the user, not yourself.

Mister Icon eyeing a pricey iPhone

If you're like me, you'll usually want to try and purchase the best Apple device that you can afford so that you can get access to the latest and greatest features, and to ensure that the device will give many years of enjoyment. But if you're shopping for someone else, it is important to resist the urge to go straight for the top-of-the-line models.

I think it's good to consider the purchase process as a three step process.

  1. Consider first of all the needs your friend or family member has for the device
  2. Consider their budget
  3. Finally get down to the finer points like colour choice and accessories

If you have a rich grandparent who wants a new phone, you might be tempted to just go out and get them the most expensive iPhone you can buy, with the biggest storage capacity and an Apple Watch to go with it.

But it is important to remember that the most expensive option might not always be the best one, even if money is no object.

For instance, many people have difficulty with ‘swiping’ gestures, and many also like the ability to always get back to the start quickly and easily if something goes wrong.

That means that for many people, the cheaper iPhone and iPad models that still have a proper home button might be preferable to more expensive models.

The home button was a great feature that has served Apple's mobile devices well for many years. I still like it myself because it is an instant way to get back to the home screen and is basically impossible to muck up.

Swiping requires more manual dexterity, which can be an issue for lots of people, so I think devices like the iPhone SE Gen 2 and iPad Gen 9 (which still have a home button) are still going to be desirable for some time.

As with most things in life, however, choosing the best device almost always involves trade-offs of some kind.

For example, you might be purchasing a device for someone who really wants to use it for photography, yet has the aforementioned difficulties with swiping. You could buy them an iPhone SE Gen 2, but it lacks the more advanced camera setups of, say, an iPhone 13 Pro Max. It is also physically smaller, with a smaller screen, but is lighter in weight.

People with impaired vision will benefit from larger screens, but with Apple, larger screens typically mean significantly larger price tags. Sometimes, the benefits of a larger screen might be outweighed by the added cost, weight and bulk.

Mister Icon wearing glasses and staring at an iPhone close up

If vision is a really big issue, the largest possible device might be essential, but often a smaller device might still be perfectly adequate, particularly if it isn't expected to be used all the time. Using two fingers to zoom in on small content might sometimes be all that's needed to improve readability. And depending on a person's precise vision issues, it might also just be possible to move an iPhone much closer to the eyes to make things easier to see. There are also some brilliant Zoom accessibility features in iOS/iPadOS that can make on screen content as large as it needs to be.

I think the most important thing is to consider the ‘needs’ of your friend first. If you think they really need a bigger screen device, but money is an issue, then it may simply be a case where they have to save up for a while instead of rushing out to get a new device straight away. Then of course, there are payment plans from phone carriers to consider too.

Many elderly people probably won't require huge mobile data plans, unless they plan on making plenty of FaceTime calls or watching streaming video while away from a WiFi network. But then again, if they don't have fast broadband at home with a large data cap, they might be better off with more data on their mobile device instead.

This all gets back to considering the ‘needs’ of the user.

The great thing with Apple is that usually there are multiple ways to get things done. For example, if you have a friend that has difficulty ‘swiping’, yet they already have a home-button-free device, then you can use the AssistiveTouch Accessibility options in iOS/iPadOS to add a virtual home button to their screen.

Home screen with Mister Icon labels and AssistiveTouch virtual home button

Obviously it's not as good as the real thing, and can get in the way occasionally, but it could be just the ticket for you to help make their mobile device more useable, thereby increasing the enjoyment your friend gets from it.

How my Mister Icon app fits in

My Mister Icon app can help by bringing some sanity to the chaos of the iOS/iPadOS home screen.

By default, the home screen can be a mess, with all of Apple's stock apps there from the get go, spanning two pages before you even begin to download any apps or games of your own. Each downloaded app goes straight into the first available home screen space (apart from the first page), so it can quickly get out of control.

Innovations like the swipe down Spotlight search and the swipe all the way to the right App Library in iOS 14 and iPadOS 15 can make it easier to find apps you use frequently, but can also be confusing or difficult to use.

I think well organised home screen pages are the best way to go for many users, particularly those less quick fingered. There's a reason why Apple has stuck with virtually the same home screen setup ever since the very first iPhone—it works!

Using the label icons from the Mister Icon app allows you to basically categorise apps into groups on the home screen itself. No need to use folders with tiny icons or search through a library full of unnamed apps.

An iPhone or iPad with a set of fully sorted home screen pages, utilising page numbers and various category labels like ‘Games’, ‘Work’, ‘Health’, etc. throughout can be a genuinely beautiful (and functional) thing.

The only real issue with my app is that although it provides some nice icon labels, the only way to make those icons truly useful is to use Apple's home screen reorganising system to move them into the desired positions. The tap-and-hold-icon-until-it-starts-wobbling-then-move-around-as-you-see-fit system can work pretty well once you get the hang of it, but it can also be a bit touchy.

Sample home screen featuring three different Mister Icon category labels and a blank icon demonstrating Edit Home Screen (wobble mode).

Even though I've been making home screen icons and moving them around for years while creating and testing all the updates for Mister Icon, I still often get icons jumping across to the wrong page while dragging, or I accidentally create a folder by holding one icon above another for just a fraction too much time. It's frustrating, but there is a logic to how it all works and if you look on the bright side, the difficulty just adds to the sense of satisfaction you get once you finally have a top-class, fully labelled home screen looking really great.

Since icon arranging can be a bit tricky, this is where you can really help out a technically-challenged friend.

Set them up an Apple ID if they don't have one already, set up iCloud with whatever services you think they need, then purchase my Mister Icon app (or gift them a copy via the App Store if you're feeling extra generous) and use it to arrange all their apps into logical groupings.

I think the page number icons are very useful and can even help you if you're ever called on for telephone support for your friend in the future. If you put all of your friend's apps in logical locations, you can say “Ah, Uncle Bill, you should use the ABCDEF app for that, I remember I put it in the ‘Useful’ section on ‘Page 2’”. Or something like that.

Partial home screen icon arrangement featuring Page 2 and Useful labels from the Mister Icon app.

Phone number shortcuts

Another great way to make an iPhone simpler for someone, particularly someone who really only wants a phone to make phone calls to family and friends, is to create home screen shortcut icons for each phone number they are likely to want to call regularly.

Apple's Shortcuts app does this job very well, and you can even put photos of each person directly on the home screen. Then if your friend wants to give you a call, all they need to do is tap your photo on their home screen.

Sample home screen featuring ‘Family’ and ‘Friends’ labels from the Mister icon app.

Pop a ‘Family’ or ‘Friends’ icon from the Mister Icon app close to your phone number shortcut icons and everything can look really neat and can be highly functional.

Summing up

I hope you might have found this article to be useful. Everyone is different, so everyone will have different needs, and the ideal iPhone or iPad setup for one person might be very different to that of another person.

I'd like to think that my Mister Icon app would be helpful for a lot of people, but I recognise that it won't be for everyone either. Some people only need a phone to make phone calls, and might only have one page of apps, most of which are the original ones from Apple. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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