Shortcuts app for iPhone

How to create custom iPhone home screen app icons in iOS 14

Aesthetic upgrade trick uses Apple's Shortcuts app and doesn't involve jailbreaking

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Thanks to the new widgets of iOS 14, iPhone users can finally customize the look of their home screens. Yes, Android owners are probably laughing at home Apple is a decade late to the party, but it's still a big deal for life-long iPhone users.

There are two parts to the equation. The first, as we wrote about at GearBrain previously, is how applications can be used to create custom widgets beyond those offered by Apple and app developers. The most popular of these customization apps is Widgetsmith, which is free to use but charges to create a weather widget.

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The second part is using Apple's own Shortcuts app to create a set of custom application icons. This isn't actually new for iOS 14, as the Shortcuts app has been available for a year. But its ability to change app icons has only just been realized by the majority of iPhone users.

Before we explain how to use the Shortcuts app to create custom iPhone app icons, there are a couple of important caveats. The first is that these icons will not display notifications badges, and the second is that tapping on the icons first opens the Shortcuts app, which then quickly opens the app you wanted. The Shortcuts app only appears for a brief moment, but it's there nonetheless.

Clearly this isn't Apple's intended primary use for the Shortcuts app, but it works.

How to create custom iPhone app icons with the Shortcuts app

First, you need to find (or create) an image you want to use as your new app icon, and save it to your iPhone's camera roll. Now follow these instructions:

  1. Download and open the Shortcuts app
  2. Tap on the + in the top-right corner
  3. Tap on the Add Action button
  4. Tap on the search box, type 'open app' and tap Choose
  5. Now tap on the three dots in the top corner, then pick the app you want the shortcut to open
  6. Tap on the Add to Home Screen button

Creating an app shortcut in iOS 14GearBrain

Now you should see a placeholder app icon next to the Shortcut you have created (which you will have named after the app you want to open). Follow these instructions to continue:

  1. Tap on the gray placeholder icon next to the shortcut name
  2. Tap on the Choose Photo button and pick whatever image you want to use
  3. Tap Add, then Done and the new shortcut will appear on your iPhone home screen

Creating an app shortcut for iPhone in iOS 14GearBrain

Finally, you'll want to hide the original app so you don't have two on your home screen. To do this (which is new to iOS 15), long-press on the app then tap Remove App, then Move to App Library.

That way, the app remains installed on your phone but its icon won't appear on the home screen. Instead it will be moved to the app library list on the page to the right of your home screen.

With all that complete, you now have a shortcut that is named after the app you want, but has a custom icon. When tapped, the shortcut briefly opens the Shortcuts app, but then quickly opens the correct app.

This is a trick not without its limitations, but – along with the new custom widgets – means your iPhone screen can be personalized far more than ever before.

For inspiration on styling your home screen widgets and app icons, search Twitter for 'iOS 14 aesthetic'.

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