Your new Android home screen command center


Your Android phone’s home screen is your window to the world — and unlike that other mobile operating system, this purty little platform of ours puts the power in your hands to make that landing pad look and work any way you want.

That can mean replacing your stock home screen interface with something completely customized for your own style of getting stuff done or even supplementing the standard Android app drawer with one that’s accessible from anywhere.

But it can also mean tapping into interesting tools for adding important info into whatever manner of home screen setup you’re using — because Android makes it possible for developers to pull off some crafty and creative feats that other smartphone ecosystems simply don’t allow.

And that’s precisely where the idea I’d like to share with you today comes into play.

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An info-dense Android home screen approach

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Android is how a home screen can be so many different things to so many different people — and how Google’s underlying ecosystem offers up so many opportunities to transform that space into whatever makes the most sense for you.

For some people, that might mean making a home screen into simple minimalist collection of key shortcuts to apps, contacts, and other frequently accessed items. For others, it might be establishing a sprawling series of grouped icons for every app imaginable. And for others yet, it might be concocting a carefully curated command center for seeing and swiftly acting on important info.

That last approach is the one relevant to our focus today — ’cause I’ve just stumbled onto a really interesting Android app that lets you expand your home screen to showcase some of the most pressing incoming info in any smartphone scenario. And that info is all about your phone’s notifications.

Check it out:

The Android home screen command center in action, with the powerful pairing of the At a Glance widget and Notification Widget.

JR Raphael, IDG

The widget at the top there is just Google’s widely available Android At a Glance widget, which shows the weather along with info connected to your calendar (both personal and work-profile-associated), optimal departure times for upcoming events (based on your current location and nearby traffic data), in-advance warnings about your next commute (based on typical patterns observed over time), and updates related to any upcoming travel (based on info available within your Gmail inbox).

But point your peepers beneath it, and you’ll see a nifty new creation called, rather fittingly, Notification Widget. That delightfully simple beaut brings all of your active notifications right onto your home screen so you can see and interact with ’em easily — without having to swipe down from the top of the screen first to summon ’em. And it’s the perfect pairing for Google’s At a Glance offering.

After all, the info in your notifications is always timely and important, right? (That’s especially true if you’re using my Android notification filtering trick to keep noise at a minimum and make sure only the alerts you actually need show up.) So rather than keeping that out of sight and a persistent swipe away, this setup puts it front and center — where you’ll always see it and can respond or mark things as done, as needed, right alongside the contextual intelligence Google’s At a Glance widget gives you.

The aptly named Notification Widget also provides on-demand, one-tap access to an expanded view of Android’s notification history — with a complete list of all notifications from the past hour, in the app’s regular free version, or the past three days if you pay four bucks for its premium version. That can be supremely handy when you swipe something away only to realize later you still need to reference it.

And setting all of this up couldn’t be much simpler.

The Android notification widget setup

All right — ready to get your Android home screen command center up and running?

First, we need to make sure the foundational basics are all in place:

  • Download Notification Widget from the Play Store. It’s free, in its base form, and it doesn’t require any disconcerting permissions or data access (including the ability to access the internet at all, giving some extra-hefty assurance to its promise not to collect or share any sort of personal info).
  • Open the app once. If you see a prompt to allow it the ability to send you notifications, tap “Allow.”
  • On the app’s main screen, tap “Check access to notifications” — then find “Notification Widget” in the list of options that appears, tap it, and tap the toggle to grant the app that ability (for reasons that I hope are obvious).

Got it? Good. Now, make your way back to that main setup screen, and:

  • Tap “Add new widget.”
  • Tap “Header,” then uncheck the boxes next to “Show” beneath the “Time,” “Date,” and “Battery level” headers. This will clean up the widget’s appearance considerably.
  • On a related note, return to the main setup screen and tap “Appearance,” then tap “Buttons.”
  • Uncheck the box next to “Buttons on bottom of the widget.”
  • And uncheck the box next to “Hide button” beneath the “Pin button” header.

Last but not least, on that main setup screen, scroll all the way down to the bottom and tap “OK.”

Then, if you don’t already see the widget on your home screen, press and hold your finger onto any open area and select the option to add a widget — then find “Notification Widget” in the list of choices and either tap or press and hold your finger onto it to select it. From there, you should be able to place it wherever you want and resize it to whatever dimensions you prefer (something you can always change later, too, by pressing and holding the widget again).

If you want the At a Glance widget above it for the full effect, like I showed above, just press and hold your finger onto any open space on your home screen again, select the option to add a widget once more, and look for “At a Glance” within the “Google” section of options — then tap or hold it to put it into place.

And that’s it: Your Android home screen command center is officially now open for business. Info should automatically appear within the At a Glance widget at the top as it becomes relevant, and notifications will appear within the Notification Widget, erm, widget as they arrive. 

You can dismiss any notification in the list by tapping the red “x” in its upper-right corner. And you’ll see any available options for interacting with an alert — like replying to a message or marking a task as done — as a button within the associated notification’s card. If you ever want to get to your notification history, meanwhile, you can just tap the little clock-circle icon at the widget’s bottom edge.

So much useful info at your fingertips, eh? All that’s left is to think about what you’ll do with all the once-wasted seconds you’ve successfully fed back into your day.

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