The battle for your smartphone's home screen is heating up

There are several companies working to make Android 'launchers' that take over your home screen, presenting all types of useful information and giving your device a customized look and feel.  Until Apple enables widgets in iOS your iPhone will just show a static array of app icons.  But hey, at least that calendar icon shows the date!  Just kidding, I love iOS, but the home screen is getting pretty dull after using Android.

The default Android home screen is already pretty great

 The default KitKat home screen

The default KitKat home screen

I really like the default Android 4.4 (aka KitKat) launcher on my Nexus 5.  You can say 'OK Google' out loud and Google's voice search will automatically pop up.  There's also a search box if I'd prefer to type in a Google search.  If I swipe left to right Google Now appears and shows me all sorts of personalized and context-sensitive information such as: directions home or to recently mapped locations, stocks and sports teams I follow, weather at my current location and home, tracking info on my packages, info on upcoming flights, etc.  As I've written before, I find Google Now to be incredibly useful, and I really like having it just a swipe away on my phone.  I also have the NiLS widget installed on my home screen, which displays summaries of all my notifications.  This setup puts a lot of information right on my home screen or a swipe away.

The battle for your smartphone's home screen

Now there are several companies working to make their own mark on the Android home screen (and lock screen).  The reason is pretty straightforward: money.  The smartphone home screen is becoming a sort of modern-day internet portal.  It's a place to search for information, get relevant news and information, and see your mail.

Companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have established business models to make money when you use their internet services.  One of the primary reasons Google acquired Android and gives it away for free is to encourage people to use their services when on mobile devices.  It's what they do best and how they make money.  Google Now and the Nexus 5 launcher definitely get me using Google's services more than I would otherwise.  Yahoo, Microsoft, and others would like to do the same.

Software and hardware companies want to win the home screen

Facebook Home was probably the first Android home screen app with mass appeal.  It came preinstalled on the HTC First smartphone but was ultimately a failure.  As useful as Facebook is, most people communicate through various networks and having only one on your home screen is probably not ideal.  I have four to five different messaging and communication apps on my home screen, and Facebook isn't one of them.

Yahoo is working on an Android home screen dubbed 'Start' that leverages Yahoo search, News, Weather, and other Yahoo services that will come pre-installed on some devices and be available for download on others.  They also recently acquired the company behind Aviate, an 'intelligent home screen' for Android.  I've used the Aviate beta and it does some interesting things.  It shows you different apps and information on your home screen depending on the time of day and your location.  I think Yahoo and Aviate are onto something and could win over some Android users.

Microsoft is reportedly working on a Siri-like personal assistant for Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Xbox that will likely push users to their Bing search engine and other internet services.

Samsung and Apple are the number one and two smartphone makers in the world.  The upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5 is rumored to have a home screen similar to Google Now.  Meanwhile, Apple has Siri but they aren't monetizing its usage to my knowledge.  I'm sure they're working on that and are doing just fine making money off of hardware sales for now.

Wrap-up

Each of these companies has its own take on the home screen and each offers some useful features.  I'm really excited to see how these apps and services evolve.  Whoever provides the most utility will likely win my Android home screen and the advertising dollars that come with it.  Presently that's Google Now, but I'll keep trying new services as they launch.