This story has been updated. It was originally published on September 20, 2019.
You can’t customize an iPhone as much as you can an Android phone, but there are still ways to make it yours. Serious personalization such as installing a totally new home screen is off the table, but we can show you how to get the next best thing.
Set the wallpaper on your home and lock screens
Whether you go with a family portrait, graphic design, or photo from a fireman’s charity calendar, a custom wallpaper has always been the easiest way to put your stamp on a device and say, “This. This is mine.” Your iPhone is no exception.
You can add a wallpaper to both the home and lock screens—and it doesn’t have to be the same one. It could even be a dynamic wallpaper, Live Photo, GIF, or TikTok video.
To customize your iPhone wallpaper, go to Settings > Wallpaper > Choose a New Wallpaper. Select one of the built-in options or choose something from your Camera Roll and you’re good to go.
Change your ringtone and text tone
Not a word of a lie, my ringtone is LMFAO’s classic party hit, Sexy and I Know It. It’s much better than the default and when Redfoo’s opening bars start playing in public, I know it can only be for me. While you don’t have to go quite this far to customize your iPhone, you can still change the sounds it makes when people call or text you.
Go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics and either select Ringtone or Text Tone. Choose one of the iPhone’s default (and boring) options or visit the Tone Store to find something with a bit more personality.
You can also set an individual ringtone or text tone for each of your contacts. First, go to the Contacts app and find the person you want to set a custom tone for. Tap Edit, then change either Ringtone or Text Tone from Default to whatever you want.
Mix up the Control Center
The Control Center gives you quick access to some of your iPhone’s important settings, like the screen brightness, volume, and WiFi. It can also connect you to a limited number of other built-in functions like the alarm, camera, flashlight, Notes app, and accessibility shortcuts. The exact ones are up to you.
To customize what appears in the Control Center, go to Settings > Control Center. From there, tap the green plus sign to add any of the options to your Control Center and use the red minus sign to remove them. Rearrange your list by dragging the three lines on the right of each one.
Get quick access to everything with Widgets
If you want access to more than just a couple of Apple’s apps, you need to use Widgets.
Widgets are a feature any app developer can take advantage of. They’re small, self-contained versions of apps that either display information, like the current weather or your to-do list, or offer shortcuts, like a quick way to get directions home. Not all apps offer them, but plenty of the major ones do.
You can find your Widgets by swiping right on either the first page of your home screen, the lock screen, or the notifications screen. To add one, tap Edit at the bottom of the screen, touch plus icon in the top left, select the widget you want, and hit Add Widget to put it in place.
With the right combination of apps, you can turn the Widget screen into a custom productivity and information center—mine shows my calendar, to-do list, weather, loads of photography information, and even the local tide times.
Take control of notifications
When and why your phone starts beeping is one of the most important things for you to customize. If you let every app ping you constantly, your phone will be next to useless.
Go to Settings > Notifications. You’ll see a long list of every app that can send you notifications. It’s time to go through them one by one.
For each app, you can choose whether or not to Allow Notifications. For most, I’d recommend turning them off entirely. Your currency conversion app doesn’t need to ping you, ever.
If you decide you want to let an app send notifications, it’s time to get specific.
- Under Alerts, decide if you want the notifications to show on the Lock Screen, Notification Center, and/or as a Banner while you use your phone.
- Turn notification Sounds on or off.
- Turn on or off the little red Badges that appear in the corner of app icons on your home screen.
- Decide whether to Show Previews of what triggered a notification or just something like “New WhatsApp Message.”
- Decide how you want Notification Grouping to work—either by app or chronologically.
You can also set up quiet times when notifications won’t come through. Go to Settings > Focus > Do Not Disturb and add a scheduled time. Personally, I have this on permanently.
Change Safari’s search engine
If you’re going to stick with Safari, know that you can change your default search engine. Go to Settings > Safari > Search Engine and choose between Google, Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and a few others.
Change the default keyboard
In the “I can’t believe this is actually a feature,” column, one of the few things Apple lets you totally change on your iPhone is the keyboard. If you’ve ever been jealous of Android users swiping quickly between letters to type, well, you can do it too with a keyboard like Swiftkey.
To enable a new keyboard, you first need to download one from the App Store. Then, go to Settings > General > Keyboards > Keyboards. Tap Add New Keyboard and, under Third-Party Keyboards, select the one you’ve just installed.
Unless you also delete the default keyboard, you can cycle between any you have enabled by tapping the globe button in the bottom left of every keyboard.
Use a different browser
If you use Google Chrome on your computer, it can be annoying to switch to Safari when you use your iPhone. You lose all your bookmarks, history, and saved details. Thankfully, the fix is simple: just use Chrome, or any other browser of your choice, on your iPhone.
Now, there are two big caveats here. Chrome on the iPhone isn’t really Chrome—it’s Safari dressed up to look like Chrome. It syncs your bookmarks and everything else, but because of how Apple handles web browsers on its phones, you can’t install extensions and if you try to use a web app that only works with Chrome, it won’t work.
Also, your iPhone will still treat Safari as your default browser. If you tap a link in Mail, it will open in Safari, not Chrome. The good news is more third-party apps are changing this behavior: apps like Apollo for Reddit, Tweetbot, and YouTube let you set a different default browser to open links with.
It’s far from perfect, but it is something.
Go further with apps
Within Apple’s walled gardens, there have always been developers who’ve pushed at the very limits of what’s permissible. When it comes to the iPhone, the wall is a little higher, but there are still developers trying to get over it.
Apps like Drafts, Launch Center Pro, and Apple’s own Shortcuts (which started life as the third-party Workflow), let you create complex actions that combine the features of multiple apps. For example, if you want to tap a button and have your phone text your partner to say you’re on your way, then open Google Maps to navigate you home, or automatically play your favorite Spotify playlist on your Sonos, you can.
While they’re the best way to truly customize how your iPhone works, the downside to these apps is that they have significant learning curves. You have to be willing to spend quite a bit of time creating your own routines and workflows to make the most of them.