Quick guide to iPhone skinning: Changing the look of the home screen, keyboard and more

Quick guide to iPhone skinning: Changing the look of the home screen, keyboard and more

Ben Wilson
3 min read

Customizing the look of the iPhone's interface was a feat accomplished almost immediately after hacking the device and adding third-party native applications went mainstream. The past several days, however, have seen an explosion of worthy, easily installable themes for the device, the debut of a method for (almost as easily) changing the look of the iPhone's built-in keyboard, and a proliferation of images for use with the "Customize" application. With these three mechanisms, you can dramatically change the look of your iPhone's interface.


The process for getting started with themes is drop-dead simple. Use our guide for putting Installer.app on your iPhone, then install the program "SummerBoard," which will be located under either "System" or "Featured." SummerBoard is an application that replaces the iPhone's Springboard -- what you see whenever you press the iPhone's home screen. In addition to allowing for themes, SummerBoard lets you place more than 16 icons on the home screen, then scroll through them with a finger-swipe. There's other functionality as well, which you can access and toggle through the SMBPrefs application that will be added to your home screen once you've installed SummerBoard.

After installing SummerBoard, go back to Installer.app and download/install some themes from the "Themes (SummerBoard)" section. Once they're in place, go back to the home screen and tap the "SMBPrefs" application. Tap "Theme," and you should see the items you just installed. Select one, then press the Home button, and your iPhone's home screen should refresh. If it doesn't, go back into SMBPrefs and tap the "Restart SpringBoard" button.

Among the currently available themes are two that mimic the look of Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard):

Keyboard skins

Putting keyboard skins on the iPhone is a bit more involved, but has a striking effect.

First (if you haven't already) use the instructions in our guide to install Installer.app, the BSD Subsystem and the OpenSSH client on your iPhone.

Next, download a keyboard image set. This one, hosted by modmyiphone, puts a leopard print background on the keyboard. You will then need to put the new keyboard image set on your iPhone, replacing the default keyboard image set, via these steps:

  1. Tap "Settings" on your iPhone, then "Wi-Fi"
  2. Next, tap on the arrow next to the name of the "Wi-Fi" network to which your iPhone is connected and take note of the IP Address.
  3. For Mac OS X, launch the Terminal (located in /Applications/Utilities), then type scp then a space, then drag the keyboard file (it will have the name Keyboard-StandardQWERTY.artwork) from the Finder into the Terminal window -- do not press return yet. Next type root@IPAddress:/System//Library/Frameworks/UIKit.framework/Keyboard-StandardQWERTY.artwork where IPAdress is replaced by your iPhone's IPAddress. The command should look something like this:
  4. scp /Users/username/Desktop/CamoLeopard/Keyboard-StandardQWERTY.artwork root@
  5. Press return. You will be prompted to answer yes, then to enter your iPhone's root password, which is dottie (unless you've changed it).
  6. Reset your iPhone by holding down the home and sleep buttons simultaneously until you see the Apple logo.

For Windows, use a tool like WinSCP and copy the keyboard file in a similar manner.


This application, which can be installed through Installer.app under "Utilities" allows you to replace the dock image and various other icons in the iPhone's interface with custom versions. Once you've installed Customize, you can go back to Installer.app and find some already-created sets of custom images under the "Images" section. These are mostly Dock replacement images. After downloading a few, go back to the Customize application and select the desired image(s).

If you are running SummerBoard, you will need to turn off "Theme Dock," "Theme Icons," etc. in SMBPrefs if you would like to use the images provided through Customize. Otherwise SummerBoard will override the custom images with those from the theme it is using.

Customize also lets you replace the default sounds on your iPhone for events like mail being sent, SMS messages received, charging indicators, the alarm and more. There's currently a set of sounds called "Jpolynice" available under the "Images" section of Installer.app that's worth checking out.

Feedback? info@iphoneatlas.com.