Am I the last person to realize this? Just in case I'm not...
If you're on your home screen, and hit the search button (magnifying glass), you can type the first couple letters of an app name and/or a contact, and the top results will be apps/contacts that match what you're typing. Which is useful in its own right, for those who've never played with that.
But let's say you pretty much never use the search button function from the home screen (I pretty much never do because I use Voice Search). In this case, once you launch an app or a contact, that app/contact will show up in the search history. So, once you've launched a few apps/contacts after searching from the home screen, you can build up a pretty nice list of quick-access apps/contacts.
(This search history is the same search history as the Google search widget that starts out on the home screen by default, so you could use that instead of/in addition to the search button.)