iOS 101: Using Folders and Spotlight to Organize Your Home Screen


By my non-scientfic evaluation, folders are the most underused part of iOS 4.2 (or earlier for the iPhone). I’m simply amazed whenever I see someone’s home screen littered with single icons. Now, I’m not advocating relying solely on folders; one-click access to frequently-used apps (Mail, OmniFocus, and my current favorite writing app) is great, but grouping second tier apps into folders is an equally good idea.

As evidence, I present my current iPad home screen:

Thanks to the introduction of Folders, I can easily group similar apps. Anything related to Reading (e-books, Goodreader, Zinio, Instapaper, etc.) are in Reading. My text apps are all in their own folder, as are the iWork apps. I’ve taken six or seven app screens and reduced it to one.

Creating and Organizing Folders

Creating a folder is easy: simply drag one app icon onto another icon and iOS will automatically create a folder and give it a name based on the category of app. Marry two game apps, and you’ll get a folder named Games. You can rename this folder to whatever you like, so you’re not stuck with the name Apple gives you.

You can also perform this task directly in iTunes by going choosing your iPad in the sidebar, clicking on the Apps tab at the top, and then dragging icons on top of one another in the same way you would on your iPad’s screen. For when you’re setting up folder for the first time, iTunes is the best way to move a ton of apps around.

There are a few problems I’ve run into with folders. The first is, even though there are open spaces on my home screen, when I install a new app, iOS wants to install it onto screen two. It’s also entirely possible to get into the “Where did I stick that app?” trap. Thankfully, for an easy solution to that problem there’s Spotlight search.

Using Spotlight to Launch Apps

If you swipe to the right at the home screen it will bring up Spotlight search. Type in the name of the app you want to launch and it will show up in the search results. Click on that icon to launch it. Also, while not in the scope of this post, Spotlight is a good way to search within some apps, too. Whenever I need to search for a note I’ve made in the Notes app or a specific e-mail, I also use Spotlight search.

Also, remember that double-clicking the Home button shows the apps you’ve recently used. You can run them from there, too. If the app is multitasking-enabled, it will load fast and show the last state the app was in.

Finding a Happy Medium: How I Use Folders and Spotlight

As you’d imagine, I’m a huge fan of folders. My Internet folder has Safari, Twitter, Flipboard, Reeder and other apps that rely on an Internet connection to operate. Since the folder stays open after I close the app, it’s very easy to quickly run through my Twitter and RSS feed routine. Even though my e-book readers are in my Reading folder, I’ll usually run Spotlight to open them. Same with Pages and the other iWork apps. Try out a few different folder setups and workflows, and I guarantee you’ll find that folders make your life with the iPad or iPhone is easier.

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