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Organizing Apps on the iPhone

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Ask my wife about how neat I am, and she’s very likely to laugh at you for referencing me and the word ‘neat’ in the same sentence. But when it comes to my digitized life, “neatnik” couldn’t be a better descriptor for me. Ever since the iPhone went 2.0, and third party applications have become available to those of us too scared to unlock our phones, I’ve had screens upon screens of icons.

I’ve found the need to now keep them organized – and it’s driving me crazy! Every couple of weeks I attempt to reorganize my many iPhone apps, and along the way I’ve hatched a few ideas that I think would greatly improve the organization of the platform (at least for those of us who are somewhat compulsive about such things).

First, here’s an idea of what I’ve got stacked against me – 47 apps and 5 screens of icons. (I’m sure my numbers aren’t outstanding by any means – How many apps are you wrestling with?) I try to keep them grouped with like functionality (games, locations, news, utilities, etc), but each time I add or remove something it generally throws my iPhone feng shui off completely! And don’t even get me started on every time I would update one of my apps. (However, Apple saved me a little bit of sanity with last Friday’s 2.1 update – which in case you hadn’t found yet, seems to install the update to an application, in place of its deprecated self. Woohoo!)

But I’d still love to see a little more flexibility in the way I’m able to situate and thumb through the applications on my iPhone. (Think Apple will allow someone to develop something to manage interface tweaks and sell it in the App Store? Me either.) Before I detail the interface customization items I hope to see on the iPhone, I think it will make things a bit clearer if I use the analogy of a Virtual Desktop. In OS X we have Spaces to divide-up our desktops. On the iPhone there are as many horizontally-scrolling screens as you desire, to place and organize application icons. I’ll be referring to these iPhone screens as desktops, as I feel it makes more sense within the context of my interface wish-list below.

So here’s what I’m looking for in customizability (I say it’s a word, ok?) of the iPhone interface:

  • Vertical Scrolling
    Let’s have the ability to scroll our desktops up and down as opposed to left and right. To me, it feels more natural to go up and down anyway, as that’s what I do most often when reading email and similar actions on my iPhone.
  • Smooth Scrolling
    This would present an option to scroll smoothly through multiple desktops, or to use the ‘sticky’ methodology that we currently have with the horizontal interface.
  • A Combination of Vertical and Smooth Scrolling
    In this scenario, I could have more than 4 icons tall on a desktop (say 4×7), where I could scroll smoothly in a vertical fashion. But then retain the ‘sticky’ left/right scroll to other desktops of application icons, where I could again scroll smoothly up and down.
  • Keyword or Tag Apps
    This may be a bit trickier – possibly implemented through the iTunes interface – but I’d like to assign keywords (or tags) to the applications, and then assign those keywords to their own desktops. This way I could know exactly which desktop was my ‘news’ desktop, or my ‘games’ desktop for instance.

All of these ideas are intended to bring more organization to the interface of the iPhone. I believe that as more and more applications become available, the more cumbersome and limited the current interface will start to feel. I think the suggestions I’ve made here today would go a long way towards scaling to the fast-approaching needs of iPhone users. That being said, I’m no design or Human Factors guru, so maybe I’m way off base here. So this is where I open the floor to the rest of you – what would you like to see in the way of organization options for your vast (or not so vast) collection of iPhone-installed applications?

25 Responses to “Organizing Apps on the iPhone”

  1. ok, i’m a little late to this forum, but here’s what I’ve got. I deleted all the apps off my iPhone. Then I plowed through all my apps in iTunes and deleted all, but 80 of them. When I removed them from iTunes I DID NOT throw them away (more on this later). Then I went to sync Applications in iTunes and chose “Selected Applications” and then checked all 80 apps individually. The result was all the default iPhone apps on page 1, and all 80 other apps in alphabetical order after that. While I prefer to organize by category, it was too difficult. At least this way, I know where to find something.

    So here’s part 2 of my strategy – Go to the Mobile Applications folder in iTunes and drag all the contents to the iTunes icon in the dock (or add all the contents via the menu commands). Now when you go to Applications in iTunes, the 80 apps you picked before will be checked, but not everything else you just re-added. This gives you flexibility in choosing what you want on the phone, while largely keeping the alphabetical structure intact. Granted, when you add a new app, you’ll have to move it into its alphabetical place, but the structure is already there to accommodate you.

    I hope Apple will enable folders soon, so I can categorize by function again. Until then, the alphabetical system will have to work for me.

    Hope this helps, I will post this elsewhere too.

    -Jo Jo

  2. mike sanders

    seems you guys didn’t read my comment about the unlocking software from the UK. This is not jailbreaking it unlocks the phone properly and completely and permits future upgrades as per a normal unlocked phone so there is no risk.

  3. mike sanders

    your comment on unlocking your 2g phone prompts me to let you know that the software available from is really superb. It allows your phone to be used anywhere on any network and according to them is also used in the apple store in UK.
    My personal experience is excellent and recent upgrades have been seamlessly handled.
    It is expensive but it works.

  4. I just wanted to clarify that Categories is a jailbreak app, and that when I last tried it, it was incompatible with firmware 2.1, however, I’m sure that an update to it will bring back the program very soon.

  5. There is another program that is a dream come to true for iPhone users as well, called Categories. It basically hides the icons that you choose and put them in a “screen” that you can access when you click on an icon, and so it simulates having folders on the iPhone to hide your icons in. Managing the folders in it is a bit of a pain but once you do that, the feeling you get when you have your favourite games on the desktop and those you don’t use so often tucked away but easier reachable is incredible.

  6. I have my organized the following way:

    Screen 1: Webclips, and general apps like settings, ipod and camera.

    Screen 2: Any app related to news. Here I have MLB At Bat, NY Times, WordPress and NetNewsWire.

    Screen 3: All utility apps that don’t connect to the internet like Calculator, Things, Tips, Units.

    Screen 4: These are all apps that connect out to the world. Ebay, Now Playing, Bank of America, AIM, Maps etc.

    Screen 5: Games.

    Screen 6: Default Apple apps that I don’t need and can’t get ride of. Weather, Clock, Notes.

    This as worked well for me so far. I wish here was a way to label the screens and change the order of them.

  7. Great article and great ideas in it. And great ideas from the comments.

    I particularly like Vermaak’s idea of organizing icons on the Mac, then transferring the layout to the iPhone with iTunes.

    And Eugene, thanks for your great ideas and the example of you iPhone layout. But I, too, an queasy about jailbreaking my iPhone. How about an authorized product that will do what you do. I might go for that.

  8. Since getting my iPhone I’ve wondered about having something on the PC to arrange the screen. It’s very tiresome arranging those icons on the phone. When I had a P900 I had an app on my PC that allowed me to control the phone so I could write a message using my computer so I could leave the phone in the dock. The iPhone could really benefit from such a thing.

  9. @Eugene Gordin
    You’re correct in that I was aiming at the vanilla iphone users out there. Early on I played with Springboard and liked what it had to offer. I assumed it had something along these lines already, but wanted to focus on the ‘sanctioned’ side of things.

    I live and die by my phone (not to mention it’s used heavily for work) and as such, am a bit queasy at the thought it could potentially end up bricked with a new release, etc. However, seeing your screen looks awfully tempting – VERY nice. thanks for sharing.

  10. @Nick Santilli

    I think all of those implementations are right on. I don’t think I have a huge amount of apps (by my count 39 across four screens…and that’s including the apps that come with the device) but the frustration I get everytime I update an app is unbearable. (I have OCD so having a game on the front page freaks me out) I haven’t yet updated to 2.1…or perhaps I have but I haven’t updated an app yet.

    Vertical scrolling sounds great as well as the keyword implementation. I’d definitely install an app that gives either of those functionality.

    @Eugene Gordin

    Your home screen looks amazing. I’m assuming that’s a result of jailbreaking the iPhone. Personally I’m a bit weary of jailbreaking my device. Dunno why, but I am. I’d like to be able to see these implementations without it being jailbreaked just because of my weariness.

  11. This post comes at an interesting time for me because I really have begun to despise all of the icons on my springboard (especially since I dont use a lot of them regularly).

    Now I realize that you were probably not talking to the pwn-ing crowd for this post, but I believe that pwn-ing has gotten yet another trophy in its corner with the introduction of an app called QuickGold by Zataang (and the Poof app by BigBoss).

    QuickGold, if the name didnt give it away already, is QuickSilver for the iPhone, allowing you to search for apps, contacts, phone numbers, and websites with one click of the Home button on the SpringBoard. With QuickGold installed, I was able to use Poof to hide the majority of my icons, reducing my SpringBoard to just two screens with a combined total of 13 icons on it.

    The apps I use occasionally are no longer in my face all the time, and the apps I use regularly are quickly accessible from the SpringBoard. It’s truly amazing in terms of neatness.

    You can find more information about the apps here:


    And for an example of what my SpringBoard looks like now:

    So neat! Hope that helps!

  12. The vertical smooth scrolling is something that has already occurred through jailbreak applications, and worked rather well. I could see that working. Keywords is a good idea too.

    However, I think what I’d rather see is either an application menu/file manager, or a Spotlight-like search and launch feature. Even with additional scrolling options and keywords to sort your desktops, you would still be left with tons of application icons. I’d rather hide most of my icons, as many applications are ones I only use once and a while, and be able to cut my desktops down to one or two, including only the applications i use most regularly.

    Also, with the launcher/menu idea, you could even hide default Apple applications that you don’t use often (like Stocks for me), or ones who’s functionality you’ve replaced (for instance, if you download a weather or maps application, why would you want to keep the default one’s around?).

  13. What would also be nice is some way through iTunes to position the apps on virtual screens. This way you could layout all your apps on the screens you want using your mouse then sync up with your iPhone.

    This methoud would be much easyier

  14. i like the idea of having a vertical dimension. maybe just the addition of a spaces like workspace (with vertical support). also the ability to move icons anywhere, so i can have gaps/spacers