Organizing Apps in iOS 4


iOS 4 brings an entirely new way to organize apps on the iPod touch and iPhone. Previously, the only organization available was to separate the apps on different pages and flick between them. After a few pages of apps, it became much harder to find the one you were looking for.

Spotlight search helped somewhat, but I always found it a bit awkward, and not as fast as memorizing where the apps were. All of the default Apple apps were on the last screen, kids games on the next to last, my games on the screen before that, and the rest was filled up with whatever apps I had downloaded. The front screen was for my favorites, ordered by how much I used them in decreasing order going back to the games. Not a perfect system, but not too terrible.

Thankfully, iOS 4 introduces folders. By holding down on an app until it shakes, and then dropping one app on top of another, you can make a folder containing those two apps. Then you can drag and drop up to 12 apps into that folder. The folder is named by default after the category of app that you drop on top of the other. For example, if I drop iBooks on Plants vs Zombies, it creates a folder named Books. But if I drop Plants vs Zombies on iBooks, it creates a folder named Games.

The icons for the folders are a three by three grid of the first nine icons for the apps inside the folder. I have an 8GB iPod touch, and holding it about a foot away from my face I can see the icons fairly well, but I think that this is a feature that was clearly designed with the iPhone 4’s “Retina” display in mind. Normally, I read the title of the folder at the bottom, which means, for me, that the default titles of folders make no sense.

I have eight folders, listed below, which let me organize my apps. I separate the default apps into “Apple Apps” and “Utilities.” I drop the apps I use on a daily basis into “Faves,” then separate out the games I like from the games the kids like, and then break up the rest of the apps into “Reading,” “Education,” and since I couldn’t think of a better name, “Lifestyle.” Lifestyle is a bit of a catch-all for the miscellaneous apps that do not fit in anywhere else. Faves contains apps that could probably fit in another category, but I use them so often that they need to be together.

The organization is not perfect, and will definitely evolve over time. So far I’ve found that abandoning screens and using only folders has reduced the friction between me and finding the app I want. I have only four apps that are not in a folder: the four in the dock, Safari, Mail, Twitter, and ByLine. While it is possible to put a folder in the dock, I thought that it seemed unnecessary. The whole point of the dock is quick access to your top four.

I am also a little disappointed with spotlight search. If you know the name of your app, it is easy enough to search for just that name, but searching for a folder name brings up nothing. It would be nice if Spotlight would list the apps in that folder. I have two folders with the word “Game” in their title, if Spotlight were really useful, typing “Game” would list the contents of both folders.

I absolutely love what folders has done for the overall feel of my iPod. I now have a single screen, with easy choices for launching the app I’m looking for. The folders hold four less apps than a screen, so there is less to look at in each one, reducing the time it takes to find what I’m looking for. Where I had informal organization for my apps before, I now have a more formal, named, organization in the folders.

iOS 4 is a big update for users of newer generation iPods or iPhones. Fast task switching is the headline feature of this update, which owners of older devices miss out on. However, even for devices without as much power, the addition of folders (as well as a nice speed boost) make upgrading well worth the time.

Are you using the new Folders feature? How do you organize your apps?

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