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Organizing Apps in iOS 4

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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 (s aapl) 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?

31 Responses to “Organizing Apps in iOS 4”

  1. james braselton

    hi there forgot too mention the 64 gn ipid touch has 32 free space left when the 128 gb igame iphone comes out in 2012 i saw on the internet i think lots of people need folders

  2. james braselton

    hi there dose the ipad and ipid touch need folders too i have 32 gb iphone 4 and a 32 gb ipad and a 64 gb ipod touch i have soo many apps games i ran out of pages soo if o down load a app or game wont show up soo i am forced too use folders i have 182 apps games 2 avatar movies and a 165 songs and oh yes i still have a whopping 15.3 gb free space soo i need a lot of folders folders is must have if your app happy like me

  3. I used to be able to use the folders, i sent my ipod in because it stopped working, i just got the new one today and now i cant put my apps into folders. Why is that? Do i need to update it or something?

  4. I’ve started using the new folder system on my iphone 4. How do you get an app icon from another screen into a created folder that’s not on the same screen??….Probably something really simple but…..???

  5. Gazoobee

    I’m not impressed with the folders at all. I didn’t want them to begin with because I have a sane amount of apps and AFAIK only those with stupid amounts of apps and “app collectors” need anything beyond the original organisation scheme.

    The thing that bugs me the most though is that you can’t turn them off. The folders thing makes it about ten times more difficult to rearrange the apps (without inadvertently making a folder instead).

    I don’t have enough apps to need folders, but I’m constantly rearranging the apps I have. Folders just makes my app rearranging a lot harder, without adding anything I need.

  6. Want to put your old iPhone to use doing exciting new things? How about sending it to Kenya in two weeks to record oral history interviews in endangered tribal dialects? My name is Kamilah Welch and I am the public relations intern for Smallbean(, a Boston-based non-profit. Smallbean’s initiatives teach technology skills and document community life around the world through the use of refurbished electronics and solar power.

    With yesterday’s debut of the iPhone 4, we are seeking old iPhones for use as digital voice recorders for our oral history-based Citizen Archivist Project. Any information or references of people whom we could contact on this prospect would be very much appreciated. Thanks!

  7. So let me get this straight. You’ve paid for one of the most expensive phones on the planet and you don’t consider the built in Phone or Messages applications important enough to fill 2 of those blank spaces on your home screen?

  8. Drewwodean

    However much sense this system makes to you at the moment – and I agree it does make sense on a certain level – you will quickly abandon this approach as it becomes too much of a pain in the arse over time to endure that one extra step in getting to your desired app.

  9. Sandhya

    I HATE YOU APPLE!!! WHY o WHY wouldn’t you tell us to back up any/all data on apps before trying to upgrade to OS 4.0? Thanks to you, I’ve lost over a year’s worth of data on my apps, which was not written down anywhere. YOU SUCK. BIG F*CK YOU.

    • Matthew Lucas

      Sandhya, why do you think the default behaviour of connecting your phone/touch to iTunes is to back it up? Surely you haven’t turned that off??? Oops! That was a mistake then.

      Two things to remember about computers. 1. Always back everything up because you WILL lose it at some point otherwise. 2. ALWAYS ALWAYS back up as much as you possibly can before upgrading OS’s, whether that’s Mac OS, iOS, Windows, Linux, whatever.

    • I’m pretty sure there is a warning advising you to backup all your data before installing… as a matter of fact iTunes tells you to do the upgrade in your base computer because iOS4 will restore your phone.

  10. How have you found the performance on the 8Gb Touch? I have seen reports elsewhere that the 2nd Generation iPod Touch and the iPhone 3G have had slowdowns once iOS4 has been installed.

    • I think it feels a little snappier than iOS 3. However, I have had more of a problem with apps crashing than before. Might just be taking some time for apps to release iOS 4 compatable updates.

  11. mrkwst22

    So far the folders is about all I have truly played with, and with the number of apps I have (Please. Don’t ask….) it has almost become a game in itself. The feature within folders I like best is being able to rename the folder at creation. At first, I thought you were locked into Apple’s genre names. Whoever (team) worked on this part of iOS4 deserves a raise.

    And you don’t have to put everything in folders. That’s the beauty of the feature: you get to decide.

    Also I find the mini-icons within the folders to be amazing in their detail. Many you can recognize. You can thank the iOS4 design team for improving the screen resolution.

  12. Good review. I like the folder system. A few items for the wish list:

    1) Icons for folders. Think app store… They use one of the featured apps in the given category to create a visual cue for that category. For now, all of the folders look alike, except for the tiny text in the folder name. That text is not enough for a quick glance to select the folder. Over time, I’ll remember the exact location of my folders, but a nice big icon for each folder would be good.

    2) >12 items per folder. With OS 3, I used pages to separate categories, and in some cases I had 16 apps (max # per page) in that category. For example, I have 16 sports news apps that used to live on one page. It would be nice to put them all in one folder.

    3) Give me a visual cue that the folder is full. If your folder has 12 apps in it and you try to drag another app to it, the app simply slides back to it’s original spot. No advance warning that the folder is full and can’t take another app. There must be a simple way to show the folder is full.

    Despite all of the above, I love the folders and think it’s a great addition.

    I also love multi-tasking, but have one major request… Give us a way to close ALL apps at one time. Right now, you have to go to the “task bar,” press an icon to put them in shimmy mode, and then “delete (close)” each open app one-by-one. With several open apps, this is a real pain.

  13. I used to be able to alphabetize the apps by resetting the home screen. Now doing that makes all the apps go out of the folders and remove folders that I have made. Guess folders is not going to be working for me. Bummer, because I have around 120 apps.

  14. I love throwing all of the apps I don’t use in a folder that I can store on my last screen rather than create a whole new screen for those apps like I did before yesterday.

    I’m not sure that the one page filled with folders is the way to go for me. I prefer one tap to access my favorite apps rather than two. Sure, that’s nit picky but it’s my phone :)

  15. Christy

    I have all but 11 of my apps (4 dock, 7 others) in folders, with my non-foldered apps appearing first, followed by all my folders which seep onto the second home screen. I’m really liking it. I had so many apps that I didn’t use because they were 5 screens back and I forgot they were there.

  16. Whilst folders is sort of handy for putting all games together, all social site apps together etc etc, I really don’t like the look of the folder icons, especially when they have less than nine apps in them, they look out of place next to the usual nicely designed app icons.

    And only twelve apps per folder? That is a mistake I feel that should be changed in the next update.

  17. I can’t find how is it comfortable to put EVERYthing in folders, as it adds one more spot-and-tap. Also, I hate the app limit per folder because of my will to put, say, all the games in one folder.

    Despite that, folders are still great.

  18. I don’t use the folder system as much as I thought. After 2 years of using the old system, I just instinctively know where the apps are and therefore have no reason to folder them (besides those that I just don’t use). 5 pages of scattered apps and the default dock is what I’ve become accustomed to.