Why I (almost) got rid of iOS folders

As you all know, when iOS 4 was released for iPhone and iPod Touch, a feature called Folders was introduced. Folders allows you to combine or store up to 12 apps in one slot on your home screen, essentially allowing up to 192 apps to be accessible without swiping to other screens.

Homescreen Folder.jpg

I eagerly downloaded the iOS 4 update onto my iPhone to play with folders (and the other features iOS 4 brought). After a few minutes of mucking about I worked out how I was going to set up my iPhone to make use of folders. I decided to have only four folders on my home screen (and none anywhere else); these were:

  1. Utilities: Calculator, Torch, Unit Converter, Notes, …the handy apps
  2. Photo: various photo-related apps, including Photos, Apple’s default photo management app
  3. Games: um… games
  4. Blogs: links to webpages I frequent, my website, my Flickr activity, Google Analytics, WordPress.

This type of organisation was great! I had all the apps I needed right on the home screen, and rarely had to swipe to find anything. They said this feature was a godsend, and it was.

It was. After a few months I started to get annoyed with having to tap an icon, wait half a second while it opened, then find and tap another to launch what I wanted. I was also beginning to find managing the folders annoying. Which app belongs in the Blogs folder? Should this app go on the home screen, or in the utilities folder? It felt like extra work.

So last week, I removed all folders except for one (Blogs) and have returned to the each-page-is-its-own-category system. The home screen is for apps that I use the most. There are only 12 slots, so any app that makes it onto the home screen deserves to be there. Actually, I have my one remaining folder, Blogs, on the home screen. The reason I’ve kept this folder is I often need to decide what I want to do blog-wise: amend a post in WordPress, check stats in Google Analytics, or simply begin my blog-reading session with one of two blogs1, but otherwise the home screen contains only the apps I use the most.

The next page contains apps that I use often enough to almost make it onto the home screen. Some of these will pop onto the home screen sometimes, because it’s a fluid system — never permanent. The third screen is for photo apps. I have my main two photo apps on the home screen: the Camera (top right corner always for easy access, and ShakeItPhoto. Occasionally I’ll replace ShakeItPhoto with Hipstamatic, but I generally prefer ShakeItPhoto. Page four is for apps I occasionally use. These are apps that I could remove, but I use them often enough that I want to keep them around. Page five is for games. I don’t play games all that often so games sit towards the back. Last, and actually least, is the page for apps that I don’t use but cannot be removed (most of Apple’s default apps cannot be deleted) or apps that are awaiting removal. Kind of like death row. Death row apps are either never used, haven’t been used for a while, or were trialled but didn’t make the cut2.

The new old system of each page is a category works for me because I find it quicker and easier to swipe two or three times to get to a selection of apps than to look at and discern the one folder I want to open from a bunch of folders which look identical (a grey icon with several tiny coloured icons inside it). In reality, it might be a little more physical work to swipe a few times to get somewhere, but the perceived ease and speed is what’s important. It feels easier to swipe because I don’t need to make a mental and visual decision. I just swipe twice to get to the photo apps. I can even do this without looking if needed.

It’s worth pointing out that I don’t really have that many apps, so this system might not work for someone with 20 photo apps on their iPhone. I’m pretty ruthless in this regard. If I notice I haven’t used an app for a while, I’ll remove it altogether. I can do this because I know if I really needed it again, I can download it from the App store free of charge. The App store remembers I’ve purchased that app before and doesn’t charge for it again. There’s no sense of finality to completely removing an app from my iPhone, or from iTunes. This is pretty liberating.

So there you have it, why I (almost) got rid of iOS folders. One last thing: in case you’re curious about what apps I actually use — and let’s face it, if you’ve read this far in this post you surely fit this description — here are my apps and how I have them arranged (at the moment):

  1. Once I open one blog, I will go to another blog from bookmarks in Safari, not from the home screen. This is why I only have a couple blogs here; they kind of launch by blog-reading session
  2. I wish there was some sort of trial period for apps. Maybe there could be a system where if you somehow ‘return’ the app within, say, 48 hours, you get a refund. By return I mean there’s some sort of prompt that acknowledges you’re deleting an app within 48 hours of first installing, and let’s you know a refund is available. This could even be optional, i.e. the developer decides whether to provide a refund or not.