Why iOS4 folders suck, but I’ll keep using them

I love Apple. One a day keeps the doctor away, they never fall far from the tree, they are always in my eye… and they make amazing products. I own and iPod and iPhone and am waiting for second gen iPads before I snag one. Their design sense is gorgeous and their hardware gives me a hard on. I’m an Apple fan-boy, though I would argue that I love Apple like an adult, expecting to to do better when it fails. I don’t love it like a child, with blind allegiance to crappy products (Windows phone users, I’m looking at you).

All of that said, Apple fucked up with folders in the new iOS. The prioritize exactly the wrong kind of behaviors as far as navigation goes and is a literal (figurative) step backwards for interaction paradigms. I agree that something needed to be done to triage the never ending screens of apps I had started to accumulate, but this is almost worse.

Let’s start with prioritization: it’s backwards. Folders prioritizes your least commonly used apps. In the previous page model, you kept your most frequently used apps in the screens closest to your home page. It was really easy to remember where the apps were on those pages; we humans are really good with spatial and visual memorization (it’s how people remember where shit is on a chaotic desk or desktop, even if it’s in the shape of a penis). So a common use-case would be to swipe to the page you wanted and then tap the app you wanted. This was pretty quick. Now you have a screen full of folders. These folders are not as visually distinctive as your apps used to be; Apple traded visual recognition (something we’re good at) for text scanning (something we’re not as good at). On top of that, once you have found and selected the group you want you must then switch back to spatial recognition mode and select the app you want in your group. Or you could keep with text searching; either your brain contexts switches or you continue with a low efficiency visual search. It’s a lose-lose scenario as far as time is concerned.

The one thing folders get you is that they bring apps that were in the dim recesses of your phone makes them more accessible. It takes just as long to get to your least commonly used apps as your most commonly used apps. This is not an improvement.

The other step backward is in navigation metaphors. Before folders, users swiped to get to a new page. The swipe is a new interaction model that we don’t really have analogies for in “big” computing (yes, netbooks, even you count as “big”, turns out size doesn’t matter). The newest iOS replaces swiping from page to page with tapping from group to group. Tapping is a hold-over from clicking. It is an imperfect translation of an operation meant for a mouse/keyboard style of computing. Further, a swipe requires less precision, and thus less time, to engage in. You can swipe anywhere to get to the next page, but you have to carefully tap on the right group (after a possibly lengthy search) to achieve what a quick swipe would do.

All of that said, I still keep all of my apps in folders. There’s something viscerally satisfying about having all of your apps on the home page. I’m often tempted to switch back to pages, usually after 5 minutes of searching for Robot Unicorn Attack. I still may yet switch back to pages, or try and hybridize the process (though they seem antithetical to each other, if you are going to group, why have many pages of groups?), but for now, I think I’ll just put up and shut up… after a lengthy blog post, of course.


Why iOS4 folders suck, but I’ll keep using them

3 thoughts on “Why iOS4 folders suck, but I’ll keep using them

  1. Mattimus says:

    I’ve found the best way to use folders is to categorize and archive the hundreds of apps that I no longer use regularly but keep around because I may one day want them

    For example, Urban Spoon. I give it a chance every couple months, and I have yet to have a single session with it that does not leave me vastly disappointed by its suggestions. Yet I keep it around because some part of me believes it knows the secret location of some culinary gem of which I am not aware. I don’t need to have it cluttering up my screen, but I certainly don’t want to re-download the app every time I decide it has had enough time to contemplate what a bad app it’s been. The solution is to archive it in a folder.

    The first 3 or 4 pages of the apps on my phone are all untainted by folder nonsense. They remain visually identifiable at a glance because I know I will call upon them regularly. Everything past page 4 is organized into folders with names that will help me find some old app. Going through the last page on my phone is kinda like surfing the app store for apps that I already own.

  2. Kat says:

    Personally I hate Apple because they don’t play nicely with libraries, but I have to admit to occasionally drooling over their products.

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