Stop the page-flicking madness—give us iPhone folders

I’ve been using my iPhone with the 2.x software since it came out a few months back. At first, I wasn’t too thrilled with this “upgrade” to my iPhone—my previously speedy and stable device (despite being jailbroken for most of its life) had been converted into a very slow, unstable, and ultimately unreliable product. Then the iPhone 2.1 software came out, and an amazing thing happened…all my iPhone’s issues vanished, and it was back to being the device I’d grown to enjoy using over the last year. For that, I thanked Apple, because this version of the software fixed all of the major stability and usability issues I had with my iPhone.

However, due to the stability of the software, I’ve also discovered a fundamental shortcoming of the iPhone 2.1 software. Because I now trust the iPhone won’t implode, I’ve found myself installing more and more apps. What used to be 79 programs on my iPhone at the start of this month has become 107 programs—and I expect the number to climb ever upward. But navigating this mess of icons—you can have 16 programs per “page,” with up to nine total pages—requires a ton of either swiping or tapping (in the small area between the main screen and the bottom row of four fixed icons).

This is especially true if you try to have some sense of order to your programs’ organization. For example, I like to group games together on one (OK, two) screens, “location aware” apps on another, utilities on a third, and so on. This makes programs easy to find, but has the downside of requiring a lot of page navigation when I want to jump from, say, a game on page seven to the Calendar icon on the iPhone’s home screen. I’ve tried to minimize this page navigation by putting my most-used programs (regardless of category) together on the second page of the iPhone’s screens—that way, 16 of the programs I use most often are only one page away from the home screen.

But that still leaves seven or so pages to thumb around when I run other programs…and after a few minutes of flipping between programs, this gets really old. The solution is obvious, I think: the iPhone needs to support storing applications in named folders, just as you can on any personal computer—heck, even my old Treo would let me store programs in user-defined categories, so I didn’t have to wade through all of them to find the one program I wanted to use. With folders, the amount of page navigation I do would drop greatly—I could fit all my apps in maybe a half-dozen folders, each of which would (excluding games) then have only one page within it. So instead of flipping between seven pages, I’d have two pages to flip, and six folders to tap.

This seems so obvious that I can only hope it’s in the works for iPhone 2.2 (or 2.3 or 2.4…). Exactly how it would be implemented is an open question, of course. I’m not sure if an iPhone-based app to organize the apps makes the most sense (you could use it anywhere, but you’d probably have to file programs one-by-one), or if it makes more sense to include it as a mini-app within iTunes (remember, it needs to work for Windows users, too). But really, I don’t care—I just hope I’ll soon be able to unclutter my iPhone’s screens by creating a few top-level folders to store my applications.

Another feature that seems to fit with better application organization is easier application launching. Even with my apps all organized, I’d love to see some sort of a launcher app that could launch other programs—tap the launcher’s hot corner on the iPhone, for instance, and a text box and keyboard appear. Tap a few letters of the target program’s name, and you’d see a list of matches. Tap the one you want to run, and it launches—no navigation required!

I know, however, that I’m something of an edge case, given how many apps we install and test around here—so what about you? Do you think the iPhone’s method of storing and/or accessing programs needs an overhaul? And if so, what would you recommend as the best way to do so?

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