Lex Friedman blogs here.

Lex is the EVP of Sales and Development for Midroll, the world's best podcast advertising network.

He was previously Macworld's senior writer, and continues to contribute to the publication. He is the cohost of the Not Playing podcast, a cohost of the Turning This Car Around podcast, a cohost of the The Rebound podcast, and the sole host of the Your Daily Lex podcast.

Lex's first book, The Snuggie Sutra, is exactly what it sounds like. His most recent book is a Dr. Seuss parody for adults; it's called The Kid in the Crib.

You should follow him on both Twitter and App.net.

Lex would be delighted to speak at your awesome event.

iOS 4.0 folders are really great, except for how stupid they are

I’m a fan of Apple’s iOS 4.0 upgrade for the iPhone and iPod touch. I installed it on my iPhone 3GS within minutes of its becoming available, and the Mail and multitasking upgrades are well worth the price of admission. (Okay, true, the price of admission in this case is actually nil, since the software upgrade is free, but let’s not be pedantic.)

Also new in iOS 4.0 is folders. You can now drag one app onto another app to create a new app collection. This is welcome news to people (like me) with many screenfuls of apps; by grouping similar apps together, you can clean up your many home screens and spend less time swiping. 

But there are two elements to folders that are — to use the technical term — really, really stupid. 

STUPIDITY #1. iOS folders can only hold 12 items. That’s dopey. 

Ignoring the dock at the bottom of each home screen, you can store 16 apps per page on your iPhone. And while I recognize that app-crazy iPhone users like me may not be the most common use case, we still exist, so I imagine I’m not the only person on the planet who, prior to the launch of the new folders feature, organized apps by screen. My first home screen was devoted to the apps I use the most often, a few screens were devoted to my favorite games, and one screen was devoted to apps for my kids.

The common factor on each of those screens? They all included 16 apps. I understand the design thought process that apparently led folks at Apple to conclude that 12 apps per folder was the maximum that could be fit, but it was most decidedly the wrong decision. Look at this “full” folder:

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Namely, that nearly 80-pixel-tall region at the bottom of my screen where all you can see is my cobblestone wallpaper? You know what would fit just perfectly there? 

Four more apps, that’s what. I’m thinking that Apple feared putting any “non-dock” and non-fast-app-switching apps along that bottom row could confuse folks, but I disagree. As is, even if you’re not a former adherent of the “organizing by screenful” mentality, this folder layout employs a bizarre use of wasted space. 

I can even explain further why it happened, though that doesn’t excuse the move. Look what happens when your folder is in, say, the second row:

A-ha! Since this folder was in the second row, the iOS bumps it up a bit to make room to display the full contents, splitting the just-under-80-pixel difference between the top and bottom of the screen. Now there really isn’t enough room, sucker!

Except, of course there is. I’d much rather see folder icons always slide up to the very top or very bottom when opened to allow space for 16 apps than settle for this approach.

STUPIDITY #2. Quick! How many apps are in this folder?

If you guessed nine, you’re an idiot. Well, no, of course you’re not an idiot. This is a bigger challenge to solve than STUPIDITY #1, but Apple’s good at solving tough problems. 

Here’s the full, open view of this folder:

Since the folder icon only shows a 3x3 grid of the apps it contains, it’s currently impossible to distinguish visually from a folder’s icon:

a) whether that folder is full (i.e., contains Apple’s current and foolish maximum of 12 apps, and thus will ignore any more apps you attempt to drag into it), or

b) precisely how many apps that folder contains if that number is greater than or equal to 9.

Dragging apps into folders feels a bit imprecise. If you’re not careful, you can end up rearranging apps instead of dropping them into folders. When a folder is full, it still darkens as you drag another app over it, as if to indicate that you’re about to add that app to the folder. But since the folder is full, when you release your finger, the app just slides right back to where it was, and nothing changes.

It’s thus imperative that folders reflect their fullness. I’m no designer, but I’m sure Apple could come up with a visual cue to indicate whether a folder is full or not. And again, I’d prefer that fullness only be reached when your folder hits 16 apps, which may only make the icon challenge tougher.

THE STUPID CONCLUSION

Look, overall, I’m happier with folders than without them. But I don’t actually feel that my folder critiques are especially picky. Clearly, Apple needs an overall slicker approach to iPhone app navigation, and folders are meant only as a temporary assist in a world fast approaching a quarter million iOS apps. Even as a stop-gap solution, though, this implementation of folders feels half-baked.

Posted on June 22nd, 2010