Yesterday, Macworld published a piece I wrote expressing my unhappiness with the implementations of folders in iOS 4 for the iPhone. That piece now has more than 40 comments, and at this writing more than 35 people have taken time to give the article a “negative recommendation” — that is, express that they think the article is decidedly not worth your time. (In fact, my readers may note that the Macworld piece is far less ranty than my original post that inspired it; thanks to Dan Moren and Jason Snell over there for asking me to lessen the snark factor. I can only imagine the vitriol the piece would have generated if published as initially written here.)
Very briefly, my complaints about iOS 4 folders were these: Their arbitrary maximum of 12 apps is overly constrictive, and the folder icons are needlessly unhelpful. Macworld commenters who disagreed with my arguments — the ones who needn’t merely dwell on my idiocy and incompetence, that is — made the following points:
1) Having anything more than 12 items in a folder would be useless, since you couldn’t keep track of all the contents in that folder anyway at that point. Some even suggested that 12 was too many, and that they were self-imposing limits of 9 apps per folder.
I’m not buying that argument. I have many, many folders on my Mac with more than 12 items in them. It’s true that I don’t always know a full list of what’s in a given folder, but I always know which folder to look in to find something. I don’t remember every app I’ve ever reviewed for Macworld, but I’m certain that I’ll find it in my Macworld Reviews folder.
I’d prefer a much higher limit on apps per folder, coupled with vertical scrolling per folder. I have about 60 games on my iPhone (thanks to all those reviews I write). I don’t mind splitting them into folders for puzzle games vs. strategy games, but I don’t want to need Puzzle Games 1 and Puzzle Games 2.
2) There’s no better way to design the folder icons (which currently include at most 9 icons from the folder’s contents). There’s no way for designers to indicate when a folder is full. Folder icons on the Mac don’t reflect their contents. Lex, you’re a moron.
I’m just kidding on that last point — the commenters who called me out by name exclusively referred to me as Friedman. Zing!
The truth is, I don’t buy any of these arguments. Let’s take them individually:
There’s no better way to design the folder icons.
Okay, I do agree that it’s neither possible nor sane to expect to represent every icon that’s inside a folder on the outside of said folder. (Were it not for my need to break up Puzzle Games 1 and Puzzle Games 2 arbitrarily, that would be fine anyway.) But I agree wholeheartedly with several commenters who suggested that Apple should provide a way to put custom icons on your folders. If you put multiple folders side by side on a home screen, it’s tremendously difficult to distinguish them visually. Custom folder icons make visual memory and recognition far simpler. That would be a far better way to design the folder icons.
There’s no way for designers to indicate when a folder is full.
As you now know, I don’t think “fullness” should be an iOS 4 folder concept anyway. But if it must be, there are certainly ways to indicate visually when a folder is full. I’m no designer, but think of the differences between your empty and non-empty trash can, or the alias arrow added to icons, or oodles of other icon treatments we’ve seen in OS X. It’s absolutely possible to convey a folder’s fullness, rather than letting you drag items onto it only to have them rejected because the folder was secretly stuffed to capacity already.
Folder icons on the Mac don’t reflect their contents.
Agreed. But this is a bogus argument given our earlier points. Mac folders don’t have harsh content limits. They can have custom icons. And, of course, they can contain other folders, too.
Separate from all this, there’s a Spotlight change I’m longing for. One commenter pointed out that Spotlight doesn’t search folder names, which I agree is a fixable oversight. But I’ve long wished that when Spotlight listed apps in its results, it could somehow indicate which home screen those apps are on. I always use Spotlight to launch Kindle, because I can never remember which screen it’s on. If Spotlight could tell me it’s on page four, that’d be excellent. And if it could tell me it’s in the Reading folder on page four, that’d be beyond excellent.
I agree wholeheartedly with the commenters who suggested that this is the first phase of folders, and that updates will undoubtedly improve the offering. I never meant to suggest otherwise. My goal was simply to share just what improvements I’d like to see.