Do you use folders or apps on your smartphone?


Folders, or Apps?

You spend most of your time with your smartphone.  Do you spend any time thinking about how to arrange the information there so that every time you pick it up, you know where to find what you’re looking for? In my experience, it takes time to adapt to managing information on the phone, and your initial scheme may evolve over time.

You might have folders. You might have apps. Or maybe just a few favorites and nothing else. Or an entirely different organizational scheme (the latest apps get the home screen, or one screen for each type of app. We may not think about it much, but the way we place our apps on our smartphone home screen says a lot about the way we approach problems, challenges, and the hacks we make to improve productivity.

Here are a few ways to go about organizing your phone (or your tablet, for that matter), along with the pros and cons of each method:

The Single App Method

  • what’s great: easy to find what you need
  • what’s not so great: not enough screens to hold the apps

The default method – letting the phone place the apps on the screen in the order where they are downloaded – is the classic user experience for smartphones. It’s great because it allows you to find the last thing you downloaded (which, as we know, can often be the last thing we remember). In addition, eyetracking studies suggest that many people read in an “F” pattern – so the top left corner and the top row of the apps on a screen are going to be the ones you pay attention to most often. You can also treat your home screen like an Agile Board, placing the most important apps at the top of the screen or by having different screens for different moods or places.

The single app method runs into challenges if you have many favorites, or think in terms of activities rather than individual apps. Also, if you dedicate an individual screen to apps that are similar, you might run out of screens, or have to swipe too many screens to find the thing you want.

A fix for some of these problems? The springboard – where you can place your few most-used apps for easy use – is a great place to put your one (or two or three) most used applications.

The Folder Method

  • what’s great: uses less space, groups like apps
  • what’s not so great: can be hard to find the thing you need when you need it

Folders for apps are a newer idea in terms of mobile design and a frequently used design pattern in interaction design overall. Folders excel because they allow you to think in terms of an activity and to place like items there – even ones you haven’t downloaded yet – and to have a consistent place to look. When you’re going to take a photo, you look in the “photo” folder. This also gives you a forcing factor to reconsider apps if you go on a binge and suddenly have many more apps than you need. Folders also allow you to store many more items in one place, reducing the number of swipes to review different screens. And they also can hide the apps you never use. Like cleaning out your closet, it’s always good to clean out your app folder if you haven’t used the app in a year.

Yet this same flexibility can make it more challenging to find what you’re looking for when you need it. Folders – especially folders combined on a screen with apps – can be a confusing metaphor unless there’s another organizational system at play (place all of the apps on the top row of the screen, or the folders on the bottom half of the screen only.

A Few More Hacks

Organizing your apps isn’t the only thing you can do to make your smartphone more immediately productive. Two things you can do right now to increase your calm include:

  • Reduce your notifications – every app wants to have the maximum number of notifications available to interrupt you at every turn. Turn them all off and turn back on only the ones you need.
  • Use search to find what you need – it’s a little bit more work for your phone and a lot easier to find apps, contacts, and messages.

What’s on your mobile device?

Your mobile life and what you can do in the rest of your life

I’ve had an iPhone for almost a year, and am astonished at the changes that it’s made in my productivity.  The main difference is that where on my BlackBerry or Windows Mobile phone I mainly read email while on the go or between meetings, I can now access web applications, read email and phone at the same time, and generally live all of the brand promise of the iPhone.  Yes, it sounds like a fanboy shill, but it’s true.

To try and avoid the eye candy that Apple would like to place in front of me in order to make me buy more stuff, I focus on my iPhone home screen and try to make that the center of my mobile productivity.

I do this by splitting up the screen into four general regions:

  • Messages, Notes, Calendar = Upper Left
    Here’s where I go when I need to note something quickly, find out when I’m meeting someone, or to send a quick text.  I don’t spend much time here but I do need to look at it frequently, so I keep these apps on the most easily accessed real estate of the iPhone home screen.  If I need to remember something, I place it into Evernote, my “cloud brain.”
  • Photos = Upper Right
    I love to take pictures, so I keep a few camera apps handy (ShakeitPhoto gives a cool “Polaroid-like” effect, while Hipstamatic has a whole series of effects) to snap and upload pictures.
  • Social + Location + Aggregators = Lower Left
    To keep up with the news by and about the most important people in my network, I use Gist.  I also use the Facebook and LinkedIn mobile apps.
  • Misc = Lower Right
    A few more of my favorite apps live here, including Zendesk which allows me to reach customers at a moment’s notice.

Finally, I’ve added the Mobile Twitter app to my home deck, as I spend a lot of time in Twitter managing multiple accounts and keeping up with a variety of hashtag conversations online.  This is the third in a series of iPhone home page organizations, and I’ve noticed a theme emerging — how can I do more seamlessly in a mobile way while limiting distractions — and the home screen is getting better.  (It’s not without distraction, but better ;).

I’d love to hear how you arrange your mobile device to improve your work.

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