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.

The Power of a Pause

At first glance, it seems like any other beach scene you’ve ever noticed. And then – right when you’re not expecting it – there is a strange and wonderful pattern in the water right in front of you. You only see it when you’ve unfocused a bit, and it’s only there for a minute – and then it’s gone.

What do you get when you breathe?

Alex Bard, one of the founders of Assistly, talks about the importance of taking time off from work as key to his success at finding the parts of his business that provide the most value, and of his success in maintaining his family. Whether your definition of success is building a successful company or simply finding marvelous, unexpected images like the one above, what are you doing to pause, wait, and see what happens?

It’s Ok, Work Will Be There When You Return

It’s easy to think that the world will fall down if you’re not there to do your job. And it’s true that if that happens when people are expecting you to excel, you might not succeed. But you can’t succeed without also taking more than a few moments (on a regular basis) to unplug, look around you, and see what you’ve got.

This photo is a good metaphor for that ability that Alex describes to identify and capture great moments – the current was the result of a number of forces coming together (only for a moment) and I happened to be lucky enough to be there at that moment and skilled and practiced enough to take a shot that turned out like I wanted it to resolve. There’s one in a row.



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.

Has Twitter Subscriber Growth Peaked?

CNN reported this week that Twitter subscriber growth had peaked and that visits to the site were relatively flat. This information doesn’t seem to match the reports from Twitter itself that the number of tweets per day keep growing and that the engagement of users has increased.

What else could be going on here? A key component of Twitter’s growth is in the mobile and client space — people accessing the service through smartphones and using clients such as Tweetdeck and Seesmic to access the Twitter API — and these users may not show up directly.

Mobile internet growth has not yet peaked (Apple has sold 42m iPhones on a 1 billion+ base of all mobile phone users, e.g) and only about a quarter of internet users use mobile internet services. Clearly, major growth is still to come for real-time services and the Internet — it just might not happen on the web browser but through other clients. Twitterific or Tweetie might appeal to users of the new Apple Tablet — and there are surely other devices to come.

So what’s CNN’s motivation for calling a peak on Twitter? First, Twitter’s a threat to the core CNN business, offering real-time news faster and (potentially) more accurate than the CNN reporting itself. MSNBC recently purchased the @breakingnews twitter handle and it is now an arms race to deliver a mix of curated crowdsourcing, breaking news, and expert opinion to be a news organization today. It would be great if CNN would respond to this challenge by offering better content in every news channel (mobile, web, tv, etc.) … let’s hope it happens.

How mobile data anywhere changes behavior

I’m writing this post from the comfort of an armchair. I could be anywhere, and that fact is fundamentally changing my behavior by allowing me to get more done from anywhere (even when there is no data). The enabling device? The iPhone.

Big deal, you say. You could make and take calls from almost anywhere before, and mobile data allowed you to use the web on a BlackBerry. So what’s different? First, the iPhone makes me smarter everywhere I go. Second, even though it’s a portal that allows me to buy instantly, the iPhone allows me to hold off on impulse purchases in person. And finally, this mobile computer is future-proofed by the ability to download an application for almost anything.

iPhone makes me smarter, and not only because it gives me instant access to the tools I normally find on my desktop. When I need to know the answers to simple questions (what’s the weather? Where’s my bus?) I get actionable information, updated on the fly. When I need to know information about a colleague or new contact, Gist or LinkedIn is only a few clicks away. I don’t have to worry about keeping 5-7 items in my short-term memory, and can better focus on learning new things.

The app store allows me to buy songs, movies, and applications immediately. So how could it paradoxically allow me to put off an impulse purchase as well? By allowing me to take my current behaviors and maximize them. I like using the King County Library System because I can read recent books for free. But I don’t always know what the newest, most topical books are without subscribing to an e-book list or reading book reviews. Enter iPhone to change my habits: I can now spend an hour at the local Barnes & Noble, finding books and adding them to my holds list on the KCLS web site. Before mobile browsing, I would have bought some of these books and not had an alternate way to try before I buy. A similar analogy happens with hard goods, where I can look up the price of an item while I am in the store and save a trip to another store (true mall lovers may argue this point disrupts the ideal shopping experience, but I beg to differ).

Finally, the iPhone is future-proofed. I’m carrying around a computer with me, and the App Store tells me when I have updates to existing applications. I also get to tap into the collective efforts of thousands of developers who are optimizing applications for the mobile platform, and specifically for the design experience and multi-touch features of the iPhone.

The iPhone has changed my behavior and enables me to do more from everywhere. Fanboy, you say — why is iPhone any better than the other data-enabled smartphone — and why does it matter? I say it matters because my friends and colleagues who don’t use new web applications because it takes a lot of effort to learn new things are trying new things on the iPhone, from new places. The design metaphor and learning style that iPhone suggests also provides Apple with a clear competitive advantage when launching new products. iTablet, here we come.

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