How To Organize Your (New) iLife

Given the vast (and growing) number of iPhone users, there likely is a growing number of iOS4 users. Both iTunes and the iPhone have recently received software updates that enhance the phone’s usability and organization. The principal new addition along these lines is folders for applications.

Previously, if an iPhone user had more than, say, three or four pages of applications, finding them was a multi-step process of searching and swiping. Organizing them was also cumbersome – you either moved them one by one on the phone itself, or used the marginally better tool available in iTunes for switching them around. You still needed to consider where you put them, perhaps grouping like apps on the same page and organizing pages from most to least used or some other convention.

Folders have the power to change this process and, better yet, can collapse 10 + pages of applications down to 1 or 2 pages. But, how do you use this new foldering system to get the most out of the phone?

Folders are created when you enter editing mode on the phone by tapping and holding any app icon, then dragging one app on top of another. Once you do this, a folder is born and the phone even suggests a label based on the App store category of the first two apps you have grouped. If you want to change the label, simply tap on it and an edit box comes up. To access apps within folders, tap the folder and a strip of apps within the folder overlays the screen. You can fit 12 applications within a single folder. Before folders, the iPhone could fit 180 apps – 16 on each of 11 pages plus 4 in the dock. With the new foldering system, you can load 2,160 apps, if you fill each folder with 12 applications and load the dock with 4 folders. You can load more than that – they just won’t be visible on the page and will only be accessible via Spotlight search. And, if an app within a folder has an updated status (the tiny red circles with numbers), then the folder shows that status, adding together the notifications from all apps within the folder. You can delete a folder by removing all apps from the folder. You also can use the new, folder-friendly iTunes to create, edit and move folders. Simply drag apps onto other apps in iTunes and a folder will be created. Select a bunch of apps together and drag them all onto a folder at once.

So, how do you organize your new, extended-to-more-than-the-power-of-Ten App life? Well, you can apply a process similar to the pre-iO4 phone and simply stack like apps into folders, per the instructions above. Don’t be fooled – it’s still tedious. It took me the better part of an hour to get the hang of it, add, edit, move and shuffle apps and files. There are ways, however, to improve the process, particularly if you have tons of apps.

iTunes offers limited ability to categorize applications. When your device is connected, click on the Apps label in the left column of iTunes. You will see all your apps in there. Along the top is a tab labeled “Genre.” Click on that tab and your apps are instantly reorganized by type using App Store labels, such as reference, productivity, travel, lifestyle, etc. You also can see how many apps you have in each category. To view your apps via filters, use the “sort by” button underneath the “Sync Apps” box. This allows you to filter by name, category, date and size. You can use these filters to get a sense of what apps may be redundant or which may be outdated.

The rest? Well, that is up to you. Because I am a bit of an app collector (and reviewer), I tend to have the maximum number of both apps and folders. My system may not be right for the next guy. My convention is to put a few (not even a full screen) of key apps on the front page – right now, I have Calendar, Settings, Camera, Photos, App Store, Dragon Dictation, my grocery list manager and Messages on the home screen, along with the default dock icons (I haven’t yet modified them, but for sure the iPod icon is getting moved). All my folders live on pages 2 and 3 and all the remaining apps are organized by folder. My folder categories are News, Social, Photography, Navigation, Notes & Files, Music, Games, Weather, Search, Video, Work & Docs, Blogging, Utilities, Art, Finance, Shopping, Messaging, Travel & Food, Books, Contacts and Reference.

I am sure I will refine the system as I go, but this is a decent start. If you haven’t yet begun the process, consider using the “Genre” feature in iTunes to get an overall picture of your app life. Then, let your OCD tendencies run wild!

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Confessions Of An Early Adopter

I really have never done this before. Waited in line for a piece of electronic equipment. But last Thursday, I found myself in a line outside an Apple Store in a suburban mall waiting to purchase an iPhone 4 .

In my defense, I would not have planned to wait in such a line on opening day if I had known I would be waiting in such a line. Chalk it up to my woeful inexperience with an Apple device launch day – I have always purchased my Apple-phernalia months, even years, after such devices have been introduced to the masses.

My general rule is not to purchase a technological marvel on its first run out of the gate, preferring instead to let the device work out the kinks, receive some field testing and updates and achieve a more mature form. But I figured I was getting into a fourth generation device, albeit with a new OS and hardware configuration, so it wasn’t really breaking my general rule, then, was it?

My decision to purchase hinged on two factors. One, ATT kindly advised that I was eligible for the lowest possible cost upgrade on my old iPhone 3GS (when I say old, I should clarify – 6 months old). I also knew that I could sell back the 3GS either privately or through one of those on-line retailers and recoup most of my new iPhone 4’s purchase price. Two, I was able to actually snag a reservation through the Apple Store iPhone App on that fateful June 15 day when Apple and ATT struggled and crashed under the weight of 600,000 pre-orders. Naive little me thought that I would simply walk into the Apple store, reservation in hand, and walk back out with a shiny new toy.

Not the case at all. I stopped by the store on my way home from the office. Outside the door stood two long lines stretching past two more stores and around the corner toward Nordstrom’s. I asked the kindly Apple employee at the door where reservations were supposed to go. She pointed to the back of the line. I asked “really?” She said, “really.” Apparently, the line on the right was for hopefuls with reservations and the line on the left was for hopefuls who were simply hopeful about getting a phone that day. I asked about the wait. “Two and a half hours right now.” Hmmm. “But”, she added “you can come back later this evening and wait if you have something to do right now. But you have to pick your phone up today or your reservation will be lost.” Wait then. Wait later. Tough choice. I decided to roll the dice on then.

The line seemed to crawl. But the reservation line crawled slightly faster than the “I just hope there is a phone in there when I get in there” line. People in the latter line seemed punchy. Some had lawn chairs. My line seemed a bit calmer. Except for the woman behind me with her friend who kept jostling me (unintentionally) as she repeatedly complained about being in a reservation line to begin with. I could sympathize with that.

Some people waited in line with small children. I marveled at them. My small children would have completely terrorized the line dwellers within ten minutes and I would have been thrown over the Nordrstom’s balcony to the subfloor below if I had attempted to bring them with me. I was very grateful for child care at that moment.

While in line, harried Apple employees periodically showed up with water (it was dang hot in there) and baskets bearing Lindt chocolates. Not a bad peace offering. Eventually, after approximately 1 and 3/4 hours, I made it to the front of the line. The jostling lady and I had become temporary pals by this point, chatting about phones and kids and making other small talk. Just then, I overheard my partners in the purely hopeful line talking about how they had been in that line since 7 a.m. that morning. Oh. My. God.  No phone is worth that kind of commitment.

As I finally meet “Josh”, my personal Apple consultant, I told him that I felt it might be harder to secure an iPhone 4 than a Golden Ticket to the Chocolate Factory. That made him laugh, probably because he lacked sufficient sleep. I could not get over the overwhelming feeling of surreality surrounding such singleminded devotion to what is simply a phone, albeit a smart one.

The process of purchasing and setting up was relatively painless. And soon, I walked out with a new iPhone 4 and an old, deactivated iPhone 3GS.

So, having played with the phone for several days, I am guessing you might be wondering about my thoughts? I am glad to have the new phone, but I question whether it was worth the 2 hours or so of time to get it, let alone the entire day invested by some. It is lovely and quick, sharp of screen and organized of tasks, with its foldering and multitasking. The camera quality is far better, the flash is almost blinding and the front facing cameras removes all the challenge of shooting self-portraits that the old iPhones enjoyed. The HD video is a noticeable improvement in video quality.

The sharp edges are a bit harder to hold in one’s hand. The dual glass sides make the phone feel a bit delicate and breakable. They are unbelievable fingerprint magnets. Sound quality of the phone seems marginally better. 3G reception is slightly less reliable than on the old 3GS. It still drops calls.

Overall, I believe this phone to be a step forward. Not a giant step, mind you, but definitely a step in a positive direction. If you can upgrade with full credit from ATT, then I do recommend it. If you are thinking of buying this out of contract for the full or slightly discounted price, my jury is still out.

What will make this phone are the apps. This has always been the case with the iPhone, which always suffers slightly in the hardware comparison tests. If third party developers can fully leverage the new features of the phone and the OS, then the combination will be a marvel. On my companion blog this week, Mobile App of the Day, I am featuring new iPhone applications or upgraded applications that take advantage of both iPhone 4 hardware and iOS 4 software. I expect more are coming. And I definitely look forward to putting this new phone and applications through their paces and keeping my eyes open for new apps that will fulfill the phone’s professional promise. I do so love powerful, hand-held computing.

Would I do it again? The answer to that question will have to wait for the next evolutionary cycle of the Apple hype machine and what new features and benefits are promised. However, I have learned that I should never to say never.  Pass a milk chocolate Lindt ball, please.