Brett Kelly, a guy whose thoughts I love to read for their down-to-earthiness, talked about iPhone folders in his MacSparky home screen interview a little while ago:

Personally, I can’t stand the folders. The current iteration of iOS allows 11 screens of un-folder-ed apps. I can’t imagine requiring more space than that. I understand the idea of logically grouping applications, but the novelty wore off very quickly because, at least for me, it just meant I needed to tap the screen a few extra times to launch the app that I wanted.

My thoughts on folders

The concept of folders on the iPhone never sat quite right with me. But like everyone else, I caught new feature fever and started using them.

The reason I didn’t like the concept from the outset is that, to me, a “folder” is a feature borrowed from the pre-computer world that limits efficiency in a needless way. Putting folders on the iPhone seemed like a step backwards to me.

In the pre-computer world, all objects were physical and could be in only one place at a time. If we wanted to be able to find objects, we had better put them somewhere we remembered. Hence, folders.

Computer “objects” are not subject to the same physical laws as IRL objects. Files and apps can be in more than one place, and even better, they can be found by going down more than one path. With each passing day, we’re building a universe on top of a computer-enabled reality in which information no longer has a physical address.

Just imagine where we'd be if the entire internet had to be organized into folders and subfolders before people could find things. Fortunately it doesn't, and modern web search technology allows us to sift through hundreds of billions of web pages in 0.07 seconds via a single horizontal box of thought.

Operating systems of the future won’t use deprecated concepts like folders because interfaces will be designed to connect people with virtual objects at the speed of thought, much like a Google search, but likely even better.

Most importantly, people won’t be encumbered by the urge to physically organize things that aren’t physical. They'll allocate that time to other things.

Back to today

We’re really not far from a folderless future thanks to Spotlight, a feature of the iPhone that no one ever seems to mention when they talk about app organization.

But the more I use my iPhone, the more realize that Spotlight makes putting any significant amount of thought into organizing off-home screen apps pointless.

My approach today:

  • Routinely review my home screen to make sure that it has apps that I’m likely to access throughout a typical day.
  • Carelessly scatter everything else across my second, third, fourth, and fifth screens.
  • If I need an app that’s not on my home screen, I simply swipe right to bring up Spotlight, tap two or three letters of the app name, and I’m there.