Embarrassment of Riches: Managing a Mountain of iPhone Apps

Josh Clark Shares His Tips for Organizing Your iPhone

By Sara Peyton
July 8, 2009 | Comments: 2

bestiiphone apps.jpgGuest blogger Josh Clark, the author of Best iPhone Apps, offers his tips here for managing a mountain of iPhone apps:

Best iPhone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders recommends over 200 gee-whiz apps that delight, empower, and entertain. Informal testing here in the O'Reilly laboratories indicates that flipping through the book tends to triggers bouts of deliriously eager downloading. Alas, freshly minted App Store addicts quickly discover that an ever-growing mountain of installed iPhone apps can create more headaches than they collectively solve. Productivity apps become ironic jokes when it takes a full minute of flipping back and forth through screens to locate them; and there's no fun in a game that you can't even find. A healthy collection of iPhone apps calls for an equally healthy hygiene regimen for your iPhone. Here are a few pointers for keeping your apps tidy and your data safe.

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Safety First: Set Your Passcode: Safeguard your privacy with a passcode.
Even without adding a single app, your iPhone is already brimming with personal info. If a stranger picks up your phone, they've got instant access to all your contacts, email correspondence, and any "remember me" passwords you've saved in Safari. When you mix in finance apps like Mint.com or E-Trade Mobile Pro, or an info manager like A Personal Assistant, you've got ever more delicate data to keep from prying eyes.
Protect your privacy by padlocking your iPhone with a passcode. Open the built-in Settings app, and tap the General category, where you'll find a Passcode Lock option. Choose your passcode and fine-tune your settings to say how often you want the iPhone to request your passcode. (I set mine to require a passcode after 15 minutes of inactivity.) You can even add an option to erase all data after 10 incorrect attempts to unlock the phone.

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Collect Your Greatest Hits: My first Home screen collects my most-used apps in one place.
Give your most-used apps pride of place on your iPhone's first Home screen. You can zip straight to this first Home screen from any other screen by pressing the Home button, making the first screen the most accessible place to get at your favorite apps. But your very favorite apps belong in the dock for one-tap access from any Home screen. If the default foursome of Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod aren't your top four apps, then swap 'em out. Me, I prefer not to have my unread mail count constantly leering at me from the dock, and web-browsing is usually a secondary activity; so I've replaced Mail and Safari with Messages and Twitterrific, my preferred Twitter app.
To move your apps around, tap and hold one of the icons; after a couple of seconds, they all start to jitter and jiggle. Drag an icon to a new location on the screen or into an empty slot in the dock. To move an app to a new screen, drag its icon to the screen's edge to flip to the next screen and deposit it where you like. When you're done, press the Home button to calm your icons' jitters and return to normal operation.

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Get Organized: My second Home screen is my playground for downtime distractions.
After you've put your most-used apps on the Home screen, arrange your remaining apps into Home screens by function or context to help you quickly find apps by consolidating them into families of similar apps. Any filing system that makes personal sense to you will do, but here's my current organization:

Downtime distractions. This screen holds my favorite stuff to do when I'm waiting in line or on the subway, including apps for reading, catching up on news, a little TV, instant messaging, puzzles, and notebook apps.
All-purpose personal reference. This screen holds common general-reference apps, including weather, Wikipedia, transit maps, TripIt.com travel itineraries, a package tracker, movie listings, art gallery listings, local concerts, and more.
Food and travel reference. Recipe, wine, cocktail, and restaurant apps, plus travel apps for tracking flights, managing itineraries, and finding a taxi.
Photos and art. Apps for taking, editing and mailing photos, drawing and sketching, and making music.
Games. My collection of arcade games, puzzles, and assorted adventures.
More games. Ahem, the overflow from the previous screen.
Utilities. Settings, Clock, Calculator, and assorted apps for controlling my computer with my iPhone.
Never Used. This is where I park the built-in iPhone apps that I've replaced with other apps or rarely use: Notes, Stocks, Weather, iTunes, and App Store. (I give iTunes and the App Store plenty of love, but only from the desktop.)

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Shine the Spotlight: When all else fails, Spotlight can help you find an app in your sea of downloads.
If that kind of organization is more than you want to tackle, you can always find your apps by falling back to the Spotlight feature introduced in the iPhone 3.0 software update. The feature searches your iPhone, including apps, to help find your app needle in your iPhone haystack. Just type the first few letters of your wayward app to conjure it up. The Spotlight screen is located to the left of the first Home screen, and you can jump there quickly by tapping the Home button twice from any Home screen (or once from the first Home screen).

Do You Really Need 'Em All?
The huge variety and low cost of iPhone apps makes it easy to experiment and try out different apps to find the ones that fit your lifestyle more. If an app doesn't work out, you're only out a buck or two, so there's little risk or downside to sampling anything that looks interesting. That is, there's no downside until your unused apps start to clog up your screens and make it difficult to find the ones you actually do use. As your iPhone starts to bulge with new apps, do an occasional review to pluck out the ones that don't make the cut: Tap and hold an icon until all the icons start to wiggle, then tap an icon's X button to delete it. Press the Home button when you're done.

As you're reviewing your apps, consider whether one of your apps might be able to absorb the job of another. A capable to-do list manager like Things, for example, might take over the job of your grocery-list app or packing checklist. Then again, maybe not. Specialized list apps like Shopper for grocery lists offer targeted features that make it easier to navigate your store and fill out your shopping lists, often earning its own slot in your Home screen. It's all personal preference, of course, and depends not only on how you use your apps but how many you can juggle before you feel overwhelmed by your giddily acquired collection.

If you enjoyed Josh's post, please purchase Best iPhone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders. The PDF is available for purchase now and the book will be available soon.


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2 Comments

Just curious - why is this showing up in the MacDevCenter RSS feed? Doesn't seem very developer-focused.

Seriously... when I saw the feed I thought this was about an app developer that didn't know what to do with all the money he made in the App Store.

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