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Average Subfolder Maniacs

Two days ago I tried to use my girlfriend’s iPhone 3GS running iPhone OS 3.1.3 and I couldn’t believe it was the same device - running the same operating system -  I had two weeks ago. iOS 4 is a huge step forward for Apple (iAds), developers (new APIs) and users (multitasking, folders). Now that we have iOS 4, it’s hard to look back and be unbiased about iPhone OS 3.

There’s something that deeply concerns me though, and it’s about the way people think about folders.

Coming from a desktop background, it’s pretty “normal” to think that we have the right to create as many folders as we like anywhere on a device. You can put anything inside a folder, and you can delete it at any time. No rules to follow, no limitations. On the iPhone (and on iOS 4) everything’s different: you can’t put more than 12 apps in a folder, you can’t decide what kind of content goes into a folder. Say, you can’t move photos or documents in there. It’s completely different from the desktop system.

But most of all, you can’t create subfolders. And here’s the problem with the average user.

By enabling folders, Apple opened up to the concept that users should have the possibility to arrange apps the way they want other than being able to drag them around. And if you agree with me that applications are the device, it’s a very important implementation. Since Apple enabled folders, users felt that maybe the way they used to organize stuff on their PCs wasn’t that wrong. “See? The iPhone is getting folders, too!” - I can hear them.

The problem is, I think Steve and his team only wanted to provide us a way to save pages on the iPhone. They’re nowhere near thinking about creating a visible file system for iOS. So, no problem? Not really, stay with me.

The average user has no idea of what “file system” and “user experience” are. They see folders, they think Apple is “doing it like on PCs”. Since I bought my iPhone 4 and started carrying it around, all my friends asked me the same question: “Ok, cool. But can you create a folder inside a folder?”. Now we have a problem. How do we explain them that Steve doesn’t want you to go find an app buried below 4 folders? How do we tell them that, actually, it’s better if you don’t have subfolders? And yet they look so pissed off when you say “No, you can’t. You can put up to 12 apps inside a folder, but no subfolders”.

“Lame” is the recurring comment. Even better: “This thing with the new OS is great, but they could have made folders better”.

Some of them really started yelling when I let them try the device and weren’t able to drag a folder inside another one. “Why can’t I create subfolders? Isn’t this like on my notebook?”. Again, how do we tell them?

Personally, I don’t want subfolders - but the possibility to move more apps inside default folders would be highly appreciated. Like 20. Still, I think the main problem lies in the concept people have about folders. I’m pretty sure my friend’s 4 years old boy, who’s never used a desktop computer, wouldn’t be that disappointed about the lack of subfolders on iOS.

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