A friend of mine switched to iOS after nearly a decade of Android usage. This spawned a lot of back and forth about iOS vs. Android. One criticism I cannot defend is iOS's icon organization and folders. In 2010, Apple created folders with iOS4, (if you need a memory jog, here's what they looked like). The original visual analogy used a visual metaphor of sliding back to expose the contents, as we were in the midst of peak skeuomorphism. At touch-interfaces were relatively new, and Apple had the monumental task of on-boarding droves of barely-digital-literate users, this serviced that App. As a UX developer, I carry a lot of opinions about interfaces, so it shouldn't be surprising that I feel the need to vent time-to-time. Here are several complaints I've harbored for years combined with some slap-dash, non-pixel-perfect UI mockups.

1) Waste of space on a broken Metaphor

More than half the screen is burned on a blurred-out effect, presenting a minimal amount of icons. The modern iPhones are massive compared to the era of much smaller/manageable/dare-I-say-superior-iphone-5 form factors. There's no point to a 3x3 grid. It's annoying and silly. With increased storage capabilities comes more data. Today's iPhones can come clocking in at 512 GBs of storage, capable of storing the amount of data familiar to desktop users. iOS hasn't grown to take on the desktop levels of data or applications.

Folders are a waste of space on iOS13

2) Custom App icons

Visually, the mini-grid isn't a bad choice, but it's dated and loses its poignancy beyond the nine apps. Plus, at a glance, it doesn't visually 'jump out' among a mess of similar icons. It'd be easy for Apple to denote a folder icon by a slightly different change quickly. Here's my 10-minute mockup of what it could be like with a custom icon.

The focus shouldn't be on my graphic design choices as I did this fast and dirty. Instead, the take away is folder icons could vary visually from the current App icons to make them distinctive.

iOS should have custom folder icons

3) Folders in Folders

Next up is another gripe is folders within folders. Apple has done quite a bit to avoid hierarchical navigation in iOS, but it exists in the system preferences and now within the Files app. Merely transposing the visual interface in files gives a sane approach to folders. Combining custom folder icons, users can see where they are in the breadcrumbs.

Folders in folders

4) Vertical scrolling in folders?

Vertical scrolling on the home screen has existed before with the jailbreaks, Infiniboard, or Springfinity. Vertical scrolling within folders would help express the folder metaphor of the past-tensed drawer and ease app migration.

5) Make search results meaningful

Search on iOS never shows you where files are. See below.

Folders in folders

I can think of a few ways to alleviate this, such as list results showing location to the right for the top for App matches. I didn't bother to mock them up as what's really important is the lack of context.

6) Better App movement

If you've ever had to organize an iPhone, the task is so tedious it can take hours if you have a fair amount of apps. I've seen various suggestions and honestly, at this point. I'd take any.

7) It's time to loot macOS: Smart Folders

iOS needs to grow up. The Files app is a nice start although imperfect compared to iFiles found in the jailbreak world. Apple already has a brilliant solution that it can port to iOS, allow the OS to do auto-organization with Smart Folders. Smart folders for the unfamiliar work by using predetermined search strings. Apple could take it further and set Smart Folders on iOS to organize based on Application types. Upon app purchase or reinstall, the user can select "Smart folder", "dock", or "custom folder" and stay ahead of organization. Brillant right?

Bonus macOS -> iOS features

  • Loot macOS's columned view for files.
  • Allow for smaller grids and list within folders.
  • Tap and hold on icons has a "Get Info" screen so you can see how much data your application is using and its associated folders
  • In a perfect world, tabbed interface to make dragging between locations easier.
  • A font manager.