in iOS, jailbreak, tech

Rethinking Folders in iOS

When I first came across the Mac OS X, one of the reasons that immediately set it aside from other OSs I’d used was the way the UI was constructive towards doing work better. A simple example of that was the way I could scroll the window which was behind my work window without needing to click on the background one. This meant that I could refer to a document and type in my current window at the same time.

The other feature that really struck me was the concept of stacks in the Dock. The way stacks work is that I can choose recent documents, recent applications or just a list of favorite items to sit in the dock for easy access. That’s not all. The best feature of stacks is that they’re highly unobtrusive. Stacks don’t need a window for themselves, they’re just floating on the screen and as soon as your attention goes elsewhere and you click, the stacks disappear. That way they’re really hidden, but at our beck and call. Compared to a folder, that requires your full attention and even needs to be specifically closed when not needed, stacks are a great resource in the OS X.

When the iOS became more complex and new features were added, the concept that Apple Engineers were going for was to make it do more, but also to make it unique. They wanted to do things differently than in the desktop OS and they did. However, when it came to organizing icons in groups, the Apple team failed spectacularly. Folders in the iOS are a very clear copy of the folders in OSX. Granted, they did not have the three iconic colored buttons at the top left, but their shortcomings were similar. After-Jailbreak developers have created a number of tweaks to fix the issues in iOS folders – Auto-closing of folder on selection of App, full screen folders and infinite icons in the folder are just some examples. But the vision that the initial Apple engineers should not have been to focus on copying the folder system. Instead, they should have looked towards stacks and did their best to emulate them.

Imagine a folder-like icon in your iPhone dock. Space is constricted and every touch of a finger counts. In such a scenario, should closing folders, worrying about getting out of it and then continuing your tasks or the folder taking so much of your screen space when open be real issues for the power user? Not at all. The folder should instead be a stack, easy to open and use and if the user selects an app outside the stack, the process of closing the stack and opening the app desired should all be automatic.

Pictures are worth a thousand words and so I’m going to show one right here. Please don’t mind the dirty patchwork in the image, I’m good with words, not image editing. Here goes –

Note a couple of things here –

1. The stack is in the Dock. iOS doesn’t traditionally allow that. The reason for this is coming next.

2. Just above the stack is a folder. Why? Because just like in OSX, the stack is not a replacement for folder. It is just a place for our favorite icons that we want bunched together.

3. Should stacks have infinite icons? I don’t think so. As I said – it stores your favorites. Are your favorites really infinite?

4. What happens when you open a stack but then decide you just want to open the messages app that sits outside the stack? The stack automatically closes and the messages app opens. No hassle of closing the stack first. The stack also does not take up all the screen space and allows you to change your mind about opening one of the social networks even after you’ve opened the stack up.

“But I’ve heard about this awesome jailbreak tweak called MultiTap, it’s got this feature that the app opened depends on the number of times you tap the MultiTap icon…”

Great, your memory is awesome and you’re very patient with knowing exactly how many taps to make to get to your favorite app. I prefer seeing what I’m opening.

I would love to know from some jailbreakers whether stacks are a possibility. It would really be a step forward if something like this can be implemented. Of late, places like Dribble and Hacker News have become hubs for tweakers to find new ideas to build for the iOS. iDeas such as Switchy and Unfold have really upped the bar for tweaks where hackers sit down with graphic designers and build, practically, greatness. I’d love to see this idea in Cydia some day. But really, no pressure. 🙂

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Update (10/8/2013): Dreams do come true! I have wanted stack-like functionality in iOS since a long time. Today, I discovered Apex. Apex is a tweak that allows you to stack apps below one main app and swipe on the app to access the other apps. Imagine clicking on Facebook to open the app or swiping on the Facebook app icon to access messenger, Instagram and the FB Poke app!

In fact, don’t imagine. Download the tweak today.

Here’s a video that shows what Apex does –

and here’s a link to a review.

Oh, and boy, am I glad that I didn’t update to iOS 7 like my friends were telling me to.