Too Many iPhone Apps? Just Search

My iPhone home screen

Patrick “Minimal Mac” Rhone is engaged in a bid to slim down his iPhone home screen to the bare essentials:

I am going to clear everything from the home screen. Any apps that get accessed more than once in the course of the next week will be allowed to come back.

I tried a similar experiment a couple of weeks ago, ending up with eight essential Apple apps, plus four favourites: 1Password (iTunes), NetNewsWire (iTunes), Simplenote (iTunes) and Instapaper (iTunes).

I sent the screenshot above to Patrick, and mentioned offhand the ‘secret’1 to using the iPhone with a stripped-down home screen: search.

All the other apps on my iPhone are in complete disarray, scattered willy-nilly across seven screens, and I open them via the search screen, launched with a double tap on the Home button.

Now, I don’t know if this is really quicker than swiping through screens on the lookout for a particular app icon, but–speaking as a confirmed keyboard junky–it certainly feels like it.2

The alternative–spending an age in iTunes carefully placing apps on specific screens according to frequency of use, or by category, then learning the position of each one–just doesn’t make sense to me.

Computers are much, much better than people at indexing and retrieving stuff, so let them.

No one looks for content on the ‘net by firing up a Gopher client or browsing a web directory by topic any more, we search for it. On the Mac, since the advent of Spotlight3 at least, it makes little sense to carefully organise your digital gubbins–text files, emails, media, whatever–by hand when the computer can find what you’re looking for in an instant.

Metadata and search have long since done away with the organisational elements of the desktop metaphor on my laptop, so it seems natural to abandon almost all app organisation on my iPhone, trusting the device to do the heavy lifting for me.

This slapdash, deliberately disorganised approach might seem to run counter to the aims of sites like Minimal Mac, but it really doesn’t. Underneath all the screenshots of pretty desktops, icon-free menu bars and supposedly minimal applications, the core idea driving the current vogue for minimalism on the Mac is, or ought to be, simplicity, and doing more with less.

  1. In fact, I just assumed that most people use search to find apps on their iPhones. Patrick suspects not, hence this post.
  2. As far as I know, Bruce Tognazzini’s 1989 findings on keyboard vs. mouse use still hold true: We’ve done a cool $50 million of R&D on the Apple Human Interface. We discovered, among other things, two pertinent facts: Test subjects consistently report that keyboarding is faster than mousing. The stopwatch consistently proves mousing is faster than keyboarding. This contradiction between user-experience and reality apparently forms the basis for many user/developers’ belief that the keyboard is faster.
  3. See also: nice_find for Textmate, Notational Velocity’s search bar, PathFinder’s ‘Filter by Name’ feature, Quicksilver, &c.. Newton users will no doubt recall the brilliance of Dash Board’s Letter Launcher.