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Our Thoughts on iOS 7: Organization


This is a continuation of a series about Sequence’s POV on the recently released iOS 7. When Jony Ive introduced iOS 7, he stated that the redesign focused on clarityefficiency, and organization. We’re using those criteria, and the overarching attribute of personality, as our structure for this review series.

Past articles include the series introduction where we established our review criteria, the first post in the series, where we reviewed the redesign’s success with clarity, and the second post, which reviewed efficiency. This is the 3rd chapter, which reviews organization.  

There are many different ways to consider “organization” when reviewing an application or operating system experience. We, as UX designers, tend to think of organization in terms of cognitive groupings, navigation (which is an expression of structure), screen composition, and UI components like toolbars/pallets, etc.

While iOS 7 feels like a very different experience from previous versions and there are some significant technical improvements, the underlying architecture remains the same.

Think of one of those home decoration shows, like Trading Spaces or Design Star. The experience has been significantly changed through color, lighting, textures, and the things in the room you interact with (fixture hardware, furniture, etc.) but the walls, doors, windows, fixture placement, and foundation remain the same.

In iOS 7, we are still dealing with the same organizational concepts as previous versions. iOS is an operating system that is not founded on a traditional file directory model, but rather is a flat collection of functions and applications. The native iOS applications, which arguably are the best examples of the iOS organizational principles, are typically very shallow experiences that tend not to provide hierarchical navigation unless the quantity of the content requires it.


Photos: Auto-magical Organization

At the iOS 7 launch, Apple pushed organization as a major design principle, but only one seemingly relevant feature was introduced: “Moments” in the updated Photo app.

And it’s a pretty good feature.

Using the metadata attached to every iOS photo and video, the system is able to automatically group photos and videos into “moments” using a special blend of location and time. Moments attempt to emulate how we as humans recall memories by  identifying important relationships between where and when a photo was taken. Unusual locations make it easy for the Photos app to identify a special event. My photos from last year’s trip to Hawaii are grouped together and clearly stand out in my photo list. What’s less easy to identify are clearly differentiated “moments” that come out of a series of photos taken in the same general region (like our hometown in the SF Bay Area).  The different “moments” that the app creates for a place you live at feels fairly blurred and unspecific, thus making the value of this auto-magical functionality feel a little weaker.

Here’s a quick summary of the auto-magical organization method found in the “Photos” tab of the app:

At the highest level, photos are collected into the broad groupings of years.  A summary of the locations  these photos were taken are presented per year at the broad “state” level.  (We’re curious about how it works in different countries.) There is little real purpose for this level beyond the most basic of wayfinding. I would expect very few people actually use this screen.

3_collectionsIn the next level down, groupings are called Collections. Despite groupings being primarily labeled by location, collections are actually ordered by time. At this level locations are defined by a more granular measurement of city (and sometimes neighborhood within the city). The value of this screen is highly dependent on the lifestyle of the user. For people who have a high level of diverse locations and frequent photos, a broader level of organization could be valuable. However, as you can see from the example here, having the majority of the photos taken in the SF Bay Area makes this screen very similar to the next level down, Moments.

4_momentsAt this level we get to see the core grouping concept, Moments. What’s really interesting at this level is that the unit of measurement is very precise, with location taken down to the street name and time can be to the hour of day. “Moments” is the default level the user sees when they access photo tab in the app, which makes sense as it gives direct access to thing you want and presents them in the manner we typically want to recall, by recency.

It should be noted that in iOS7 the Photo app also added automatically generated albums for panorama photos and videos to allow users to find those types of assets more easily.

Organization Tools

iOS 7 has provided some new features that enable people to take greater control of the ever-growing mess of content and apps they bring into the pristine environment of their iDevice.

Paginated Folders

People have been asking for this feature for a while (how many Games1, Games2, Games3 app folders were created in older versions?). In iOS 7, Apple complied with the requests, even though by allowing pagination, the apps on subsequent pages of the folder are hidden on the home screen. It seems that Apple believes people rely more on a folder’s organizing concept (Games, Finance, etc.) than the miniaturized icon for the app within the folder, which we generally agree with.

5_travelEmail actions

A hidden feature of the mail app is the “more” button that appears on an individual email row while in a larger list view. This button accesses a list of common actions such as flag, mark as new, and move the email to a specific folder.

6_email2It’s a nice feature and it speaks to a need that many of us have to keep our ever-growing lists of email managed as quickly and effortlessly as possible.  Unfortunately, this action menu feels like a missed opportunity. Productivity actions like Reply and Forward seem best left to the actual email message screen. Apps like Mailbox have moved in a great direction that at the list level provides users with a few quick, intuitive gestures that helps control their inbox and better organize their communications. It seems odd that Apple has not adopted similar functions that look to solve a common user pain point .

When all else fails: Search

For users who look for things through navigation or some other hierarchical concept, an experience’s organization is how they will make their way to complete a task. As mentioned above, iOS hasn’t been very big on deep hierarchical structure. To offset this, they expect the user to rely on search to find what they need if it isn’t readily available.

In iOS 6 and older versions, the search was found at the far left screen of the home screen carousel. In iOS 7, that far left screen has been removed and the search bar is accessed from any home screen by swiping downward. Frankly, it’s a feature change that caused no small amount of annoyance, since something so important was completely hidden. The upside, and the probable reason for the change, is that the user can access the functionality from multiple locations.

7_searchAnd while it could be argued that leaning so heavily on search could be a way to avoid difficult organizational issues, iOS does do a very good job of organizing search results that cross many different types of content objects and artifacts within the iOS experience.


In summary, despite iOS 7’s heavy emphasis on “organization” as one of its defining attributes, it felt like there wasn’t much progress or new functionality provided across the operating system. Instead, it seems like that emphasis acted as the lead-in that allowed Apple to introduce the “Moments” functionality of the Photo app, which is a solid innovation to be proud of. Beyond that, the foundational structure of the experience is the same as previous versions of iOS.

Thus ends the lesson on Organization. Be sure come back for our last post in the series where we will look at that ineffable trait of personality and wrap up our final thoughts.


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