Setting up a new iPad is an opportunity to start over with a clean slate, and fix whatever problems you have on your old device’s setup. Fortunately, operating stability tends not to be a problem these days. What is a problem, however, is the sheer number of apps you can end up having installed, and the many notifications that come with them.

An app strategy

The App Store started out with a Unix-like philosophy about software. Remember the phrase “there’s an app for that?” Most apps did one thing. Most people do a lot of things, so we end up with a whole lot of apps. Not much has changed over time. Springboard, the launcher on iOS, is deliberately primitive. All your apps are spread out across various home screen pages. Once you have more than two or three pages, it is really hard to remember where all your apps are. Apps can be grouped into folders, but once in folders they are harder to find, unless you have a good organizational strategy.

With a new device, such as my new iPad Pro, I simply don’t install apps unless I need them right then. For those apps that get installed, I reduce their notifications to a bare minimum. If you get notifications on your phone, and you always have your phone with you, do you really need them on your iPad? Probably not.

Even after doing these smart-sounding things, I have 72 applications on my iPad Pro (and this is a machine with zero games on it!). Because of this, I often use Spotlight search to launch apps. I do this on my iPhone, too, where it feels inferior to tapping an icon. I’m learning, however, that on the iPad, just as on my Mac, it’s the right way to do it.

(I probably use about ten productivity apps most of the time, and those apps will likely be in the Dock once I install iOS 11, but I still use at least 20 of those other apps on a daily basis for reading, scanning, and videos.)

How do you launch an app on an iPad?

With the keyboard, just like on a Mac. Simply hit Command+Space to launch Spotlight, type the first few letters of an app’s name, and hit Enter. Without a hardware keyboard, pull down on the home screen to launch Spotlight, and type with the onscreen keyboard.

This behavior is fast and efficient. As a side benefit, it drastically reduces the need to organize apps efficiently on the SpringBoard.

Home screen organization with activity-based folders

I tried briefly to not organize the Springboard at all, but I ended up with several pages of apps and it looked like a jumbled mess. So I went into the other direction: I put everything into folders, all of which fit on one screen. The folder names are all verbs, based on activities:

  • Configure (iOS Settings, IoT device settings, and apps related to fixing things on my home server)
  • Secure (VPN, and password and other authentication-related apps)
  • Plan (Calendar, Reminders, Maps, brainstorming apps, etc.)
  • File (cloud data providers)
  • Communicate (Mail, Messages, FaceTime, etc.)
  • Scan
  • Photo (“photo” is stretching it as a verb, I admit)
  • Draw
  • Eat (MyFitnessPal, recipe apps)
  • Program (my BitBucket app and Pythonista, for now)
  • Shop
  • Read
  • Write
  • Watch
  • Play (this one would be there if I had games on my iPad Pro)

Other verbs, such as “research” and “listen”, may be useful for folder names in the future, if my hobbies and/or media diet increase.

The apps within the folders are not organized. Unless I have more than 16 apps in a folder, all the icons are visible at once, and their order does not matter to me.

My Dock contains the six apps I use all the time throughout my work day: Safari, Overcast, Music, SwiftoDo (my todo.txt task list), Drafts, and Ulysses. When I put iOS 11 on this machine, my use of the Dock will change somewhat, mostly by allowing me to put more apps in it.

(I don’t have a junk or “Apple” folder for unused and unloved default apps anymore. Since iOS 10, you can remove (hide, really) Apple’s default apps that you don’t use. I just do that.)

After a couple weeks of this

This organization scheme is working out very well for me. It helps keep me focused on what I’m doing and what I intend to do, and kind of forces me to use Spotlight to both launch and switch between apps, which is the behavior I want to reinforce. (It is still ingrained in me, based on how iOS worked prior to multitasking, to close an app and go to the home screen to switch apps, but it is not necessary to do so, and it is faster not to.)