On organizing your apps in iTunes

Kirk McElhearn wrote a nice little rant on the limited organization options iTunes give you when it comes to apps.

There are a few ways to view apps in iTunes. You can view in a list, or see only those apps that work on an iPhone or iPad. But that’s it; you can’t view them grouped by genre (though you can sort them by name, date, genre, etc.), or by any other way. You just get one big grid of apps.

I agree. The problem is, apps and music are two very different beasts. Music, like books, have several different handles we can use to find them. We can organize music and books by artist/author, genre, title, and purchase date, all of which work for us at one time or another.

Apps are not quite the same. One of the basic handles used for organizing apps is the icon. This works for a small collection, but is not so much for a large one. Imagine if your thousands of songs were only sortable as a big grid. Not so useful, right?

In iTunes, you can currently sort your apps by name, kind, category, date and size, the types of handles you’d expect to see in the Finder. But apps are not simply files, and they are not quite the same as music or books. For example, you likely don’t know the names of the companies that created most of your apps.

How about smart playlists for apps? You could have a playlist of apps you’ve downloaded in the past month; another for games; another for apps that you’ve rated with a certain star rating (because, hey, while I’m at it, star ratings, as for other types of media in iTunes, would be useful too), and more.

I totally agree with this. I’d also like the ability to retire apps that I purchased but know I will never use again. This one step would significantly reduce my iTunes app clutter.



  • Anon Techie

    Grouping by genre would be amazing!

    1) Apple should’ve an option to create folders based on genre. 2) Within the folders, position the apps based on frequency of usage. 3) I should stop dreaming about 1 and 2 :-|

  • Terry Maraccini

    Organizing Apps is certainly painful. Jim, you said it succinctly: Music and apps are different beasts

    Apps should have addressable meta tags for things like “Graphics”, “Productivity” etc. Every method of organizing apps is based on maul labor. this is not a good thing.

    If they can put a man on the moon…(we did do that, right?).

  • Tom_P

    I don’t understand. Why do you need to organize (supposedly iPhone/iPad) apps on iTunes? What for?

    • Mother Hydra

      Yes I came here to ask the same question! It doesn’t make good sense to me, is this not just a form of digital hoarding?

      • BC2009

        If you want to restore your iPhone or iPad from backup and ensure you get all your apps back then iTunes is the only way. If an App disappears from the App Store that copy sitting in your iTunes application (or in your Time Machine backup) may be the only way to restore the app in the event of the device getting lost, stolen or broken beyond repair.

        iCloud backups (or any iTunes backup) does not actually backup the IPA files. It only backs up the app identifier and the app data (unless you are playing Clumsy Ninja, then it doesn’t even back that up the data because they don’t store the game data on the permanent storage area, but I digress).

        Once your device has been restored from backup the next step is “app syncing” (which could take hours). If the Apps you had before are not on your iTunes then the app and its data are not restored.

        One important trick…. If you get a replacement iPhone and restore from iTunes backup, make sure to update all of your apps in iTunes first to the latest version. If you don’t then iTunes will update to the old versions of the apps which could lead to problems for the app data consistency, but will also lead to another problem if you have automatic app updates activated on your iPhone. You will find your iPhone will drain battery and run hot and chew through your cellular data plan for hours after restore because the App Store will automatically update all those apps for which the old version was restored.

        In some cases, restoring the old version is a good thing also and iTunes is the only way to do this. Just grab the old version from your Time Machine backup, delete the new version from iTunes and copy the backed up IPA to iTunes and sync it to your device.

        • http://www.erinedesign.com/ Sal Conigliaro

          I don’t store any of my apps in iTunes and I don’t sync my devices to my computer anymore.

          I know I run the risk of an app not being available if I ever have to do a restore from iCloud, but my thinking is if the app was pulled, then it’s probably not supported anymore by the developer anyway.

          • BC2009

            As long as your devices all run the latest iOS you should be okay. But if you ever need to restore a device that does not run the latest iOS, then Time Machine is your friend for getting the old IPA files. I used this trick to restore an iPod 4th gen to put iBooks and Find My Friends on it. Both of the old versions still work fine, but the new versions of the apps from Apple require iOS 7 or later.

          • http://www.erinedesign.com/ Sal Conigliaro

            Yes, but I don’t sync my devices to iTunes anymore; I only use iCloud for backups. It would be nice if iCloud let you restore older apps (even if it’s not available for sale anymore). I mean, I paid for it, right? I should be able to download it again at any time.

          • Tom_P

            Well, thank you for explanations. I still don’t see the point anyway. I just back up to iCloud and if the app got pulled, I move on. Don’t have time for something like this and I guess a lot of people also don’t.

  • BC2009

    What I really want is the ability to automatically keep multiple versions of the same app when that app’s minimum OS requirements go up by a major version (e.g.: an app goes from requiring iOS 6 minimum to iOS 7 minimum). I want the iOS 6 versions of some apps for some devices and the iOS 7 versions for other devices.

    This was a big pain until recently when we finally sold the last of my kids’ 4th generation iPod touches (she saved up her birthday, Christmas and allowance money for a year and bought an iPad mini with Retina Display). However, this iPod touch used to sync to the same iTunes as my wife’s iPhone 5s and iPad mini Retina so we could control what apps my daughter would get. It was a big pain when those various games and such no longer supported iOS 6. I would have had to create a separate account on the Mac and use backups of IPA files to setup an iTunes that could have restored her iPod in the event that we had to restore from backup (iTunes does not backup apps, but only copies the apps you previously had installed from the versions you have in iTunes).

    What’s worse, is that not even Apple’s basic apps offer the ability to download the iOS 6 version anymore. So if you buy a refurbished 4th gen iPod from Apple or a used one from Craigslist, then there is no way to download iBooks or Find My Friends or Remote from the App Store. You need to find the IPA files and copy them to your iTunes and then sync it.

  • http://ascii.textfiles.com/ iPadCary

    Never mind all of this …. Jim, YEP or NOPE on the iBand being revealed at the 9/9 event??

  • Douglas

    You can ‘retire’ an app by hitting the delete button – removes it from the iTunes library and any associated devices (if/when you sync them to iTunes). Also you can sort by Genre by viewing the apps in list view.