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Submitted by jrumple on


Amid the news coverage of the new iPhone 4 there has been some mention of iOS 4, which is the latest version of the iPhone operating system. I’ve posted before about Podcasts and iTunes Smart Playlists. There were some iOS 4 changes to the iPod related to playlist management that hasn’t gotten any coverage.

iOS 4 came out a couple days ago and can be installed on all generations of iPhones. That means even if you’re not getting an iPhone 4, you’ll notice this change. I currently have a second generation iPhone, the iPhone 3G. I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the other models, so your mileage may vary. )If you don’t have an iPhone, I haven’t seen any announcements for updates to your iPod’s operating system so I just don’t know if there have been changes or not. Please post a reply here if you have a different iPod.)

The big change to the iOS 4 iPod application that I’ve found is the addition of Playlist Folders. It took me a while to notice this because I use the iTunes Remote App at home to control iTunes on my media center. In there, you navigate through your iTunes Playlist Folders to find playlists. Now when you sync playlists to your iPhone, the folder structure they are found in from iTunes is also synced with your iPhone.

The bad news is that finding a specific playlist will require additional taps to drill down through your Playlist Folders to find it. The other bad news is this is one more thing we have to learn about iTunes for managing our media.

The good news is that you’re better able to keep similar playlists together. As an example at the top level of my Playlist Folder structure I have a folder for Music, a folder for Audio Podcasts, and a folder for Video Podcasts. With iPhone OS 3, all of the playlists were listed together and I had to read the playlist titles carefully to find my music instead of video podcasts.

There are probably as many different approaches to using folders and hierarchies to manage information as there are people reading this post. How you manage your media depends on how your brain processes and organizes information. Let me provide a folder scheme which works for me.

I already mentioned part of it. At the highest level in the Playlists section of iTunes I have very general categories. To help them sort alphabetically, I’ve numbered them. My 00 folders are Music, so at the top level I have a folder called “00 Music”. I use 10s for Audio Podcasts and 20s for Video Podcasts. In addition to these I’ve started working with some other groupings. The 90s are outputs. By that I mean these are playlists that I use to burn CDs or DVDs to backup some of my content. I have 30s for playlists related to volunteering at the Wings Air and Space Museum. The 40s are playlists I share with friends because they are focused on things my friends are interested in.

That is all at the top level. Let’s go down into the 10 Audio Podcasts folder and see what folders are in there. I have a “11 General Audio” folder, a “12 Shows” folder, a “13 Leadership Audio” folder, and a “19 Specialty” folder. The General folder is a big mixture of content from lots of different sources, but limited by some general criteria. As an example, in this folder I have an “Audio – Most Recent” Smart Playlist. It has 500 MBs of the most recently added, unplayed podcasts. It doesn’t matter which podcast the episodes are from. These are the most recent ones. I also have an “Audio – Old” Smart Playlist. This is 200 MBs of the least recently added, unplayed podcasts. In other words, these are the ones that have been on the hard drive the longest. I try to listen to podcasts in the order they were released, and this helps me ensure I’m starting from the beginning as I catch up on back episodes. Finally I have an “Audio – Random” Smart Playlist. This is 200 MBs of unplayed podcasts that are between 5 minutes and 20 minutes long. They are selected at random. This is because my commute to work is about 30 minutes long. This means that for the most part I’ve either just started or am near the end of an episode when I get to the end of my commute.

The Shows folder is where I put Smart Playlists that are limited to a specific podcast name. That allows me to focus on a particular show during a listening session. The Leadership Audio brings together my Manager Tools and Career Tools playlists with other playlists from Harvard Business Review and BusinessWeek. The Specialty folder is more like a miscellaneous folder. I may have a playlist with all episodes with the word “Montana” in the description or “Apple” or “technology”. It is at the end of the Audio series and gives me a place for the other, hard to classify Smart Playlists that I’ve created.

I know that the word “Audio” is repeated all the way through these folders. That was partly a reaction to earlier iPhone OSs which did not provide folder organization outside of iTunes. I’ll probably keep it because as I expand out the folders within iTunes I have so many playlists that I lose track of which high level folder I’m in.

The great thing is that you don’t have to finalize the structure before you get started organizing with folders. This system that I’m using has changed over time as I’ve been using it. It changes in little ways each time I think of a different way of doing it. In the end, I’ve established a fairly complex structure that is working well for me. By working well, I mean I can quickly locate the playlist I’m looking for. That is the key to all of this and should be your primary evaluation criteria for the system you develop. We’re trying to make it easier to find the media you want to play.

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Thank you for taking the time to provide all this information. I'm sure many will find it useful (including me!)