iOS Widgets

Recently, I’ve become hyper-obsessed with iOS setups. I’ve always been interested in the topic and would regularly reorganize my iOS home screens, but I’ve taken it a step further over the past few months. As some of you may know, I’ve started documenting the changes I make to my iOS setup and Watch faces. But I’ve also started focusing on specific areas of my setup — reevaluating RSS apps, testing all of the power user email clients on the market, thinking deeply about what apps I use on my Watch to optimize my dock, and reassessing my device’s Today View widgets.

I plan on writing about all of those topics at some point, but today I wanted to discuss widgets. I believe iOS’ Today View is one of the most underutilized aspects of the system. There’s so much power in having a dashboard filled with shortcuts and relevant, glanceable information, but I get the impression that most users overlook the feature. In conversations I’ve had with friends and family — many of whom I would think of as “power users” — they usually only had a few widgets enabled and it didn’t sound like they used them all that frequently.

Today View Widgets on my iPhone

What makes Today View so useful is it’s ubiquity within the system. No matter where you are, you’re no more than two swipes away from your widgets. Whether you’re at the lock screen or knee-deep in a complicated spreadsheet, they’re always there. I do miss the good old days when iOS would remembered your place a bit better — displaying Notification Center or Today View based on what you most recently accessed. But the new normal hasn’t done much to slow my use of widgets.

Apple does place some restrictions on what developers can include in their widgets. But what they can do is more than enough to turn your Today View into an immensely powerful productivity tool. To emphasize that point, I thought I’d share my widget setup with a bit of commentary on what I use each widget for in my daily life.

I’d also love to hear about other iOS users’ widget setups. If you make use of an app’s widget, that I don’t have listed below, or use one of the widgets below in an interesting way, I’d love to hear about it.

Today View Widget Icon Grid

Fantastical for iPhone and iPad: This is my calendar app of choice and it features a great Today View widget. In the widget’s expanded view, it shows a full monthly calendar with event indicators and a list of the selected day’s events. I often use this view on my iPad — when I need to glance at a calendar when I’m in another application. But I usually keep Fantastical’s widget collapsed on my iPhone, which displays my next event or appointment.

WaterMinder: In the most recent update to my Home Screens page, I mentioned removing WaterMinder’s complication from my Apple Watch. I’ve added it to my Watch’s dock, but I wanted to increase the number of interaction points to ensure that I would continue tracking my hydration. Not only does WaterMinder’s widget serve as a small reminder to drink enough water during the day, because of how frequently I glance at my iOS device’s Today View, it also gives me an easy way to log my intake.

Workflow: A staple in every iOS power user’s arsenal and my most used Today View widget. Workflow allows me to convert the contents of my clipboard to title case, open the compose screen in Tweetbot, order food from my favorite restaurants, download YouTube videos, open my feature article template in Ulysses, and much more. It’s one of the most powerful, versatile applications on the platform and the widget gives you access to the workflows you use most.

Activity: I wear my Apple Watch everyday and like to keep a close eye on the activity data it collects. I could probably do more to keep myself physically fit — exercising regularly would be high on that list — but those three rings are great motivators to prevent a sedentary lifestyle. And although I have the Activity rings prominently displayed on most of my Watch faces, the rings are a less precise representation of the data. There’s a lot of scenarios where the rings tell me roughly how close I am to my goal, but it’s nice to see more concrete numbers from time to time. The Activity widget gives me a subtle nudge to remain active whenever I look at my device’s widgets and let’s me plainly see how many more hours I need to stand today or how many more minutes of exercise I need.

Hello Weather: This is my favorite weather widget, by far. It displays the current temperature in big, bold text alongside a clear icon for the current conditions. My only complaint is that I wish it displayed the hourly forecast when the widget is expanded.

Things for iPhone and iPad: My interest in task managers and to do list apps has always been fairly shallow. I used them, but I knew that my usage wasn’t as effective as it could be. Things changed that. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but the app really clicked with me over the past couple of months. I use Things constantly in my day job to keep track of the tasks I need to accomplish and find it useful when tackling household chores and various Initial Charge-related work. Things’ widget displays up to eight items from the app’s Today list, which let’s me quickly check off items without leaving my current application and gives me the ability to see an overview of my tasks without even unlocking my device.

Lookmark: Whenever I come across a new app recommendation, discover a new album from one of my favorite bands, or hear of a new TV show or movie I might be interested in, I immediately save the item to Lookmark. It’s a wishlist app for iTunes and App Store content and the Today View widget displays your most recently saved items. I can throw the app into a folder and interact with it, almost, exclusively through the app’s action extension and widget. And it works flawlessly.

Deliveries: I order a lot of items online, especially from Amazon, and I use Deliveries to track when they are expected to arrive. The app’s widget let’s me keep track of delivery dates without having to launch the app directly.

Launcher: This is a versatile tool that lets you build shortcuts to just about anything on your device. Right now, I have it setup with shortcuts to albums in Plex that automatically begin playback. I might be writing about this in detail soon, but in short, I built this workflow to generate links to music, movies, TV shows, or playlists in Plex. Use it from the share sheet in Safari when viewing the content in Plex’s web app. You can share the link with a friend or family member that has access to your Plex library or, as I’ve done, drop it into a new shortcut in Launcher.

Automatic: I received an Automatic Pro as a gift last Christmas and it’s a tremendous product. It tracks my driving distance, gas mileage, and offers insights on improving my vehicle’s efficiency. Automatic’s widget displays your car’s current status — which means it usually tells me where my car is parked, since I’m not often looking at it while driving. The widget could be a lot more useful, displaying my vehicle’s gas mileage and recent driving distance or offering a shortcut to log gasoline purchases would be nice. In its current form, though, the widget serves as a shortcut to the app itself and I’m sure knowing where my car is parked is going to be invaluable the next time my wife and I travel to a larger city.

Batteries: I can’t imagine using iOS widgets and not having this one enabled. It displays the current battery percentages of your iOS device, AirPods, Magic Keyboard, and so on. As an additional benefit to using this widget, I can remove the battery percentage indicator from my device’s menu bar and still have quick access to the data when I need it.

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HomePod, Preordered

I was on the fence last night about preordering the HomePod. It’s a new product from Apple and therefore I want one, but this wasn’t exactly the most elegant launch. Apple hasn’t done enough to explain the device to customers and many of us are scratching our heads when it comes to implementation details — how will it work with multiple iCloud users? What does the setup process look like? How useful will the limited set of smart speaker features be?

I went to sleep uncertain and this morning I placed my preorder — space gray, if you’re curious. The reality is that, even with recent software fumbles and poor decisions in the Mac hardware line, I still have a great deal of trust in Apple to build the best products on the market. Their messaging with the HomePod leaves a lot to be desired, but I still think it’s going to be a killer device. Even if it takes a few software updates to get there.

We saw a similar scenario with the Watch. And although Apple was a bit better at delivering a cohesive message with that device, many of us were still skeptical at first about its usefulness in day-to-day life. But the Apple Watch turned into a wildly successful product. It took a little time for Apple to discover where they should be focusing their effort, but it only took a few watchOS iterations for the Watch to become an essential device in each of its owners’ lives. And I don’t expect the HomePod to be any different.

We could spend all day discussing the HomePod as a smart speaker that competes with the Amazon Echo and Google Home. And we could spend just as much time discussing the HomePod as a high-end audio device that competes with Sonos and other, more traditional speaker manufacturers. But the HomePod sort-of sits in the middle of that spectrum. And I think, for a first-generation product, Apple is making the right compromises. They’re taking the best parts of those two market segments and marrying them in a slick package that integrates seamlessly with the gadgets many of us already have in our homes — iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, HomeKit devices, etc.

I hope Apple gets their messaging straight over the course of the year and is able to head into the holiday season with a better focus on what makes the HomePod stand out from the competition. With the initial HomePod announcement taking place at least year’s WWDC, I suspect we’ll hear more about future software advancements at this year’s developer conference. That will be the perfect time for Apple to focus on the HomePod features that matter most and hopefully give third-party developers an opportunity to build for the platform. Whether that will actually happen or not, I’m not sure. But I’m certain that Apple is aware of the mistakes they’ve made with the HomePod’s launch and will be taking steps to correct their course in the coming months.

My Favorite iOS Apps


—January 1, 2018

Essential Apple Watch Apps


—November 20, 2017

The Case for RSS


—November 13, 2017

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