Tag Archive for ‘Widgets’

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.

The Best Lock Screen Widgets for iOS ➝

A great list of iOS widgets by Lory Gil. I make extensive use of widgets in both my iPhone and iPad, checking them several times each day. Here’s my current setup on iPhone:

And on iPad, I also use Omnistat’s battery widget, PCalc, and CornerTube.

Thoughts on iOS 10

Last week, I published my thoughts on watchOS 3, tvOS 10, and macOS Sierra. Today, I’ll be giving my rundown of iOS 10. Conveniently, Apple split their presentation into ten logical chunks and I’ll be tackling each of them individually, in the order they were announced.

User Experience

Apple made some fairly substantial changes to the user experience in iOS 10. There’s a redesigned lock screen, rich notifications, quick interactions with apps, and expanded 3D Touch capabilities. These changes might take some time to get used to, especially the redesigned lock screen, but I think they’re positive changes overall.

The first noticeable difference on the lock screen is the new Raise to Wake feature. Rather than having to press the home or lock button for your devices’ display to turn on, users can simply raise their device to wake it. This will help alleviate some of the problems associated with the second-generation Touch ID sensors which often unlock the device before you have a chance to see notifications.

And speaking of notifications, they’re far more actionable with iOS 10. Replying to messages, accepting calendar invitations, and more can be done without ever leaving the lock screen.

I’m actually really excited about more interactive notifications. I’d never claim that I get a lot of notifications, but I get enough that acting upon them more quickly will greatly improve my experience on iOS. And for anyone who does get a lot of notifications, clearing them in Notification Center is even easier. Pressing on the clear button gives you the option to clear all notifications at once rather than having to clear each day individually. This has been available on the Apple Watch since launch and it is a great feature.

Apple’s made changes to Control Center, too. You can now swipe to reveal a second pane which houses audio playback controls. I hated this the first time I heard about it — I didn’t like the idea of adding an additional step between me and whatever control I was in search of. But it’s quickly grown on me. Control Center has always been a bit too cluttered for my liking and moving audio controls to a second pane will streamline the design and give Apple a little room to grow if they want to add functionality in the future.

Two changes that I just know will annoy me for a few months after iOS 10’s release is that they’ve moved Today View and the quick access camera gesture on the lock screen. Today View has been moved, spatially, to the left of the lock screen while the camera is to the right of it — swiping from either direction slides the corresponding feature into view. I can already see myself unintentionally accessing Notification Center or Control Center instead of Today View or the camera. Those gestures have become a huge part of the way I interact with my device and it’ll take some time to retrain that muscle memory.

I’m more than happy about the expanding of 3D Touch shortcuts on the home screen, though. I know plenty of users who have already taken to them — even with the relatively limited functionality in iOS 9. It’s never been something that I used regularly, but this added functionality might change that. Pressing an icon on the home screen displays the usual list of shortcuts alongside, what appears to be, the app’s Today View widget. I love Today View widgets and anything that gives me easy access to them is a win in my book.

Siri

Apple is giving third-party developers the ability to extend Siri’s functionality. But unfortunately, it isn’t as all-encompassing as we hoped. Third-party developers will only be able to make use of Siri in the following contexts:

  • Messaging
  • Ride Booking
  • Photo Search
  • Workouts
  • Payments
  • VOIP Calling

That means you’ll be able to initiate a direct message in Tweetbot through Siri, but you won’t be able to start workflows. Apple will undoubtedly continue to expand on the types of third-party apps that can make use of Siri, but for now it’s a bit of a bummer, for users and developers.

QuickType Keyboard

I turned off iOS’s predictive typing bar shortly after its release. At the time I was using an iPhone 5s and it just took up too much screen real estate. Of course, I’m no longer using a 4-inch iPhone — I’ve since upgraded to a 4.7-inch iPhone 6s and I might be willing to give it another go when iOS 10 is released this fall.

I’m simply curious to see whether the “more intelligent suggestions” are as useful as Apple makes them out to be. I like that it can offer up your current location and contact information, but I’m not sure if that’s worth the pixels its displayed on. My hunch is that I’d still rather display more content than add an extra row to my keyboard that’s of questionable utility.

Photos

With iOS 10, Apple is bringing Places and Faces to Photos. This is a feature that has been available for the Mac since the iPhoto days and I’ve been a huge fan of it. But Apple’s doing much more this time around.

Apple is using, what they’re calling, “Advanced Computer Vision” or “deep learning” to analyze all of your photos and find faces, objects, and scenes within them. It has similar functionality to Google Photos, but all of this work is taking place on your device rather than in the cloud to prevent any potential privacy concerns.

You’ll be able to search your photos for locations, objects, and scenes to find exactly what you’re looking for when you need it. In addition to search, Photos will also help you surface collections of images in the new Memories tab based around a specific date, topic, location, person, or groups of people.

Memories provides similar utility to Google Photos’ Assistant feature. Where Memories really shines, though, is in the suggested videos functionality. Not only does it automatically edit together related photos and videos, it offers two sliders that let you choose the tone and duration of the resulting video. That means you can send a short, epic video of your trip to Tahoe to your sister or a longer, happy video to your grandfather — from the exact same collection of photos and videos.

All of this seems pretty impressive and I can’t wait to see how it compares to Google Photos in real world testing. Unfortunately, I won’t be switching to it anytime soon, though. Not until Apple offers a way to store one, unified family photo library in iCloud that syncs between multiple accounts. My wife and I prefer to store all of our photos in a single library. We don’t think of them as “mine” and “yours,” they belong to both of us and we like having access to the entire lot without any user interaction.

Maps

Apple’s mapping app gets a design refresh with iOS 10. The search bar has been moved to the bottom of the display, which is a more substantial change than you’d think given the larger displays of most iPhones sold today. The app now makes proactive suggestions — it might list restaurants around the time you usually have lunch or grocery stores, in the evening, when you usually go shopping.

They’ve also improved the turn-by-turn navigation view with bolder typography and larger icons, making it easier to see at a glance. The biggest change, though, is that developers will be able to build extensions for Maps. Ride sharing and restaurant reservations were the two mentioned by Apple, but I expect we’ll see all kinds of interesting apps once developers get their hands on it.

I don’t use Maps too often, usually just when my wife and I take long road trips to visit family — about two or three times a year. But I’m very happy with the changes Apple has made. I like that Maps will display traffic during navigation and you’ll be able to search along the route for restaurants, gas stations, and so on. In the search results, Maps even tells you how much time will be added to the overall trip with each extra stop. I look forward to using these new features the next time we take the 5-6 hour road trip to visit my sister and her family in Pittsburgh.

Music

The Music app is receiving an “all-new design” in iOS 10. I put that in quotes because the app doesn’t seem all that different to me. I’ll admit that I haven’t used the app for several months — instead, using Ecoute for my music playback. But this looks like nothing more than a new coat of paint rather than improving the app’s usability.

There’s bolder typography and a small handful of items have been moved around in the interface. But beyond these minor changes, it’s still an app that’s focused around renting music rather than playing the music you own. This has been my major complaint about the app since it was redesigned last year and unfortunately, the problem persists.

The one major new feature for Apple Music subscribers will be the addition of lyrics — which is great. A lot of the affection I have for songs comes from the meaning behind the lyrics and my ability to relate to them. I often look up the lyrics when I’m listening to a new album and I’d love to have that information right in my music app.

I will certainly give the new Music app another go when it launches this fall. But from the looks of things, I don’t expect it’ll last more than a few days on my home screen. Until Apple allows me to place the app’s focus back on my music library, I’ll most likely stick to third-party apps like Ecoute and Cesium.

News

The Apple News announcements were given less time than any of the other tentpole features of iOS 10 and are, what I’d consider to be, the most lackluster as well. There’s an all-new design which, like Apple Music, features bolder typography alongside a reorganization of the For You tab — now organized by section. And Apple’s introduced subscriptions which will allow you to read news from premium sources as well — like The Wall Street Journal and National Geographic.

I won’t spend much time analyzing these announcements. News isn’t really for me and I don’t expect it ever will be. But I suspect these are positive changes for those who use the app daily.

HomeKit

Apple is adding a new application for iOS and watchOS this fall, called “Home.” The app allows you to control all of your HomeKit-enabled devices from a single user interface. The app features what they’re calling “Scenes,” which ties together multiple devices and performs a predetermined set of actions all at once — it reminds me of Activities on Logitech Harmony remotes.

The Home app works with Siri and is capable of controlling your HomeKit devices remotely using the Apple TV as an at-home hub. They’ve also added a third pane to Control Center — beyond the aforementioned audio controls — that lets you quickly control your connected devices.

I don’t currently own any HomeKit-enabled accessories, but I’ve been thinking more seriously about them. Up until now, the entire market has felt splintered between multiple standards. But, at least from my perspective, Apple seems to be emerging as the front runner in this space — working with dozens of manufacturers and a few home builders as well. I don’t expect I’ll be hesitant for too much longer — it’s only a matter of time before I start purchasing devices to automate my home.

Phone

There’s some major improvements in store for the Phone app on iOS. I’m most excited about having access to voicemail transcripts. Everyone has that one friend who still calls and leaves voicemails that seem to go on forever. Now, you’ll be able to skim the transcript to get the message rather than listening through two minutes of babbling.

The most far reaching changes, though, involve third-party developers. Apple’s including an extension API in iOS 10 that lets developers build, what amounts to, caller ID apps, VOIP apps that display incoming calls on par with the native phone app, and the ability to integrate into the system’s favorites and recent calls list.

Apple has taken all of the necessary steps to allow users to decide how they prefer to communicate. This means third-party VOIP apps are no longer second-class citizens and, instead, will be treated as peers with Phone.app. This is the first instance in which Apple is allowing users to, for all intents and purpose, fully change the default app for a given function.

This is a major milestone — and leaves me wondering if we’ll see this expanding next year with iOS 11. I’d love to be able to set a default email client so that when I tap on a “mailto” link on a webpage it would open Dispatch rather than Mail.

Messages

If there’s an app on iOS that hasn’t received the attention it deserves, it’s Messages. The application is the most used iOS app, but has remained almost entirely unchanged since the launch of iMessages in 2011. Apple has remedied that in a big way with iOS 10.

Apple’s adding rich links with artwork and in-line video, easier access to the camera and photo library, emoji-word swapping, bubble effects, Tapback, handwritten messages, and Digital Touch. That’s an impressive list and will help keep Messages as the primary communication tool in the face of other growing platforms — Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Telegram, etc.

Rich links is probably my favorite of the bunch. I send a lot of links to my friends in Messages and just a raw URL always felt a little anemic to me. These rich links will give the recipient an indication of where they’re headed when they tap on it. Or in the case of video, they’ll be able to watch without having to visit the webpage at all.

I’m also excited about the addition of Tapback, which lets you attach a heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, “haha”, “!!”, or question mark to another message within the thread. This will help solve the problem of having to reply with an “ok” when you want to let the other person know that you saw their message but don’t really have anything to add.

I love that there’s support for Digital Touch. Now, presumably, I’ll be able to send taps and heartbeats to my wife from my Watch, even though she doesn’t own one.

But I can’t say I’m too excited about the bubble effects and changes to emojis. Bubble effects have the potential to become a bit obnoxious and annoying if used too frequently. I don’t need a complicated animation every time I send a message and I hope everyone I know feels the same way.

As for emoji, I don’t even have the emoji keyboard enabled on any of my iOS devices. The problem, for me, is that I have a really hard time understanding what the person is trying to convey with their emoji. I often end up asking my wife to read the message so that she can confirm whether someone’s being sarcastic or legitimately happy about something. Apple adding emoji predictions and the ability to swap words in an outgoing message for its corresponding emoji might result in me receiving more emoji-containing messages — I can’t say I’m too 😃 about that.

After the above Messages features were demoed, Craig Federighi returned to announce iMessage Apps. With iOS 10, developers will be able to build apps that integrate into Messages for things like stickers, payments, restaurant ordering, animations, and more. Much like third-party keyboards, I don’t expect I’ll ever use these applications. But the idea of building a sticker pack without ever having to write any code — something that Federighi mentioned was possible during the announcement — is intriguing. This opens up a whole new world for artists who might not have considered it because of the barrier to entry.

Wrap-Up

This year’s WWDC was an overall success. The presentation didn’t feature the spectacle associated with a new hardware announcement, but that was more than made up for by the sheer number of new features that hadn’t been confirmed by rumor sites beforehand.

And it goes without saying, but this year’s event was a massive improvement over last year’s, which featured one of the most awkward announcements I’ve ever seen at a WWDC keynote — Apple Music. This year’s presentation didn’t drag on forever and was packed with announcements to keep viewers’ attention. If I had any complaints at all, it’s that they went a little too fast. Sometimes it was difficult to digest all of the new features and, for me at least, required a second viewing to take it all in.

With plenty of announcements for all four of their major platforms, nearly everyone who owns an Apple product will be receiving a substantial software update this fall. And I look forward to the public beta next month, when I’ll be able to get my hands on this software to try myself.

Best Today View Widgets for iPhone ➝

A lot of great apps in here, many of which I use everyday. I wasn’t even aware that Fantastical had a Today view widget until reading this and immediately removed Apple’s built in calendar widget and replaced it with Fantastical.

Pedometer++, Deliveries, and PCalc are a few of my favorites from their list.

Omnistat ➝

An iStat Menu-like app for iOS that gives you glance-able hardware statistics in notification center.

I never have the battery percentage indicator in my status bar because I like as little visual clutter as possible. I never need to know what my battery life is until it’s getting low enough to matter, and that’s when I turn the indicator on. I’ve wished that Apple would add this as an option in Settings — only showing battery percentage when the battery is low. Until then, Omnistat gives me easy access to my battery life percentage without having to add visual clutter to the status bar.

Omnistat also includes notification center widgets for CPU, Memory, Storage, and more. The app was developed by Mathieu Bolard and is well worth the $1.99 price tag.

Revamped Notifications and Widgets in iOS 5 ➝

MG Siegler:

The other big news for iOS5 — and yes, I’ve completely buried the lede here, thanks for reading! — two things: completely revamped notifications and widgets.

I’m one of the few that hasn’t really gone along with the idea that Apple needs a new notification system for iOS. They could certainly be improved, but I usually try to avoid notifications whenever I can. But, if Apple could make them less obtrusive and more useful, I could see turning them on for more of my apps.

As far as widgets are concerned, I don’t use them on my Mac and beyond a simple weather widget, I don’t foresee myself using them on my iPhone.

iPad Dashboard Widgets

It’s been a week since Apple announced the iPad and some have started to realize that the images of the iPad’s home screen are missing several icons. More specifically Weather, Clock, Stocks, Voice Memos and Calculator are all missing (iBooks is also missing but it is likely a late addition that simply didn’t make the deadline for inclusion in the promotional material for January’s unveiling).

When Apple first announced the iPhone at Macworld Expo 2007, Steve Jobs proudly announced that the iPhone had widgets. At that time Weather, Stocks, and Calculator were all built in HTML and JavaScript. Apple scrapped the idea before launch and the idea of widgets on the iPhone was never heard from again. I have often wondered why Apple decided to abandon widgets on the iPhone, given the iPhone’s screen size, widgets seem like the perfect fit. I assume (and John Gruber has been informed by his sources) that it is mostly due to performance concerns — HTML and JavaScript just can’t render as quickly as native code.

It’s very possible that Apple could be moving back to widgets in iPhone OS, but on the iPad. The applications listed above would work perfectly as widgets and they are exactly the kind of apps that you want to have access to at all times.

Charles Ying points out that Apple didn’t reveal the YouTube app on the iPhone until 9 days before it’s release. If Apple were to announce dashboard widgets for the iPad it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest for them to wait as long as they could before announcing it.

I must give credit to Kevin Fox for first mention the idea of dashboard widgets on the iPad, but I don’t know if his idea of implementation is quite there yet. Instead of a five-finger pinch gesture, wouldn’t it be more natural for Apple to add this as another option for the double-click home button shortcut? I see the other options for that shortcut to be practically useless on the iPad, especially if it has widgets. The current options on the iPhone are Home, Search, Phone Favorites, Camera, and iPod. Because of hardware limitations the iPad wouldn’t need phone favorites or camera and I could easily see the other options implemented as widgets themselves (with the home option simply being replaced with the ability to disable widgets altogether).

Just like the addition of Push Notifications, dashboard widgets will be the way Apple quiets those complaining about multi-tasking on the iPad. Dashboard widgets are unobtrusive and easy on the battery life. As Kevin Fox puts it:

It might not be OS multitasking but it’s user multi-tasking and, unlike running several apps simultaneously, it behaves nicely. OS X dashboard widgets sit quietly when the dashboard’s not up and make their calls and updates quickly when the dashboard is called up.

This is exactly the kind of thing Apple would do. And as an added bonus, Apple might be able to leverage the ever-growing catalog of Dashboard widgets for Mac OS X.

Imagine downloading the same dashboard widgets you currently use on your Mac and installing them on your iPad to be called up while running any application, simply by double clicking the home button.

Update 2/11/10: It turns out that iBooks isn’t bundled with the iPad at all. Instead, the app will be available in the App Store.