iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 certainly weren’t as ambitious as some of the software updates we have seen in years past. That was probably due to a combination of the impact of COVID-19 and the focus required to get macOS 11 and the beginnings of the Mac on Apple’s own processors out the door for developers.
However, Apple’s new Widget features on iOS did shake things up a bit and grab some headlines. I’ve been playing with the iOS and iPadOS betas and I have enjoyed a few aspects of these new capabilities. That said, while I think this is a good start in a different direction for Apple’s Home Screens, I am still left wanting more.
The iPhone gets the good stuff
While the iPad did get access to Apple’s newly designed widgets, it didn’t get nearly the same fun or flexibility that the iPhone did. More on that in a moment. As for the phone, the ability to place widgets wherever you choose across your Home Screens is a breath of fresh air to Springboard. Let’s be honest now- Apple should have done this a few years ago.
As for what we got, it’s pretty good. The new widgets are polished. They look nice. They are fluid and fast. The Smart Stack is a really savvy addition that allows you to pack more power into a smaller amount of valuable screen real estate. That’s very important for some of us who have had trouble giving up some territory from our very familiar Home Screens.
Losing a little in the exchange
However, we did lose a little in the exchange for these newer widgets. They are not interactive in any way, shape or form. The only thing these widgets will do is launch you into an app or link to a single item, such as a Note, an Calendar Event, or a Shortcut. So no more ticking off tasks or fingering numbers into a calculator by way of a widget. I’m not sure that the execs at Apple ever loved that devs went that direction with them, anyway.
The older style widgets aren’t completely gone yet, but they might as well be. They are still stuck in their old position to the left of the Home Screen and cannot be moved around. And Apple was very clear when questions were asked about this. The new widgets were designed this way on purpose and third parties will have to abide by those same principles when iOS 14 is released. Them’s the rules, and we just got a good example of how Apple is about the App Store rules.
A possible next step
I don’t begrudge these limitations too much on the iPhone’s smaller screen, but there is still a lot more that can be done. What I would prefer to see added to widgets before interactivity is the ability to create different Home Screen setups for different times or use cases.
If given the opportunity, I would definitely switch setups between work and time at home. I would also love to have a different layout for weekends, as well. How about when it’s time to hit the road for work or personal travel? The ability to save multiple Home Screen setups and easily switch between them seems like a no-brainer of a next step for the Home Screen, with widgets the star of the show.
The iPad gets the short straw this year
iPadOS 13 was a massive upgrade that changed the course of the iPad platform last year, especially the iPad Pro. However, iPadOS 14 was far more modest. When Craig Federighi referred to the widget features from iOS 14 coming to the iPad, I though to myself, “well at least we got the ability to shake up the iPad’s huge Home Screen.”
Except we didn’t. Craig didn’t lie to us. We got the widgets, but that was it. No putting them anywhere we want on the Home Screen. No App Library. None of that extra flexibility. We can have our column of widgets on the left side of the Home Screen with the new widgets and Smart Stacks in them, but that’s as deep as it goes for Apple tablets.
A missed opportunity, or maybe a chance for something more
I was VERY disappointed about Apple’s widget feature omissions on the iPad and I was not alone. I was right there with several iPad fans griping about Apple passing on offering what looked to be a home run feature for the iPad’s larger screen. All that size begs for more creative use of space even more than the iPhone’s screen does, especially as the platform has amassed more and more desktop-class features.
However, as I began to play with the iPadOS beta more, I saw that the widget features as they stand now would be a little less satisfying on an iPad. With a limited set of sizes and no possibility of true interactivity, I’m not sure I would have been as happy with them as I initially thought. The limitations aren’t as bad on the smaller iPhone, but I think they would have really shown up on a larger screen.
And that is where the opportunity lies. I know it may be a bit much to ask developers to create separate widgets for the iPhone and iPad, but I want to see Apple throw the doors open in iPadOS 15 and allow them to do exactly that. With all of that screen real estate and the greater processing power of the iPad Pro, why not allow devs to offer up entire miniturized app experiences for the tablet Home Screen?
For example, what if OmniFocus or Pocket Informant could offer up a sorted list of tasks that could be edited right from a window on the Home Screen? What if Trello could give you access to an important stack of cards for easy access that can be edited in real time? How about a live Twitter or Instagram feed with the ability to respond and compose new posts right from the screen? There are a LOT of possibilities that make sense for the iPad that would just be clutter on the iPhone. Maybe Apple held back this year so they can deliver something more like this down the road. I certainly hope so.
Hopefully just a start
If iOS and iPadOS are truly going to diverge into two different experiences that are tailored to their different form factors and use cases, widgets seems like one of those dividing line features where such changes will start to show up. We already saw one crack form with iOS getting features that iPadOS didn’t. Now it’s just a matter of how far down that road Apple is going to venture.
I could be getting carried away here. They could just show up with a slightly different version of the same widget features next year that have more sizing options and are a little more suited to the iPad’s screen. However, I’m sure betting on and cheering for horse number two. I want to see Apple go all out to bring a new and different widget experience to the iPad that fits with their other recent changes to iPadOS.
As for the ability to create multiple Home Screen setups, I want to see that come to both the iPhone and iPad. I think that potential feature has universal appeal, even for more casual users. The ability to change the iPhone or iPad’s experience the way you can change the Apple Watch’s by swiping to a new face could breathe a lot of new life into these older interfaces.
At the end of the day, I just Apple understands that their new widget features are a nice start, but they shouldn’t be the end of the road. There is so much more that they can do with them to improve both iOS and iPadOS.