After thirteen iterations of iOS, Apple is finally transforming the Home screen by adding widgets to iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. There’s a whole new framework that will let developers create new types of widgets. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Widgets Come Home
Apple introduced widgets to the iPhone in iOS 10. They were relegated to the Today View screen, which is accessible by swiping right on the lock screen or the Home screen.
Still, widgets became powerful tools and were incredibly useful for iPhone and iPad users who decided to use them.
But all of that changes in iOS 14. Widgets are coming home. This is the biggest change to the Home screen along with the new App Library. While the Today View section still remains and you can still keep widget there, the entire experience of adding widgets has changed.
Now, when you tap in any empty space on the Home screen to enter the Home screen editing view, you’ll find a “+” button in the top-right corner.
Tapping it will bring up a widget picker, which shows a list of all available widgets on your phone—both from Apple’s included apps and third-party apps you’ve installed—along with previews of them.
Choose a widget, a size, and just tap the “Add Widget” button to add a widget to whichever screen you’re on.
You can then move the widget anywhere you want. Well, not exactly anywhere. Unlike Android, iOS still doesn’t let you put icons or widgets anywhere on the screen.
Icons and widgets still flow from the top left of the screen to the bottom right. And yes, widgets will automatically switch to dark mode.
But Not The Widgets You’ve Known
So, that’s the good news. Now about the bad. You see, while widgets are coming to the Home screen, they’re not the widgets you have used and loved over the past couple of years.
If a developer wants to create Home screen widgets for iOS 14, they have to use the new WidgetKit framework that’s built on Swift UI. And currently, it doesn’t support any form of interaction or live updates. This means that the new widgets are designed solely for glanceability—in other words, for quickly viewing information, just like complications in watchOS on the Apple Watch.
This means that, if you’re used to calculator widgets or time-tracking widgets, you won’t find them on iOS 14. Widgets can have multiple tap targets that can be deep-linked to a part of the app, but that’s it. This is why the Music widget on iOS 14 doesn’t have any playback controls.
The only exception we’ve found is the Shortcuts app—but, then again, Shortcuts automations are deeply integrated in the OS. The Shortcuts widget works independently. When you tap a shortcut, it just starts working, without opening the app. If there are any interactive elements in the shortcut, you’ll see them on the top of the screen in a floating window.
As of now, Apple has officially deprecated the older widgets. They’ll still continue to work and you can use them in the Today View screen, but you can’t add these widgets to the Home screen. We don’t when or if Apple will completely remove support for them.
What the Future Holds
It’s clear that the nature of widgets is changing from iOS 14 and beyond. Apple’s reasoning for this change seems to be for glanceability and power management. Widgets should be designed so a user can quickly glance at it while they’re on the Home screen, and it shouldn’t drain the battery.
Widgets can update based on a timeline that’s defined by the developer, but that’s it. We hope that by this time next year, Apple has figured out a way to add interaction to widgets without sacrificing battery life.
Because when it comes to the design and UI, the new widgets look amazing on the Home screen (far better than the old widgets, which had no cohesive design language).
And in some ways, the new widgets are more flexible in iOS 14. You can have multiple versions of the same widget in the same or multiple sizes. You can stack multiple versions of the same widgets on top of each other and just flick between them.
And, because Apple is using the Intents-based framework (from SiriKit and Shortcuts) in widgets, you can customize multiple versions of the widgets to show different kinds of data. For example, you can have three different Reminders widgets in a stack that shows your reminders from three different lists.
That’s just what Apple has done so far. We’ve yet to see what developers will be able to do using the WidgetKit framework. While we’re losing the interactivity, we’re gaining new types of widgets and a cohesive design framework.
But this is one of those wait-and-watch scenarios. We’ll know the true impact of the change once developers release their own widgets in Fall 2020—and when we see what improvements (if any) Apple makes to the WidgetKit framework in iOS 15.
There’s a lot more to the specifics of how widgets work in iOS 14. For example, Smart Stacks will let you combine multiple widgets into a single stack of widgets you can swipe between on your iPhone. That’s one way iOS 14 will transform your iPhone (and iPad) Home screen.