Ryan Christoffel

676 posts on MacStories since November 2016

Ryan is an editor for MacStories and co-hosts the Adapt podcast on Relay FM. He most commonly works and plays on his iPad Pro and bears no regrets about moving on from the Mac. He and his wife live in New York City.

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Apollo Brings the Best of Reddit to iOS 14’s Widgets

Christian Selig, developer of the excellent Reddit client Apollo, has always been deeply connected with his users and Reddit culture on the whole. Many of Apollo’s updates focus on the kind of nit-picky features and tweaks that heavy users of the app and platform care about. So it should come as no surprise that in building iOS 14 widgets for Apollo, Selig took inspiration from some of the things people love most about Reddit.

Apollo offers a whopping seven different types of widgets, roughly half of which are the sort of widgets you would expect – displaying posts from your favorite subreddit or providing launchers into different subreddits – while the other half specialize in bringing the best of Reddit to your Home Screen.

Let’s start with the fun ones: Wallpaper, Showerthoughts, and Jokes.

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Computer Personalization Is a Good Thing, and It’s Nothing New

Jason Snell at Six Colors, providing some historical context for the current wave of iOS 14 Home Screen customization:

The Mac has a long history of customization. When I became a Mac user in the early 90s, it was de rigueur to give your Mac hard drive a name and a custom icon. Ideally, you had a custom wallpaper pattern or image, too. Apps like SoundMaster let you set custom sounds for various actions. The list went on and on. Your Mac felt like home—and like no one else’s.

What’s more surprising is that Apple was so slow in bringing real customization to the iPhone home screen. If adding widgets to iOS 14 has caused enormous burst of creativity, it’s only because all that desire had built up over years and years with very little outlet.

This is not a surprise. This is not the effect of young whippersnappers raised on social media wanting to do goofy things with their phones. Users of computer platforms have wanted to customize and personalize for decades.

Lots of people are having lots of fun making all kinds of personalized Home Screens and even themed ones. This is made possible by a combination of iOS 14, app launchers configured through Shortcuts with custom icons, and a new crop of widget creation apps.

These Home Screen designs may not be for everyone, but that’s kind of the point: they’re not for everyone, they’re built by and for individual users. Let’s celebrate that creativity, and hope Apple provides better tools for this kind of customization in the future.

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Fantastical Debuts Powerful, Versatile Widgets Alongside Scribble for iPad

Time itself has been under attack in this year of infamy. In some ways 2020 has felt like an eternity, but somehow, simultaneously, it’s shocking that we’re nearing the end of it. Our days have lost so much of the structure and the rhythms we’re used to, resulting for some people in days that are long and void of much activity, while others are overwhelmed in a different way as they juggle work with caring for their children, facilitating virtual school, and of course hopping on too many Zoom calls per day. Whatever your situation may be, your concept of time has likely been thrown off-kilter this year.

Yet time marches on. And for many of us, the assaults on our normal patterns of life have required building new patterns, new structures for our weeks and days so we can find a new sense of normal. Rather than abandon our calendars, we perhaps need to be more judicious with them than ever. Which is where Fantastical with its new iOS 14 widgets and Scribble support comes in.

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Weather Line Offers Personalization through Beautiful Themed Weather Widgets

One thing has proven clear since iOS 14 released last week: every app has its own unique take on widgets. Among all the new widgets we’ve covered, there really isn’t a common theme that can be drawn. Perhaps over time certain best practices will emerge, but right now apps are all doing their own thing, including weather apps. Last week we reviewed a weather app that offered fine-grained control of all the different data types contained in its widgets; today I want to cover an app that takes an entirely different approach to personalization.

Weather Line doesn’t provide any options to choose which data a widget will display. You get the data it gives you: nothing more, nothing less. However, the app has gone all-out with personalization in an entirely different way: widget themes.

Weather Line’s widgets display the same beautiful visuals found inside the full app, with charts mapping either an hourly forecast spanning the next 10 hours or a daily forecast covering the next 10 days. The hourly widget is available in small, medium, and large sizes, while the daily flavor is limited to medium and large, making a total of five widget options.

Once you’ve selected the widget(s) you’d like on your Home Screen or in your Today view, it’s time to personalize them with one of Weather Line’s themes. By tapping on an installed widget while in jiggle mode, or by long-pressing a widget and choosing ‘Edit Widget’ from the menu, you can open the widget configuration screen. There are only two options to configure: location for the widget’s weather data, and your preference of widget theme.

There are a total of 20 theme options to choose from, offering a diverse array of looks for matching your Home Screen setup. These include 18 different color themes ranging from Milennial Pink to Neon, Dracula, or Emoji, plus there are two additional options you can choose instead of specifying one of these 18 themes: Dynamic Background and Match System Appearance.

Widgets that offer extensive settings to fiddle with are great, especially for power users. But there’s something special and perhaps even more broadly appealing about being able to personalize a hyper-aesthetic Home Screen, and for that, Weather Line is an excellent choice.


Creating Your Own Widgets: A New Category of Apps Emerges

This summer, when Apple detailed iOS 14 and the Home screen changes it would bring, the company highlighted personalization as one of the key features of the new widget-populated Home screen. Rather than just containing an assortment of apps, iOS 14 Home screens can feature the information that matters most to you. Whether that’s your Activity rings so you can stay on top of your health, the current weather forecast, your task list, a memory from the Photos app – there are an abundance of options for personalizing your Home screens now.

I’ve tried a ton of Home screen widgets from third parties over the summer, and developers are doing lots of creative things with their apps’ widgets. One of the most exciting trends I’ve seen is the emergence of a new category of apps entirely centered around widgets. While most widgets will come built in to the apps you already know and love, some developers have built brand new apps for the sole purpose of enabling users to create and customize widgets in a hyper-personalized way. The best widgets I’ve tried offer configuration settings so you can tailor them to your exact needs, and these new apps take that idea even further, offering widget creation tools relating to a variety of traditional app categories – like weather, photos, health and fitness, productivity, and more – but in a single centralized app.

Leading the pack in this regard is Widgetsmith from David Smith, which not only covers one of the widest array of different widget types, but also features a power user-friendly scheduling option that sets it apart. The App Store hosts a growing number of other widget creation tools too, such as Widgeridoo, Widget Wizard, Glimpse, and Health Auto Export.

Because each app specializes in providing its own custom set of options, there’s no limit to the number of apps worth trying. Widget needs can be highly personalized, so it’s no surprise that the apps designed for creating widgets all offer their own takes too.

Get ready to upgrade your Home screens.

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Soor Offers Beautiful, Customizable Widgets for Apple Music

The formula is tried and true: Apple makes quality software that nonetheless leaves a lot of room for third-party developers to build something more powerful and better tailored for specific needs. In iOS 14, the built-in Music widget is a great example of this. I really like Music’s widget, which shows your recently played albums and playlists so you can quickly get some music going; it offers valuable utility. But if I’m frank, there’s a whole lot more that could have been done with widgets for Music.

That’s where Soor comes in. The third-party client for Apple Music that I recently covered offers not one, not two, but three different widgets to satisfy your music needs. And within those three widgets there’s a lot of customization to help account for a wide assortment of user preferences and desires. Every widget is powerful and also just as beautiful as what Apple’s team built, matching the full Soor app’s identity as a whole.

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Wikipedia’s Widgets Bring Daily Updates to Your iOS 14 Home Screen

My iPad and iPhone are both important devices in my life, but they serve different roles for me. I use the iPad Pro as a work machine, while my iPhone is set up more for recreation and on-the-go uses. As a result, my approach with widgets has largely differed on each device. One widget I happily keep installed on both, however, is Apple’s Photos widget. I love the surprise and delight element of having the widget update automatically throughout the day, displaying photos I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

This sort of passive, but welcome information delivery is at the heart of three separate widgets included in the latest Wikipedia app update:

  • Picture of the day
  • On this day
  • Top read

The purpose of each widget is pretty self-explanatory: one shows a different beautiful photo each day, another tells you about something that happened on this day in the past, and another shows today’s popular Wikipedia pages.

Widgets that surface data from one of the largest public information hubs in the world seems like a no-brainer use case, and the Wikipedia app has done a great job here.

Each widget is available in small, medium, and large sizes, showing more or less information as they’re able. I find the small size a great choice for the picture of the day, though the large is nice too because it includes a caption to accompany the photo. With ‘On this day’ and ‘Top read’ the medium size strikes a great balance of providing just the right amount of information. And if you ever want to learn more, you can always tap on the widget to jump straight to the content you’re interested in.

Widgets have so many different use cases, but this delivery of information I’d never otherwise see is one of my favorites. Wikipedia is a perfect example of how to do it right, and I’m eager to continue exploring this concept as I build out my ideal iOS and iPadOS 14 Home screens.


Things Introduces New Widgets and Scribble for Task Creation on iPad

I’ve used Things off and on as my primary task manager for as long as I’ve used Apple devices, which is just over a decade now. During that time the app has been remarkably consistent at supporting new OS features as soon as Apple launches them, and this year is no exception. In its latest update, Things has added new widgets for iOS and iPadOS 14 as well as a unique implementation of Scribble for creating new tasks. Apple Watch users will find a couple useful new complication options too.

On the surface, the update may seem simple and straightforward: new widgets, Scribble support, and new complications. But as the team at Cultured Code has done time and time again, their implementation of new OS technologies is thoughtful and even innovative, especially on iPad.

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Todoist’s iOS 14 Widgets Make Managing and Creating Tasks Easier than Ever

Todoist’s three new widget types.

Todoist’s three new widget types.

Even before iOS and iPadOS 14 brought a new form and function to widgets on Apple platforms, one of the tried and true widget use cases in previous years was task lists. Some of my most used widgets over the years have been those provided by my task manager, so I was excited to see the slate of new widgets Todoist has introduced in its latest update for iPhone and iPad.

Before detailing the new widgets, though, it’s important to state up front that for all the advantages of iOS 14’s new widgets, they bring a regression that negatively impacts task managers especially: widgets can no longer be fully interactive. In the iOS 13 widget for Todoist, you could check off tasks as you completed them without needing to open the full app. With the app’s new widgets that’s no longer possible, because the only interactions Apple currently allows in widgets is launchers into different parts of an app. The good news is that apps are allowed to offer both iOS 13 and iOS 14 widgets to users, so on iOS 14 Todoist users will find both options available. If you really need the old functionality it’s still available to you, there’s just no way to add a legacy widget to the Home screen.

That bad news out of the way, let me focus on how Todoist’s team has made the most of the new widget system in a couple key ways.

Let’s start with its basic Tasks widget. In iOS 14 you can configure a list of your tasks to appear in either a small, medium, or large widget. Each widget can be set to show tasks from your Today or Upcoming lists, or one of your projects, labels, or filters. Despite being unable to check off tasks from the widget, there are two advantages over Todoist’s previous widget: information density and the ability to create multiple widgets. Since Todoist’s developers no longer need to create large touch targets for users to check off tasks, the widget is able to display a bit more information than before. And you can now create separate widgets tied to separate lists of tasks, even stacking them if you’d like, offering a lot more flexibility than before.

Besides widgets for lists of tasks, Todoist offers two other widget types: Productivity and Add Task. The former displays stats relating to your task completion goals for the day and week, along with your karma score. I’ve never been big on tracking the number of tasks I complete in a given day, but the Productivity widget’s nice to have for users who care about those numbers. The Add Task widget, however, is exactly what I would want from every task manager.

Configuring Todoist’s Add Task widget.

Configuring Todoist’s Add Task widget.

Both the medium and large Tasks widgets already offer a button to quickly create a new task inside Todoist, but the dedicated Add Task widget is special because it can be customized to create tasks that have their metadata pre-filled. You can set which project and section the newly created task will have, its due date, priority, labels, and even the task name if there’s a specific task you commonly create. Once it’s set up for your preferences, the Add Task widget eliminates the monotony of filling in metadata over and over again for every new task. If you commonly create tasks assigned to a certain project and with a certain due date, the widget is now the quickest way to do that.

Add Task is only available as a small widget and as a result it can only have a single group of pre-sets for creating a single type of task, but that makes it a perfect candidate for stacking. Using a few different Add Task widgets for different types of common tasks you create and having them stacked will still provide a faster task creation method than having to enter the metadata over and over with every new task.


Todoist already offered the fastest task creation of any task manager I’ve used thanks to its natural language input system, but now with the Add Task widget it provides an even faster method. Todoist’s developers have clearly spent time considering the needs of their users and have built a suite of widgets that meet those needs well. The OS restriction against full interaction will hopefully be removed in the future, but even if it never is, Todoist has delivered value with its new widgets that more than makes up for what it lost.

Todoist is available on the App Store.