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Posts tagged with "widgets"

GoodLinks 1.7: New iOS 16 Shortcuts Actions, Focus Filter Support, Lock Screen Widgets, and More

I’m really excited about the latest update to GoodLinks for iPhone. The app has always had some of the best automation support of any link management or read-later app I’ve used. However, with version 1.7, which was released last week, GoodLinks has taken its automation tools to a new level, opening up more ways to customize how you save, manage, and use links than ever before.

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iOS 16 Lock Screen Widgets: The MacStories Roundup

As the release of iOS 16 approached, I felt a strong sense of déjà vu. TestFlight betas with Lock Screen widgets came pouring in. It felt like 2020’s debut of Home Screen widgets all over again. This time, though, those betas have been all about Lock Screen widgets.

As Federico covered in his iOS 16 review, Apple’s approach to Lock Screen widget support in its own apps is different than its approach to Home Screen widgets was. There are far fewer Lock Screen widgets available for system apps than there were when Home Screen widgets were launched with iOS 14. Part of the difference is undoubtedly because Lock Screen widgets are smaller and monochrome, but there remain gaps that aren’t so easily explained away. Fortunately for us, third-party developers have stepped into the breach with a long list of innovative widgets.

With so many choices and only three to five Lock Screen widget slots to fill, it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ve compiled a list of my top recommendations from the over 40 I’ve tried so far. Of course, this list doesn’t include the apps I already covered last week, but it goes without saying that Widgetsmith, Lock Screen One, LockFlow, and CARROT Weather would be also be included in this list if I hadn’t already written about them.

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Lock Screen One: Text Widgets for Your iOS 16 Lock Screen Automated with Shortcuts

Yesterday, I covered Widgetsmith, which among many other things, can display whatever text you’d like in an iOS 16 Lock Screen widget. Lock Screen One is a new app from Sindre Sorhus, the maker of Shortcuts utility Actions, which does something similar, but with a twist. Like Widgetsmith, Lock Screen One lets you add text to an inline or rectangular widget, but it also lets you automate the process with Shortcuts. Let’s take a look.

I’ve been thinking about text-based widgets ever since trying them in Widgetsmith. Paired with Focus modes, they can be used as an added contextual reminder of the Focus mode you’re in, displaying information relevant to what you’re doing, for example. However, the downside of a Focus mode approach is that it’s inflexible. Who wants to change that text manually or set up multiple Focus modes with different text widgets? I sure don’t.

Lock Screen One solves that problem with Shortcuts. The app has just two Shortcuts actions, but they’re exactly what you need, along with personal automations to check and change a Lock Screen widget’s text on a schedule or based on other conditions. Add the Always-On display of the iPhone 14 Pro to the mix, and you can create an element of dynamism with simple text widgets that’s impressive.

The only real constraint on what you can do with the ability to update a text widget is space. Neither widget size offered by Lock Screen One holds a lot of text, but that still opens up possibilities like displaying sports scores, short daily quotes, weather data, and more.

My demo Daily Stats shortcut.

My demo Daily Stats shortcut.

To give you an idea of what’s possible, I created a shortcut that feeds into a Lock Screen One rectangular widget that lists my total time tracked in Timery for the day, the number of incomplete tasks I have in the Reminders app and my next event in Calendars. The shortcut, called Daily Stats, uses Lock Screen One’s Set Lock Screen Text to change the widget’s text and can be tied to personal automations that are triggered throughout the day to update the widget regularly. Lock Screen One also offers a Get Lock Screen Text Shortcuts action that returns whatever the app’s widget is currently displaying.

You can download Daily Stats, which requires Timery, here.

Note that I’ve seen some circumstances where data in Timery or Reminders doesn’t update every time the shortcut is run. I’m not sure if this is a Shortcuts or Lock Screen One bug. I’d also like to see Lock Screen One updated to allow for its inline and rectangular widgets to use different text. Currently, if you use both widget types, they display the same string of text.

Lock Screen One is a great example of an app that uses Shortcuts to its advantage to make what would otherwise be a static widget that you’d have to change manually or with Focus modes into one that is far more dynamic. Not only do Lock Screen One’s Shortcuts actions extend how its widget can be updated, but it opens the widget to data from other apps and web APIs, greatly expanding what is possible with a simple text-based widget.

Lock Screen One is free to download on the App Store.


Mac Widgets Need a Dashboard

On 512 Pixels, Stephen Hackett argues that Apple should bring back Dashboard, a macOS feature that disappeared with Catalina. Dashboard gave users access to Apple and third-party widgets: single-purpose utilities that were a lot like the widgets on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac today, except they were better because they were also interactive.

Widgets’ lack of interactivity on the Mac is compounded by the fact that they share a panel with notifications and are hidden behind a click on the menu bar’s clock. I couldn’t agree more with Stephen’s conclusion:

Apple needs to rethink this and let this new class of widgets breathe, being able to use the entire screen like the widgets of yore could. Bringing back Dashboard is an obvious solution here, and I’d love to see it make a return.

The Dashboard metaphor worked for widgets before and it could work again, but I’d love to see Apple make the desktop the Dashboard, letting users mix files, folders, and widgets the same way I can mix apps and widgets on my iPhone or iPad.

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HomeRun 2 Launches as a New App with Home Screen Widgets, an In-App Grid System, and an Updated Watch Complication Editor

I’ve long considered HomeRun by Aaron Pearce a must-have app if you’re into HomeKit automation. With version 2, which is available for the iPhone and iPad and is out today, HomeRun adds all-new ways to access HomeKit scenes with in-app grids and Home Screen widgets, along with an updated Apple Watch complication editor. Although the initial setup process can be a bit laborious, investing some time in a setup on multiple devices pays off, allowing you to trigger scenes in many more ways than is possible with the Home app.

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Inc. Interviews David Smith About Widgetsmith’s Astonishing Success

Most MacStories readers are undoubtedly familiar with the story of David Smith’s app Widgetsmith, which took off last fall after going viral on TikTok. Yesterday, Jason Aten of Inc. published an interview with Smith about his career as an independent developer and how his 12 years of experience building 59 different apps prepared him for the unexpected success of Widgetsmith, which has been downloaded more than 50 million times.

As Aten aptly points out:

Often, the simplest form of success is what happens when a stroke of good fortune meets years of hard work and preparation. Plenty of people work hard their whole lives but never come across the kind of luck associated with having your app go viral on TikTok. At the same time, plenty of viral social media stories flame out immediately. They never put in the work or preparation that would allow them to capitalize on the moment.

As MacStories readers know, Widgetsmith isn’t Smith’s first App Store success. We’ve covered many of his other apps over the years, but Widgetsmith is in an entirely different universe than anything that came before it. For example, Aten reveals that:

Smith told me that Widgetsmith had more downloads in a single day than Pedometer++ has had in the entire time since it launched in 2013.

That’s remarkable given that Pedometer++ was probably the first pedometer app on the App Store and has remained popular in the seven years since it was released.

There are many valuable lessons in the Inc. story that are broadly applicable beyond app development. Some lessons are as simple as the value of practice and becoming an expert in your field. As Smith explains:

All of those other apps that I built in the past helped. I need to, for example, get the user’s current calendar events so that I can put it in a widget. I know how to get calendar events and pull them into a widget. I’ve done this in another app before.

Smith’s story also shows how easy it is to misjudge demand for a product in advance too. Along with Smith and others who have followed his work, I didn’t expect Widgetsmith to be popular beyond iOS power-users. Widgetsmith is a terrific app, but I never imaged its audience would be bigger than Pedometer++, but as Smith says in his interview:

And it turned out that everybody is that power user who was very fiddly about what they want their Home Screen to look like. I just completely misjudged the size of the market that I was addressing. I thought I was targeting a very specific group of people. And it turned out that that very specific group of people was like everyone.

If there are MacStories readers who still haven’t tried Widgetsmith, do so because it’s fantastic. But, also, don’t miss Inc.’s interview with Smith, which is an excellent look at the combination of hard work and luck that lead to ‘overnight success.’

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Fitness Totals Review: Effortlessly Surface Fitness Data and Track Your Progress

The Apple Watch and iPhone can collect a lot of fitness data. The trouble is, there’s so much information available that it can be a little overwhelming and difficult to sift through in Apple’s Health app. The situation has left an opening for third-party apps like Fitness Totals that use smart design and leverage new features like widgets to make sense of the piles of data and provide useful insights.

Fitness Totals benefits from its tight focus on applying a consistent approach to 16 fitness metrics using its app and companion widgets. The app compares fitness data over daily, weekly, monthly, and annual time periods, providing answers to questions like ‘Have I burned as many calories today as yesterday? and ‘Is my step count higher or lower this week than last?’ The data is available in the app, but its greatest strength is its widgets.

As much as I like Fitness Totals’ widgets, though, I want to start with the app. This is where you set up which metrics you want to track, and you can view even more data than is available in the widgets. Fitness Totals can track:

  • Steps
  • Walking and Running distance
  • Walking workouts
  • Running workouts
  • Hiking workouts
  • Cycling
  • Wheelchair distance
  • Wheelchair pushes
  • Swimming strokes
  • Swimming distance
  • Downhill snow sports
  • Resting calories burned
  • Active calories burned
  • Flights of stairs climbed
  • Exercising minutes
  • Standing minutes

The app’s main view displays a series of cards for each category you’ve chosen to track. Each card lists your total for the day and the current year compared to last year. Tapping a card opens a detailed view with more statistics. For example, my step details included today’s total and my daily average along with totals for this week, month, and year compared to last week, month, and year, and the averages for each. Finally, there’s an all-time number totaling all the data recorded and a button for sharing a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly summary with a colorful graphic.

Sharing your stats.

Sharing your stats.

The main view of the app also has a share button that lets you compose a graphic showing your yearly totals for any of the metrics you’re tracking. Currently, there’s also a banner at the top of the app prompting users to share their yearly totals, which does the same thing as the share button at the bottom of the screen.

The app’s three sizes of widgets are similar to the graphics its share functionality creates. The primary difference between each widget size is how much data it can display. The small widget displays one pair of statistics: today compared to yesterday or this week, month, or year compared to last week, month, or year. The medium widget adds a second set of data points, and the large one allows for three points of comparison.

Fitness Totals' widgets.

Fitness Totals’ widgets.

I’ve been using a medium widget to remind me of my step count for today, yesterday, and last week versus this week. The widget serves as a quick way to gauge how active I’ve been as the week progresses and is a nice addition to the health and fitness stack that I’ve created on a secondary Home Screen. I may add additional Fitness Totals widgets over time, but for now, the step count widget is doing a good job of reminding me to stay active.

The one thing I’d like to see added to Fitness Totals’ widgets is color and typeface customization options. The widgets are pure black, and some statistics are a dark purple that looks good but doesn’t offer much contrast against the black, which can make the numbers difficult to read. The black background can also be a bit stark against some wallpapers.

Even so, Fitness Totals fills a nice gap Apple has left wide open. Apple’s Health app has all the data Fitness Totals displays, but the company doesn’t offer a Health widget. Fitness Totals also benefits from its focus on just a handful of fitness metrics that can be turned on or off by users surfacing the data far better than the Health app. If you’re looking for a periodic Home Screen reminder to keep you on track with your fitness plans for 2021, Fitness Totals is an excellent choice.

Fitness Totals is available on the App Store for $2.99.


macOS Big Sur: Widget Roundup

Developer adoption of new macOS features is often a little slower than it is on iOS and iPadOS. However, that hasn’t been the case with Big Sur widgets. Apple wisely took the same SwiftUI-based system used for creating widgets on the iPhone and iPad and implemented it on the Mac, providing a relatively simple approach for developers to bring their existing widgets to the Mac. The result has been an immediate explosion of widget options for Mac users.

Over the course of the summer and fall, I tried several different widgets as I ran the Big Sur betas. A few of those widgets — which have been in development the longest and were highlighted in my Big Sur review — remain some of my favorites and are recapped below. However, many more terrific widgets have been released since and deserve consideration as well, so let’s dig in.

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Using Soor’s Widgets and Magic Mixes

Soor's iOS 14 widgets.

Soor’s iOS 14 widgets.

As I detailed in a recent episode of AppStories, I’ve spent several weeks tweaking my iPhone’s Home Screen and playing around with different approaches to widgets and app icons. The layout I eventually settled on (which you can find in the AppStories show notes) takes advantage of dark mode to create the illusion of widgets “blending” into the wallpaper – specifically, the Soor widgets at the top of the page. Given how I believe Soor’s developer Tanmay Sonawane has taught Apple a lesson when it comes to building Apple Music widgets for iOS 14, and considering the app’s most recent update, I thought I’d write about these widgets in more detail.

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