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.
Posts tagged with "widgets"
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.
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.’
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:
- Walking and Running distance
- Walking workouts
- Running workouts
- Hiking workouts
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last year we named RSS client Reeder 4 the Best App Update as part of the MacStories Selects awards for a good reason. Reeder has been one of the best-designed RSS apps available for a very long time. With the release of version 4, developer Silvio Rizzi rebuilt the app on a modern foundation from the ground up. Roughly one year later, version 5 is out as a brand new app that takes what Rizzi began last year and extends it further with a host of excellent new features and design refinements.
Widgets in iOS 14 are a genuine hit, in large part because of the visual customization advantages they provide and the ability to be placed on the Home Screen. Back when they were first announced in June, however, there was concern about one way these new widgets would be a downgrade from their predecessors: widgets in iOS 13 and earlier could offer more interactivity, even to the point of acting as mini-apps.
Due to limitations imposed by Apple on iOS 14 widgets, I was afraid one of my most-used widgets would become far less useful. That widget is for Timery, the Toggl time tracking app. Timery’s iOS 13 widget enabled not only starting and stopping timers right from its widget, but you could also see a real-time view of your current running timer. With iOS 14’s widgets, I feared Timery wouldn’t be able to update its widget’s data often enough to provide a real-time timer view, and I wasn’t sure how convenient the widget would feel when starting a timer would require launching the full Timery app.
Today Timery’s iOS 14 update has arrived, and I’m thrilled to report that my concerns were entirely unfounded. Developer Joe Hribar has managed to work around Apple’s API limitations as well as could be hoped, and deliver new widgets that actually provide more functionality than before.
I first reviewed FoodNoms late last year when it launched and was impressed. The app is a privacy-focused food tracker to help you keep up with your nutritional goals. FoodNoms sets itself apart from its competitors by proving that logging and tracking can come in a user-focused, elegantly designed package. The result is an app that makes forming good eating habits a simpler, better experience than most food tracking apps I’ve tried.
In the months since its launch, FoodNoms has received a long list of useful updates. For instance, there are more ways to save and access the foods you track than ever. Items can be marked as favorites and saved along with other foods as reusable recipes or meals. Also, the app’s search functionality lets you search foods, meals, recipes, and favorites.
One of the shortcomings of FoodNoms that I pointed out in my initial review was that it only included short-term graphs, which made it hard to track trends. That’s been remedied with the inclusion of weekly and monthly charts. The database of foods has also been improved, and a community-driven food database was introduced to allow users to contribute foods. FoodNoms’ Shortcuts actions have been expanded, and alternative icons added too.
Most recently, FoodNoms added widget support, so users can get an overview of progress towards their goals throughout the day and quickly access the app’s functionality. FoodNoms includes four types of widgets: Goal, Goals Summary, Log Food, and Quick Actions.
The Goal widget, which comes in the small size only, is a simple widget that can track a single goal you’ve set for yourself. Perhaps my favorite option that it and the Goals Summary widget share is the ability to pick what happens when the widget is tapped. For the Goal widget, the options are opening the app, going to the Today view, searching, scanning bar codes and food labels, logging a drink, and viewing goal details. The Goals Summary widget includes the same options, with the exception of viewing goal details. Goals Summary also allows two separate nutrient goals to be tracked instead of just one.
Log Food, as you’d expect, lets you pick foods to log. The widget can be set up to offer smart suggestions based on recently-logged foods or show foods of your choice instead. The medium version can fit two foods, while the large version supports four. Tapping on one of the foods takes you directly to it in FoodNom’s database, where you can adjust amounts and other settings before logging it. Of course, if you want more food items on your Home Screen, you can use multiple instances of the Log Food widget and stack them.
The final widget is a medium-sized one that includes six Quick Actions that remind me a little of Anybuffer or Drafts’ quick action widgets. FoodNoms includes actions to start a search, view your library or favorites, access the app’s Quick Entry feature, scan a barcode or nutrition label, and log a drink. The widget is a great way to jump to exactly where you want within FoodNoms with minimal effort.
Between multiple options for tracking your goals and the thoughtful use of actions tied to widgets, FoodNoms offers users a ton of flexibility on their Home Screens. FoodNoms is also a fantastic example of a subscription model that supports ongoing development. The subscription allows developer Ryan Ashcraft to update and refine the app throughout the year with new functionality. In return, users get an excellent food tracker they’ll use multiple times every day that is ad-free and won’t sell their data, which is well worth the app’s $4.99/month or $29.99/year subscription.
GoodLinks has only been out since June, but it quickly became my go-to read it later app that I dip in and out of every day. That position has only been reinforced with its frequent updates in the months following release, including its most recent update which adds a new three-column iPad layout, widgets, and new keyboard shortcuts.
The new iPad sidebar design is particularly well-suited to GoodLinks. The first column, which can be hidden, allows users to navigate between Unread, Starred, Untagged, Read, and Tags. The Tags section is collapsible, which declutters the sidebar when you don’t need to view a specific tag.
The second column is the article list that displays the favicon for each post, its title, a short excerpt, image, site and author information, and associated tags. The top of the second column features a button to sort from oldest to newest and vice versa, and one to add new links.