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Posts tagged with "widgets"

Widgetsmith Pushes the Boundaries of Widget Interactivity

It’s clear from David Smith’s iOS 17 update to Widgetsmith that he intends for the app to hold its position among the most customizable widget creation tools available. That’s exactly what he’s done with a long list of new widgets, customization options, and features that push interactivity to the limit of the technologies Apple provides.

The new widgets focus on weather, calendar events, photos, and a game. The number of permutations available is vast because there’s so much to customize. The image at the beginning of this story is just a small sample of what is possible, but with adjustable colors, fonts, and other elements, the combinations that can be created are nearly endless. So, let’s dig into the highlights.

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iOS and iPadOS 17 After One Month: It’s All About Widgets, Apps, and Stage Manager

iOS and iPadOS 17.

iOS and iPadOS 17.

Apple is releasing the first public betas of iOS and iPadOS 17 today, and I’ll cut right to the chase: I’ve been using both of them on my primary devices since WWDC, and I’m very satisfied with the new features and improvements I’ve seen to date – especially on iPadOS. More importantly, both OSes are bringing back the same sense of fun and experimentation I felt three years ago with iOS 14.

I’ve already written about the improvements to Stage Manager on the iPad ahead of the public beta of iPadOS 17. Without repeating myself, I’m still surprised by the fact that Apple addressed my core complaints about Stage Manager a mere year after iPadOS 16. To describe my past year in iPad land as “turbulent” would be a euphemism; and yet, iPadOS 17’s improved Stage Manager not only fixes the essence of what was broken last year, but even eclipses, in my opinion, the Mac version of Stage Manager at this point.

I love using Stage Manager on my iPad now. There are still features missing from iPadOS 17 that won’t allow me to stop using my MacBook Air but, by and large, the enhancements in iPadOS 17 have allowed me to be an iPad-first user again. It feels good to write that. Plus, there are some surprises in iPadOS 17 that I wasn’t expecting that I’ll cover below.

iOS 17 is not a huge software update: there are dozens of quality-of-life features that I like and – best of all – terrific updates on the widget front. A good way to sum up Apple’s software strategy this year is the following: widgets are everywhere now (including the Watch), they’re interactive (finally), and they’re likely pointing at new hardware on the horizon (you know). As someone who’s been wishing for widget interactivity since the days of iOS 14, I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it’s been to see third-party developers come up with wild ideas for what effectively feel like mini-apps on the Home Screen.

I’m equally impressed by the work Apple has put into some of its built-in apps this year with features that I’ve always wanted and never thought the company would build. You can create internal links to other notes in the Notes app. Reminders has a column view. Podcasts has a proper queue. Even Reading List – of all features – has been updated this year. In using iOS 17, I sometimes get the sense that Apple went through popular wish lists from the community and decided to add all the top requests in a single release.

To quote my friend Stephen Hackett: the vibe is good this year, and it applies to software as well. Let me tell you about some of my favorite aspects of iOS and iPadOS 17 from the past month.

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David Smith’s Widgetsmith reaches 100 Million App Store Downloads

100 million of anything is a lot, and 100 million downloads on the App Store are rare. Rarer still, and perhaps unprecedented, is 100 million downloads of an app made by one person.

When it comes to apps, I can’t think of a single app made by an indie developer that has reached the milestone that David Smith did today with Widgetsmith. The app, which was released in September 2020 alongside iOS 13, lets users create personalized Home Screen widgets using photos, text, weather data, and more. Since its release, the array of customization options has continued to expand, and last fall, Lock Screen widgets were added to the mix. Most recently, Widgetsmith was updated with gradient backgrounds.

The latest update of Widgetsmith adds gradient backgrounds.

The latest update of Widgetsmith adds gradient backgrounds.

It’s been remarkable to watch Widgetsmith take the app world by storm. Thinking back to the summer of 2020 when Federico and I were testing Widgetsmith, I remember liking it, but I know neither of us had the slightest inkling that it would go viral the way it did not long after its release. Congratulations, Dave. Widgetsmith’s success is well-deserved.

Don’t miss Dave’s post on his website about Widgetsmith’s milestone. Also, the latest gradient background update to the app is available now as a free update on the App Store.

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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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