iOS 8 finally brings a feature that we had long been waiting for: Widgets. Widgets are a part of Apple’s larger emphasis on letting third-party developers extend certain parts of the system using Extensions, which we covered in detail last month.
Widgets are great because there are many types of information (weather, stocks, package deliveries etc.) that you’d rather have a glance at in a common location than opening an app every time. The Today tab in the Notification Center in iOS 8 will show you widgets from third-party apps along side Apple’s own Today summaries.
Apple introduced Notification Center widgets back in iOS 5, but didn’t open it up to third-party developers. The only widgets you could choose were Stocks and Weather. iOS 7 added a few more quick-access widgets like Calendar, Reminders, the Today and Tomorrow summary, and with iOS 8 the Today tab will become even more useful with the area accessible to third-party developers.
How widgets work
Widgets will be available in the Today tab in Notification Center as well as on the lock screen. You can access widgets from anywhere by simply pulling down Notification Center and switching to the Today tab. This means you have access to widgets from the home screen, as well as from apps. If your device is locked, you can simply wake it up and have a look at the widgets on the lock screen.
How to add widgets
Apps can bundle their own widgets, but they won’t be available right away in the Notification Center. You’ll have to manually add it by pulling the Notification Center, switching to the Today tab and tapping the “Edit” button at the bottom. There’s a label right below the button to let you know if there’s a new widget available since last time you checked.
When you tap the Edit button, you get a list of all available widgets, categorised in sections that are included, and those that aren’t. You can add, remove or reorder widgets from this list.
Of course, for users what matters is how useful these widgets are in their day-to-day usage of their iOS device, and if it helps them save time. These are the examples Apple showcased during the keynote:
eBay built a Notification Center widget to let users monitor their active bids, and even let them increase their bid if they’ve been outbid. You can also keep a tab on your Watch List, at the bottom of the widget. This is a perfect example of an interactive widget, where you can not only view information, but also take action on it.
Apple also gave a look at the SportsCenter widget that will let users get quick access to match scores of their favorite teams as well as relevant headlines.
Restrictions and Guidelines
- Apple recommends that developers build only simple functionality in their widgets, and discourages widgets for complex tasks like uploading or downloading content.
- Although widgets are interactive, Apple recommends that the interactive elements are kept to a minimum, so as to avoid complexity.
- Widgets can’t bring up the keyboard, and thus can’t support text entry.
- Another Apple guideline advises developers against adding scrollable content in their widget, as a scrolling widget within a scrollable Notification Center would end up confusing the user.
- Apple lets developers completely hide a widget from the Notification Center if there’s no new content to show.
- To make things efficient, Apple takes screenshots of the widgets occasionally, just like it does with apps. Since it takes some time to get the live version of a widget on screen, Apple uses the screenshot as a placeholder until the live version is ready. Developers can ensure that the screenshot is taken with the latest content.
- Widgets are a part of Apple’s Extensibility framework and are extremely secure by virtue of being sandboxed.
Widgets have been the top item on our wish list since years, and we’re extremely glad that iOS 8 finally supports widgets. We can’t wait to see how third-party developers use widgets to help their users save time, and increase their productivity. Let us know what widgets are you looking forward to when iOS 8 publicly releases.