The updates introduced with the launch of iOS 14 significantly affected widgets. Now they’re smarter, faster, more useful, and more accessible. This is mostly because iOS 14 allows iPhone and iPad users to add custom widgets to their Home Screens.
In this tutorial, we’ll explain how your iOS app can get the most out of these changes and what information your widgets should provide to users. Let’s begin with some fundamentals: to wit, what widgets are and why they’re important for your app.
Widgets in a nutshell
A widget is part of an app that displays select information on the Home Screen so the user doesn't need to open the associated app to find it. Widgets keep track of changes within an app, giving users access to the latest information. If users want details, the widget can transfer them right to the associated app.
Some widgets direct users to a specific place in an app. For example, Timery, a time tracking app, has three types of widgets. The first is Saved Timers that provide launchers for a user’s timers. The second is Current Time Entry, which shows a user’s timers and displays the current running timer. The third is Time Tracked, which displays the time a user has tracked on the current day or week.
There are also apps that offer several widget options based on what information a user prefers to see. For example, the Apple News widget allows a user either to see relevant daily news or stories about a topic of interest.
Why it’s high time to build a widget for your iOS app
Android users have been enjoying widgets for years. According to a 2019 NextPit poll, 65 percent of NextPit readers who are Android users use a variety of widgets beyond the manufacturer’s clock and weather widgets.
With the arrival of iOS 14, both Android and iOS users can put widgets from third-party apps on their home screens to stay up to date with relevant information. Now iOS widgets provide users with access to app content on the iOS Home Screen or in the macOS Notification Center.
Moreover, iOS 14 even outdid Android widgets thanks to design and functionality improvements:
- Unlike in Android, where each widget has a different style, iOS 14 provides a cohesive design for all widgets. This is because there’s a standard that each widget has to comply with to be approved.
- Apple’s Smart Stack widget aggregates several app widgets that a user can scroll through. Or iOS can decide which widget to show and when based on previous user behavior.
These improvements encourage people to use widgets and make iOS 14 an open field for app developers, who now know how to create widgets for iOS to stand out among competitors and retain users.
As well as pre-installed widgets like Weather, Stocks, Screen Time, and Reminders, there are popular third-party iOS widgets. They include widgets for investment, news, workout, time management, music player, and discount/deal apps. But users of any app providing urgent or real-time data are likely to benefit from a widget.
Why users need widgets
There are two main parties whom widgets might concern: app users and app developers. Therefore, we should look at widgets from two points of view, starting from the user’s. Otherwise, who are we building widgets for?
1. Quick glance with no need to open an app
Since mobile screens are getting bigger every year, Home Screens and app drawers are getting more cluttered with apps, the number of which is not expected to decline any time soon. A widget lets a user access app content in less than a second instead of spending time to find the app icon.
To view all available widgets on an iOS device, a user needs to swipe up to the far left Notification Center screen, scroll to the bottom, and click Edit.
iOS 14 has made available three sizes of widgets (small, medium, and large). Users can put widgets of any size in any place they fit on the Home Screen. Each widget size accommodates a different amount of information.
2. Useful and up-to-date information
Widgets not only allow quick access to an app; they’re especially useful for displaying important data. App widgets that display information are updated as often as a developer has set. If a widget is new and empty, it’s updated by the operating system. Otherwise, a widget is updated by the app associated with the widget after creating a widget extension in Xcode.
Apple provides developers with the WidgetKit framework and widget APIs, explained in Apple developer documentation, to build widgets for the Home Screen and keep them up to date based on app specifics.
To create SwiftUI widgets, you need to add a widget extension to your app. Then you need to configure the widget with a TimelineProvider that advises WidgetKit when to update the widget’s content, which you display using SwiftUI iOS app views.
Read also: Reactive Programming in Swift
Why app developers need widgets
Widgets may bring a couple of benefits to your mobile app.
1. Competitive advantage
Widgets aren’t the most important and most popular feature in an app. Some people like them; some don’t even know they exist. Some people are true widget fans, however, and even complain that developers don’t support or release as many widgets as they used to.
Therefore, if you think a widget isn’t suitable for your app, reconsider. Reflect on what valuable and timely information your app users might appreciate in a widget. Since the release of the iOS 14, the number of apps offering iOS 14 widgets has been constantly growing and currently includes restaurant reservation, reading, parcel delivery, and even scanner apps.
Read also: How to Develop an App Like OpenTable
2. User retention
A widget is an additional feature for your app and reminds users of your app’s existence. User retention is an important marketing KPI, and you have to do everything possible to make sure your users keep visiting your app on a regular basis. That’s why it’s essential to figure out what information your widget should display.
What data should your widget display?
A widget that fully reproduces an app (and, by extension, contains excessive information) will not benefit users. Overloading a small widget with too much information will make it confusing. On the other hand, a widget that doesn’t display data the user is looking for will also go unused.
For example, a weather app should display today’s temperature and an icon summarizing the forecast (like a bright sun, for example). It’s as simple as that.
Keep in mind that iOS widgets are static. This means that they can only display data and don’t allow users to interact with them. On Android, you can add buttons to a widget. But tapping on an iOS widget just opens the associated app.
What about data-rich apps?
First and foremost, you should identify which data is especially valuable for your users, as sometimes they might use your app in a way you don’t expect them to.
Take, for example, the LinkedIn widget. It displays who’s recently viewed a user’s profile. This might be helpful for active job hunters, but it’s questionable if it’s worthy information to put on a widget. Of course, it’s hard to meet the requirements of every single user. But you can try to get close by analyzing users’ interactions with your application.
Here are some nice examples of iOS widgets that please users.
Examples of useful iOS widgets
Since widgets for iPhone apps are a hot topic today, we decided to ask our teammates with iPhones about the widgets they use all the time. If you’d like to develop a widget for an iOS app, consider these insights from real users.
1. One of our QA specialists is an active user of everything with the word fitness in it. He uses the widget of a fitness app called Pedometer++. “It displays the number of steps I’ve taken today and the number of floors I’ve walked,” he says. “This way I can keep track of my daily step counts.” At the same time, the Pedometer++ widget doesn’t allow users to see stats. It pulls users to the app to get this information, thus improving retention metrics.
2. For one of our designers, mobile tools that help her do creative work are of primary importance. “I’ve put a Dropbox widget on my home screen to have quick access to my files,” she says. “I can simply go through all my designs and think of what still needs to be fixed or added without searching for the Dropbox app on my iPhone.”
Pedometer++ and Dropbox widgets aren’t overloaded, useless, or cut off from the apps they’re associated with.
3. One of our iOS developers says that he uses the Widgy app to build iOS widgets right on his iPhone. He likes Widgy for providing easily customizable widgets that display system data such as available storage space and RAM use. Widgy widgets can even display health data collected by his iWatch.
4. During our research, we also found that some of our teammates actively used the Robinhood investment app and say that its widget is convenient. The Robinhood widget shows data about a user’s portfolio and holdings at a glance.
Since the release of iOS 14, you’ve been able to create widgets of several sizes containing different contents to satisfy and retain users, as Apple has taken care of the technical implementation. Keep up with the latest developments and drop us a note if you want to develop a widget.