For years, rumors have persisted that Apple will add widgets to iOS. What are widgets, exactly? They’re mini-apps, providing at-a-glance information. Many smartphone operating systems include them, but not Apple’s, so far. There has been much discussion over the manner in which the feature should be implemented. Here is my suggestion.
Some have speculated that widgets would be available in the lock screen. This, however, would mean that no apps could be launched from the widgets screen, without having to unlock the phone first. The only logical other place would be to the left of the home screen (they could also reside in their own app, but that seems inelegant). Spotlight currently occupies that position, but it could be easily integrated into the widgets system: a search bar at the top of the widgets screen (similar to those of Mail, Notes, and so on, but always visible) launches a Spotlight search.
The widgets screen may be centered around app icons. Included could be the Calendar icon (which auto-updates with the current day of the week and month), and similarly auto-updating Clock and Weather icons. A tap on any of these would launch the respective app. The four-app Dock remains visible on the bottom of the screen. The widgets area (in between the Dock and Spotlight bar) could be scrollable, or there could be multiple screens, to allow for more widgets.
Instead of the Clock icon, it could have a time bar á la the lock screen, and apps such as Weather or Stocks could be similar bars providing full information (alternatively, these bars could appear when an icon is tapped, rather than the app opening). Playback controls, too, could look as they do currently in the lock screen with a home-button double-tap, but remain constantly visible.
Settings panes might also be integrated (perhaps in their own widgets screen, if it’s swipe-able). Panes such as Sounds, Brightness, and Wallpaper could retain their icons (though increased to app size), and when tapped, show sliders in the case of Sounds and Brightness, and an image-choosing button for Wallpaper, in a popover. Tapping a small button above this would expand the popup, giving more settings (such as individual On/Off switches in Sounds). The other panes, such as General, Music, and Video would need new icons (perhaps monochrome) to distinguish them from their respective apps, and when tapped, could launch a full-screen copy of the Settings pane.
The widgets screen should be entirely customizable, at least for some users; this might be an option in Settings. Perhaps a tap-and-hold, as on app home screens, would enter editing mode, or otherwise, a Widgets pane would appear in Settings. Normals apps could be added to the widgets screen for quick access. Developers should also be able to add their own widgets (though likely only when tied to apps). This would give endless possibilities to power-users, while remaining simple enough for normal people.
On the iPad, widgets would behave similarly, but the huge screen size would make the possibilities nearly endless. Dozens of mini-widgets or several intricate ones could be displayed without any need to swipe or scroll. Developers would have far more freedom to create all kinds of useful widgets.
As Apple is bringing its iOS innovations “back to the Mac,” might this include widgets? Well, the Mac already has widgets in the form of Dashboard. This system, however, has many flaws, and the company could use its experience with iOS widgets, if it does launch them, to rethink Dashboard entirely. It’s possible they might even make it into Lion, due out for release in summer 2011, since the preview of iOS 5 will likely launch earlier.