Add widgets to your iPhone and iPad
A feature of Android loved by tinkerers, widgets - tiny glanceable apps usually offering time-sensitive information - had remained stubbornly absent from iOS. Apple changed course as of iOS 8, although widgets remain strictly confined to Notification Center’s Today view.
A widget is in fact an extension of an app, which might be a ‘shell’ with instructions or a more expansive product. Widgets are accessed and activated by tapping Edit in Today view.
Widgets also appear to be a headache for Apple, largely through developers stretching the notion of what the ‘Today’ view should be for. There have been arguments Apple encouraged innovation, even talking about Today view games at WWDC. Nonetheless, PCalc was told to remove its calculator widget, because “widgets on iOS [should not] perform any calculations”. Similarly, Drafts was told to delete its widget’s buttons because Today view is “for information presentation only”, which will come as news to countless devs creating widgets with buttons, including relative giant Evernote.
Apple later relented in both cases, but not all devs were so lucky: Launcher (an app/contacts launcher) was permanently removed, despite similar products remaining on sale. Here’s hoping Apple’s rules and reviews settle down soon.
Wdgts£free/£0.79 • iPad/iPhone
You get five widgets here, including a currency converter and a simple but handy calendar month view. Pay 79p and you unlock monitoring tools (network; battery; memory and disk), and can add up to five items to a time zone widget. Each widget is independent within the Today view sort order.
Vidgets£free/£2.29 • iPad/iPhone
Vidgets is a highly configurable set of icon-like widgets. Using the Vidgets app, you add and configure system monitors, barometer readouts, weather and sunrise/sunset indicators, and world clocks. You can reorder these and add separators, and the £2.29 ‘pro’ IAP enables you to remove headings to save space.
Apple’s Calendar widget displays the day’s schedule, but Fantastical goes further, adding a month view calendar. It’s fully browsable and shows coloured dots to represent calendar entries, thereby giving you an overview of the month’s tasks. (The Fantastical app also betters Apple’s Calendar. Buy it!)
Forecast+£0.79 • iPhone
Plenty of weather apps have a Today view widget, but Forecast+ is only available from within Notification Center. It provides a strong balance, in being fairly compact yet also showing plenty of information. You get current conditions, and can optionally show the forecast for the next five days.
PCalc£7.99 • iPad/iPhone
Bizarrely threatened with App Store expulsion while it was being featured as an example of a good widget, PCalc expanded what people thought the Today view could be for. In short: it’s a great readily available calculator. Skinflints will be delighted, too, since freebie PCalc Lite also includes the widget.
Sky Guide£1.99 • iPad/iPhone
The prettiest and most usable stargazing app now comes with a widget that displays at-a-glance rise and set times for the sun and moon, along with moon illumination details. Expand the widget and it adds rise/set information for planets and a graph detailing relative above-the-horizon altitudes.
NoteDash£free • iPhone
NoteDash is an absurdly simple widget that also happens to be very handy and flexible. Type a short message into its app and your words will then instantly appear in Notification Center. It’s great for reservation numbers, shopping lists, and anything else you need to remember when you’re out and about.
Dropbox£free • iPad/iPhone
Although Apple’s muscled in on Dropbox’s turf with iCloud Drive, Dropbox remains the go-to product for people doing work with their devices. The widget is simple but beneficial, listing recently added and edited documents. Tap one and it opens within the Dropbox app.
Hours£2.29 • iPhone
One of the very few time-trackers you’ll actually want to use, Hours provides idiot-proof multiple timers and a lovely bar-chart of the day’s productive output. In Today view, you get instant access to the same timers from anywhere, without having to launch the app.
Day One£3.99 • iPad/iPhone
There are quite a few apps that add photos to Today view, but most seem largely pointless. Day One, though, is an exception, in reminding you of journal entries from this point last year and two years ago. You also get a graph outlining entries per day for the past 50 days.
For people seriously into task management and GTD, OmniFocus has become extremely popular across OS X and iOS alike. The iOS apps are capable and feature-rich, but the widget is designed to inform and not distract; it merely shows today’s tasks so you can, well, Get Things Done.
XE Currency£free • iPad/iPhone
If your life revolves around how well Sterling’s doing against the Euro or Yen, XE Currency’s widget will be a boon. You get fast access to current exchange rates, and can quickly and easily switch between all the currencies you’ve listed in the app itself.