Apple was right, widgets just ain’t cool

By , Apr 6, 2013

Dashboard X 2.0 Screenshot

Without a doubt, one of the biggest differences between iOS and Android is its fundamental handling of information. Google decided to allow widgets onto a phone’s Home screen so that, theoretically, users would have the information they need right at their fingertips. Apple, on the other hand, has doggedly stuck to its guns over the years, with iOS remaining a collection of app icons rather than live widgets.

Over the years there have been plenty of arguments amongst those in the tech community as to which was the best way to go. Android users will repeatedly point to widgets as one of the main reasons they prefer their phones over the iPhone or even one of the Windows Phone handsets. Sitting halfway between iOS and Android, Windows Phone features live tiles that offer up information from the phone’s Home screen a la widgets, but that’s just not enough for some. It’s widgets or nothing, man, and that’s the way it is.

But iOS users can have their cake and eat it. They can have widgets on their home screens just like Android users, whilst still having that iPhone they so love. But the real question is: should they? Even if they should, I’d argue that fewer people actually would than we might think…

I am, of course, talking about jailbreaking. If you’re willing to hack your iOS device, then you’re able to install Dashboard X and in turn, install various widgets. Using this method, any Notification Center widget can be attached to the Home screen. It may not be exactly the same as Android, but it’s a start.

But here’s the rub: why would you bother?

HomeSpringPage Teaser

To answer that question, at least for me, we need to take a look at my recent smartphone past. Over the last twelve months I’ve owned five different high-end smartphones. There was the iPhone 4S, the HTC Note, the Samsung Galaxy Note followed by the Galaxy SIII and finally the iPhone 5 that I use today. That’s a lot of phones, and they’ve all been able to handle Home screen widgets of some description, especially those three Android phones. If you’re going to use widgets, the Note is arguably as good as it gets thanks to that tablet-like screen, in fact.

But I didn’t. Sure, you give them a try. Having easy access to Evernote sounds like an awesome idea, being able to create new notes from the home screen should be a real boon. But I found I never did.

Having your live Twitter feed should mean you don’t need to keep launching the Twitter app to keep up to speed with what’s going on, but it didn’t.

Facebook updates right on the Home screen? Yeah, that should have been cool. But it wasn’t. In fact, soon after each switch to a new phone, I found myself doing the same thing repeatedly; remove all the widgets and create a few folders for my most used apps. Other than that, I’d choose a nice wallpaper and that would be that. Eventually, I realized I was using a large iPhone, but without some of my favorite apps. Bummer.

So, I’m back on the iPhone and what do you know, it’s jailbroken. I’ve been trying out Dashboard X and once again I found myself expecting that having some of my widgets on the home screen would be a good idea. Having Wi-Fi/3G connection speeds and the amount of free storage on the Home screen looked awesome, and I felt like a proper geek. Then I realized I barely used the information and that it was getting through more battery power than I wanted, so it’s gone.

In fact, Dashboard X has gone, too. If I really need to see the info, I pull the LockInfo shade down. The same goes for if I need quick access to Twitter, Facebook or any of the other things I could use a widget for. The Home screen doesn’t have any fancy graphs on it though. Whether that’s a bad thing though, I’m just not sure.

What am I left with? That boring old collection of app icons that Android users like to deride so much and, you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you wish the iPhone had proper widgets, or do you use Dashboard X or something similar to get your widgety fix?

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  • Faisal Mahmood

    I’m using iWidgets and the Weather widget looks great on my iPhone and iPad infact iWidgets app is way better than DashboardX

  • http://twitter.com/monster_hazardo Roger Riekki

    I have an android and I find I don’t use the widgets on there, let alone my iDevices. I find them tacky and in the way.

  • Qiren_94

    I once had a Xperia S.
    And after a week since i use it, i removed all the widgets except the music player widget. Yeah, so to me widgets are just eye candy and pretty pointless, at least for me.

  • http://twitter.com/aomia syler

    I went and got a note 2 just to see what all the hype was about and found myself setting it up like my i5. The widget’s are a battery drainer and kinda pointless for me because I don’t need a clock widget on the main screen and I dont need the weather on there as I can just look outside to see what its like. The S pen is a big help for texting and email but other than that I prefer the ios platform I just wish it was on a bigger screen.

  • Diego Gastón Milano

    Widgets are not for me, nice article and totally agree with you. The less cluttered information I can have on my screen, the better. I go for minimalism, the rest of you can stick to whatever widgets you want. ;) Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    Apple can has 2 types of app icons the regular one and a larger one the size of 4 icons that can show app info like what is in nc now similar to live tiles … It would be cool and add usability and life the iOS s static feel

  • silentcon

    You can put more content in a 4.7 or 5″ android smartphone than a 4″ iphone. Because of the small screen, widgets look cramped.

  • http://twitter.com/sexyhamthing @sexyhamthing

    widgets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/salemilcev Aleksandar Kristijan Milchev

    No widgets what so ever!!! :) proud iOS user!

  • Jife66

    For me, widgets are ugly, never liked the way they made the screen look untidy, just didn’t feel right, even didn’t like them on jailbroken iOS devices either. I love the clean and ordered look of iOS which is partly why i wouldn’t use any other phone but i also think iOS is way overdue for an upgrade and with Sir Johnny at the helm, i’m looking forward see what he comes up with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/xvxfrozenxvx Marcio Atouguia

    I don’t want widgets but the drop down menu could have more options

  • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

    Summary: Because I don’t benefit from widgets, they SUCK..

    What an iTard blogger.

  • RyanFoley

    The big problem with jailbreak widgets is they never contain all the features you want, or they rely on a setting used for something else. And they NEVER integrate with the apps, unless maybe the preinstalled apps. The freaking noteme widget doesn’t even integrate with the notes app. If apple included it, App Store devs could integrate and design widgets with typical iPhone/Apple quality

  • http://www.facebook.com/levifeldman Levi Feldman

    htc note?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Conanap 門前金

    it would be awesome if it was at least an option; so sometimes the home screen looks more… different?

  • https://www.facebook.com/LP.lyrics.video Ghaith Al Hami

    i think it will be a new thing coming with iOS 7 like let say a live icons

  • s0me

    Cool story bro, its your own experience. I wish ios could allow you to put more widgets in NC and integrate apps with the os.

  • http://twitter.com/krille33 Kristoffer Hallgren

    I bought and downloaded Dashboard X when it first came out, it was cool back then to have some of the functionality which android users used as an argument against apple and its products. But I don’t find myself using it… Since I bought it I’ve been jailbroken a couple of times, and each time I’ve downloaded Dashboard X. But every time I do, I end up not using it or simply remove it from my device. So yes, Apple made the right decision to not include a ton of worthless functionality which hardly no one would use.

  • Vygoss

    I can not imagine their iPhone or iPad without NCSettings and SwipeSelection

  • Mustang5Oh

    I agree with you really. I used Android for over 2 years including most recently the Galaxy Nexus on 4.2.1 and the S3 on 4.1 and really only used a few select widgets. I used clock/weather and music. I at first used widgets cause I switched from an iPhone 4 and thought they were cool. Then I realized they just take up space and battery and I never used them. So then I reduced my use of basically all widgets except clock/weather and music. I could care less about having widgets at this point.

    HTC even stated after asking their users and probably other Android users that most people could careless and don’t change widgets up or add new ones really. Only the people who read sites like this care about little things like that. I know quite a few regular users with Android and they use 1 or 2 widgets IF that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/raaed.rizza.7 Raaed Rizza

    yeah, i hardly use any widgets on my homescreen, I use some in the NC but the main one which i use is the music widget which is already on iOS

  • Scott

    The main reason I jailbreak my iphone and ipad is for toggles. Wifi, Bluetooth, location services, auto-lock, flashlight, hotspot, LTE, airplane mode, and screen brightness are the ones I use primarily. I use NCSetting now instead of SBSettings and IntelliscreenX since the UI is very clean and minimal.

    Adblocker for mobile safari is great as well.

    That is really about it. I have a few others loaded on my iphone but they aren’t must haves for me. LLBPano, Hapticpro, Flashorama, Bolt, BgVideo, Front HDR, etc… I can all live without but the toggle options are a must have for me.

    I use IntelliscreenX mostly for quick reply to Messages since I already purchased it awhile back which is also a must have for me (the ability to quick reply back to a Message without having to leave the app that I am in or to respond back from the lockscreen).

    I know a lot of people use and like Twitter and Facebook (not me) but I hate how so much effort has gone into the iOS UI to bring these functions to iOS users but we still do not have the ability to use Toggle or quick reply to a Text/iMessage.

    With that said, I still like iOS and my Apple products and mostly how they integrate with the rest of my computer network setup devices at home. I have the following:
    Late 2012 Mac Mini i7 2.6GHz Quad Core, 16GB of RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive
    Three Apple TV3s in my house
    One iPad 2
    One iPad 3
    Two iPhone 5s
    One iPhone 3G (used mostly as a iPod for the car now).

    I love how with iTunes on my Mac, I can access all my video/music/pictures on my iPad, iPhone, and ATV3. I can control my ATV3s with my iPhone and & iPad. I can Airplay content from my Mac, iPhone, iPad to my ATV3s which works extremely well since 99% of the content I watch on my iPad and ATV3 is from my iTunes library on my Mac. I rarely actually watch cable.

    Please Apple, just give us Toggles. Let us decide if we want to turn them on or off.

  • Joonyaboy

    I tried the widgets and it got old. Too cluttered and I useful for me

  • Rick Parker

    This article should be called “Apple was right, widgets just ain’t cool, because I don’t use them”. Really insightful

  • jefflass

    There’s no such thing as a free widget … one pays by having to recharge much more often for active widgets. This is apparently fine for some people.

  • http://twitter.com/JimMooreATL Jim Moore

    Jeff, I read your article and thought… Uh oh… This is going to stir up a hornets nest. Then I started thinking about the widgets I use and how I use them. I have to say that I do like having a large clock interface with current weather on the home screen. I also like having a 30 day calendar on my spotlight page. But that’s it. I use intelliscreen x to show my twitter Facebook and RSS feeds and the one mailbox account I care about monitoring. I rarely go into the native social apps anymore because of this. Maybe it’s just the cool factor for me. I do think though that the fact that iOS has rejected widgets has done more to preserve its brand. If you get an iOS device, then you know (for the most part) that the out of the box configuration is going to be a rock steady platform. I think if apple allowed widgets it would have to be on their terms, not third party in order to preserve the integrity of the iOS experience. Does that mean that apple views its customers as lemmings without any ability to think or make choices on their own? In my opinion yes and no. iOS users cover the entire spectrum of age and technical level and the fact that my 75 year old father can use an iOS device out of the box without hours of training, as well as my 5 year old is remarkable. I think apple targets people across the spectrum and the more technically savvy of us get frustrated at times but we still appreciate a stable, easy to navigate OS. Could I live without widgets? Yes. I did for 5 years. The ones I have are cool, but if I didn’t have them available I know it wouldn’t push me to Android.

  • disqus_xIyJTXc9Dm

    Widgets are cool. Dashboard X widgets aren’t. Or at least all of the ones I have seen disappoint. The whole idea of plopping NC widgets onto the springboard is the problem. They don’t look like they belong there, and honestly, I don’t want my NC copied onto my homescreen too. It’s already in one place.

    As a picky graphic designer, I jailbreak my phone for a few tweaks, but mostly for more aesthetic control. I currently use one modified weather iWidget and a custom homescreen html page that shows the date and time. It’s not a huge amount of information getting in the way, just a small amount saving me a few seconds. Copies of NC widgets won’t give me that.

    For the record, I have an iPhone 4 running iOS 6, and I haven’t noticed a drop in performance. My battery life is still one or two days (depending on use) as it was for the year and a half I had it before jailbreaking. The widgets I do have aren’t updating like crazy and running my phone down, so I don’t have an issue. I would never accept a significant drop in performance and power for a custom design, but luckily I haven’t had to.

    I don’t see Apple adding widget in the near future, if ever, but that’s ok; I’ll make my own.

    tl;dr – Dashboard x is UGLY. I have custom widgets and I love them. My phone isn’t slow. Apple can do what they want, and so will I.

  • http://twitter.com/Gehim Rehan Ahmed

    You have made the post look like its a fact, but you’d consider that it is your personal opinion and not everybody feels that way-including me.
    I have an Android and love the widgets and the time they save me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zeljko-Nikolic/1646404156 Zeljko Nikolic

    I likel widgets and i bought dashboard x but the main reason i dont want them is that i have to pay for them.i thought iwhen i buy dashboard x then i will get some free stuff but i didnt.All the good widgets cost.its like in app purchases but its even worse.most of the apps witj in app purchases are free and dashboard wasnt.i am very disappointed.

  • Raymond Spruance Lee

    I agree with it!

  • Emmett B. Clark

    I thought maybe I was losing my geek squad card when I tried and then stopped using all the different widget tweaks and feeds of constant information. I use to try every tweak that I could get my hands on and found that all I was really doing was wasting time. Minus a few tweaks that are an upgrade over the basic iOS I have scaled by iPhone back to nearly stock. I took a week to monitor what I use my phone for most and in the end it was texting and voice calls in that order. I actually spent time utilizing all the fancy tweaks less than 5% time that week. If it works for you go for it, but I have become a minimalist when it comes to my iPhone these days.

  • maurid

    How about you change that title, huh? Widgets (on the iPhone) just ain’t cool.

  • Andrew

    I like dashboard x. But only for nice clock widgets and music controls. Other than that I use intelliscreen for everything else. But I think the biggest reasoning for using widgets is because its something u don’t normally see on iPhones, thus making the design of your iPhone unique. Dashboard x is just another way of making my phone different. So if u like having a different look then try it out. Isn’t that why most people jailbreak anyway, the ability to theme and customize the iPhone. Just my personal outlook.

  • Dylfo

    I’ve done the same thing and I can’t decide if I like the widgets or not either. I like the look of them on the spring board but I feel that’s they make page scrolling less fluid. If widgets are released in ios7 I’m sure that this type of problem would be nonexistent. If they are implemented Into ios I will definitely use them

  • http://www.facebook.com/daramsey David Ramsey

    It depends on what you need your widgets for. I personally don’t use Facebook or Twitter widgets at all. I have a full screen calendar widget smack dab on my main homescreen, as well as a full calculator widget and Google Keep widget that I use for any notes and to plan out my daily tasks(much better than Evernote if you’re just using it for text notes). There is no way that I would be as organized as I am if i didn’t have all of this info in my face with the widgets. Iphone simply wouldn’t let me do this.

  • Juniorr Dean

    Jailbroken iPhone widgets just aren’t great. All I wanted was a good weather/clock which was prettier then the one in nc but they all copied android ones, finally I made my own clock/weather widget out of a htc one for perpage, didn’t look like a android bootleg but even with a pretty widget it wasn’t the same, not clickable, it didn’t open up a weather app, you couldn’t click a refresh button so you just had to wait for whatever preset time to change was, you couldn’t click on the clock part to open

  • Juniorr Dean

    The only good widgets I ever found were jukebox & ncsettings but I left ncsettings in nc.

  • Chris Walter

    Using examples like Facebook and Twitter are great if your making a biased point. I would love to go back to an iPhone but until Apple gets a bigger screen like the S3 or S4, and they allow widgets that I personally find very useful (such as Notes, Calendar and Email), I’m afraid ill be sticking with my S3.

    And just for the record, a notepad with a To Do list on my home screen would make me switch to Android from Apple all on its own. Throw in the possibility of a full screen calendar where i can keep track of everything i need (especially when I forget), and a full screen email app (I’ve never used the email icon in the time I have owned the S3), then for me there is no comparison.

    The new iOS 7 looks amazing, and yes simplicity is great, but until Apple starts giving me more options for what i want in a phone, and not what THEY think is best for me and forcing me to conform to their ideology, I think I’ll be sticking with Android.

  • NorthernPaladin

    I don’t think you can appreciate proper widgets unless you’ve used an Android for at least 6 months. There’s a pretty big list of things I can see and do on my Galaxy S4 without opening any apps. Probably the most useful is that I can manipulate things like Pandora and my Amazon MP3 player without opening an app. I can also see upcoming birthdays and weather reports again without opening an app. I have a “notes” widget that I can type stuff into and see on my desktop rather than having to use an app that I will surely forget to open and check. I can’t imagine going to a phone that doesn’t let me do all these things from the desktop.

    Maybe Apple had a good reason back in the iPhone 3 days when power was limited and running widgets probably was a concern with CPU performance but these days they brag about having the most powerful phone with the best frames-per-second but you aren’t using any of that power while looking at a screen full of useless icons.

  • Adam Charles Cook

    I undertake where you’re coming from with your personal habbit of accessing apps directly rather than using widgets, I often find myself not using as many widgets as I put out.

    But apps such as ICE Emergency Contact are not reaching their full potential / functionality as they are on Android because of this no widget business with iOS. Some apps are incredibly handy and are actually based on use-by-widgets. So I think Apple should at least give the devs the opportunity with this!

  • Jeffrey Heesch

    “I don’t use widgets, therefore, widgets are useless” is what I got from this article. The fact is that there are a ton of users who find them incredibly helpful through every day. And those who don’t? They don’t have to use them. Even if I didn’t use widgets on a daily basis, I’d still rather have the option than not just in case I decided one day to try them out and found that they have a lot of merit as productive tools after all.

  • MikeC

    Personally, I think widgets are just another nice addition that Android users have the option to use. That’s the fundamental difference between iOS and Android.

    Take a media widget (general music app), you can pause and skip tracks without having to open the app. I love that. I love using android pro widgets, and seeing twitter updates from people at a glance without having to open up the app.

    Oh, and no, I don’t normally open the app with that widget. It’s so convenient!

    I think what makes widgets good is dependent upon what type of widgets you use.

    You have to jail break and iPhone to get the features Android users get, without even rooting. And, the features you end up getting with your jail broken iPhone still pale in comparison. Yeah, I’ve been there, done that. (iPhone user at one time)

    Take Dashboard X, a buggy comparison to what Android users get. Using it as a comparison is kind of, well, dumb.

    But, as far as what’s cool, that’s subjective to opinion. I really don’t think widgets are cool, or not cool. There’s just another option we Android users have to use.

    Like using another launcher. Or changing our icons/theme. And, if we root, well, that opens an entire arena of options.

  • gotham77

    iOS only offers icons. Android users can have icons only if they prefer that, or they can enjoy widgets if they want to. It’s preposterous to suggest the former is better than the latter.

    I prefer the user interface of an Android phone over iPhone. The iPhone provides me with such superior battery life that I feel it’s worth getting the iPhone anyway. But I can honestly say that’s the only thing that puts iPhone over the top. One thing that’s never changed about Apple over the years is that it forces users to adopt the limited preferences of its engineers. That’s great if your preferences are the same, but it’s why Apple devices will always be limited to a niche market.

  • Duhh

    So many fanboys lol

  • Anonomous.TECH.man

    We’ll those are some ugly frekin widgets

  • oplix

    Widgets are nothing more than memory hogging overlays which only eliminate 1-2 clicks for the end user to get the same information. It’s an illusion that sets to fool the user into thinking information is made more convenient when in reality that is not the case.

  • Jueceman

    Like with anything, it depends on the person and what they use their phone for. The point is having the “option” to do it. If apple decides to limit my options with any aspect, which includes expanded memory and battery removal, then they don’t get my attention at all. I like Android because If I want to work exactly like IOS and make my phone super dumb and use only cloud storage, I can…… If I want it to be super complicated, expand the memory, and get a bigger battery, I can do that too, and everything in between. Its all about options, and Android has the most. I don’t even date women with Iphones, they’re usually very basic and shallow.

  • serialluncher

    Widgets are excellent – especially if you use Zooper Pro (where you can overlap widgets). I have a view of everything vital going on in my business at a glance on my main home screen. Going into each app individually to retrieve same info does not compare. As phones get more powerful widgets are going to increasingly be the way forward. Google should develop their functionality and flexibility. Apple are way behind on this curve.