One of the most highly anticipated jailbreak tweaks to surface in some time has been released on Cydia. I’m, of course, referring to ProWidgets—a brand new jailbreak tweak that we previewed extensively last week. To celebrate its release, we’re bringing you our hands-on review.
ProWidgets is a release that we discussed in-depth on today’s episode of Let’s Talk Jailbreak as well. Be sure to have a listen to hear Sebastien, Cody’s, and I talk about the pluses and minuses of the tweak.
Without further ado, step inside to read our take on the final version of ProWidgets. We’ll show you what makes the tweak so compelling, and why the future is even more exciting.
If you ask me, the most exiting thing about ProWidgets is the insane amount of polish placed on its design. Even more impressive is the fact that developer Alan Yip handled both the design and coding for ProWidgets. Not only does the tweak feature a crazy amount of polish from a development standpoint, but its visual appeal matches, or even exceeds, the amount of polish placed on the developmental process.
Only Ryan Petrich rivals Alan Yip in this area. It’s a one-man effort that’s seriously impressive and shouldn’t be understated. Even Cody and Sebastien, who weren’t overly convinced of the tweak’s usefulness during our Let’s Talk Jailbreak conversation, couldn’t knock the design. They stated that this is how Apple would have done it if it were to implement something like ProWidgets.
ProWidgets’ welcome screen
When you first install ProWidgets, you’ll immediately notice the attention to detail placed on the design. From the outset, you’re greeted with a hyper-polished welcome menu explaining the benefits of the tweak and how to use certain features. The welcome message is far beyond anything we’ve seen from the jailbreak community, and I don’t think it’s hyperbole when I state that it rivals something Apple would have designed.
The ‘W’ word
The word “widget” comes bundled with so many unfortunate preconceived ideas and notions. I almost wish that Alan would have chosen to give this release a more creative name. It’s an apt name, but it lacks the creativity and comes with stigmas that plague the release before one even lays hands on it.
Listen to us talk about ProWidgets on Let’s Talk Jailbreak
During my conversation with Sebastien on Let’s Talk Jailbreak, he stated that he cringed a bit when he saw that the name of the tweak included the word. Historically speaking, widgets have never been a big part of iOS, and even from a jailbreak perspective, they’ve always been a little janky and gimmicky feeling.
ProWidgets is beneficial to the user, because it allows you to access widgets for the alarm clock, browser, calendar, dictionary, mail, messages, notes, reminders, and timer from anywhere within iOS. Think of these as quick ways to access and interact with information on your iOS device without totally interrupting your current task.
For example, say I wanted to quickly compose a note while I look up movie showtimes via Safari. In the past, I’d have to exit the Safari app, open Notes, compose a new note, exit Notes, and reopen Safari. That’s a lot of steps. With ProWidgets I can quickly compose a new note while Safari is still open, and reference Safari as I compose my note.
A great example of how useful ProWidgets can be
Widgets can be quickly minimized and multiple widgets can be opened at the same time. While composing my note about movie showtimes, I could quickly invoke a messages widget to confirm a movie date with a friend later on in the day. I could then, in theory, invoke the alarm widget to remind myself about the movie.
One of the coolest features about ProWidgets is that you can quickly access each widget using a variety of invocation methods. You can use Activator gestures, Control Center shortcuts, Lock screen shortcuts, Notification Center shortcuts, Today View shortcuts inside of Notification Center, and tiny little corner shortcuts near the bottom of Notification Center. In other words, there are lots of ways to invoke widgets, and they’re all easily accessible from virtually anywhere.
Since most of the people that will read this review aren’t developers, it’s hard to express how awesome the extensibility features of ProWidgets really are. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where ProWidgets has the potential to really shine.
Imagine an iTunes Radio widget, or a Spotify widget that allows you to quickly view a now playing song, search for new music, or browse playlists. Imagine a Tweetbot widget that lets you send new tweets from Tweetbot from anywhere. Picture, for a moment, being able to perform 1Password searches and queries from anywhere using a 1Password widget.
If you’re a developer, then visit ProWidgets.net for more details on how to develop widgets for ProWidgets. You can also visit the official ProWidgets subreddit.
The ProWidgets preferences
The Widgets section lists all of the widgets that you have installed on your device. The tweak comes bundled with the following stock widgets from the outset:
- Alarm – Toggle and add alarms
- Browser – Open web links in app conveniently
- Calendar – View and create events
- Dictionary – Look up the definition of a word
- Mail – Quick compose an email
- Messages – Quick compose a message
- Notes – Manage and create notes
- Reminders – Manage and add reminders
- Timer – Quick start or pause a timer
Each of the stock widgets, outside of the mail and messages widget, features additional settings that can be configure by tapping on the section. The additional settings change depending on the nature of the widget. Some widgets, like notes, contain a single section for selecting the default interface upon invocation. Other widgets, like browser, contain in-depth settings that further integrate the widget into your workflow.
The widget preferences
At the bottom of the section, you’ll find a link for installing a widget via URL. While there are no 3rd-party items available at the time of this writing, Alan did send me a test widget to install, and the process was fully automated.
While there is an edit button featured in the upper right-hand corner of the page for removing items, only 3rd-party widgets are eligible to take advantage of this. Stock widgets are permanent and thus can’t be removed.
There are four stock themes included out of the box, and they are as follows:
- Blur – Default theme for ProWidgets
- Dark Blur – Dark version of the default theme
- Plain – Plain black and white theme
- Plain Blur – Default theme without tint color
These are just the stock themes, more themes can be installed later
Each theme can be dynamically changed on the fly with no respring needed. You can also, just like you can do with widgets, install 3rd-party themes directly via URL. Like the widgets, only 3rd-party themes can be removed, as the four stock themes are permanent fixtures.
Default theme vs Dark Blur theme
There are six ways to active the widgets found within ProWidgets, and they are as follows:
- Activator – Assign listeners to present widget
- Control Center – Present widgets from Control Center
- Lock Screen – Present widget from Lock screen
- Notification Center – Present widgets from Notification Center
- Notification Center Corners – Configure two shortcut buttons in Notification Center corners
- Today View – Create new event from Today View
The various activation methods contained within ProWidgets preferences
The most obvious way to invoke widgets is by using Activator gestures. Once you install ProWidgets, you can venture into the Activator settings to find actions for all of the installed ProWidgets. You can then assign a gesture to invoke any of the widgets configured within ProWidgets. For example, I use a double-tap of the status bar to invoke the notes widget, or a triple press of the Home button to bring up the alarm widget.
But Activator is only one of several ways to display a widget. You can also do so directly from Control Center, courtesy of CCLoader. Beneath the activator methods in ProWidgets’ settings, you’ll find a list of all of the widgets currently installed.
You can rearrange the order of these widgets to affect their place within Control Center or Notification Center. You can also outright hide a widget by moving it from the visible widgets section to the hidden widgets section.
A shortcut to your widget of choice appears in the bottom left-hand corner of the Lock screen for quick access. You can assign any of the available widgets to the Lock screen by means of the Lock screen section under activation methods. The glyph icon present on the Lock screen will change depending on the widget selected.
As if the other methods of widget invocation weren’t enough, you can access widgets from a variety of different areas of Notification Center. The main Notification Center setting allows you to use a Control Center-esque group of QuickLaunch shortcuts for your widgets. These shortcuts need to be first enabled in the Notification Center settings.
Like the Control Center widgets mentioned above, the order of the widgets displayed in Notification Center are configurable using the visible widgets section under the tweak’s activation methods panel.
Notification Center Corners
Each corner of Notification Center can be configured to contain a widget shortcut. You also have the option of removing the shortcut from either side by selecting none on the section’s menu.
The last widget activation method is for the Today View, which also happens to appear in the Notification Center. The Today View shortcut allows you to invoke the new event widget to create a new event directly from the Today View. The event widget is the only widget that can be configure from the Today View.
The last section to be featured in ProWidgets’ preferences is the configuration section. This section is geared towards altering the way that the widgets in ProWidgets look and behave.
The general portion of the configuration section contains two options, and they are as follows:
- Lock Action – alters what happens to widgets when locking your device
- Minimization View Size – alters the size of minimized widgets.
When locking your device, you can choose to force all widgets to minimize, or you can instead choose to dismiss all widgets entirely.
Minimization View Size
Minimizing a widget isn’t anything like minimizing a running app on a desktop computer. Instead, minimizing a widget makes it smaller, non-interactive, but still visible. You can alter the size of minimized widgets by selecting from one of the options appearing in the minimization view size. The sizes available are small, normal, big, and large. The small view is much less than 25% of the size of the large view, making its contents almost indiscernible to the eye. The downside of the large view is that it takes up significantly more real estate when compared to its smaller counterparts.
The effect portion of the configuration section contains three toggles, and they are as follows:
- Parallax Effect – Widgets behave like app icons behave on the Home screen
- Disable Blur Effect – Disable the blur background effect behind widgets
- Better Blur Quality – Increase the quality of the blur effect mentioned above
The last relevant option from a user standpoint, is the preferred source option when creating calendars with the Event widget. You can change the source of your calendars between any of the available calendar resources established on your device—i.e. iCloud or Local.
For starters, let me just say that using ProWidgets is an extremely simple affair. It’s very straightforward, especially when you configure the Activator gestures, or decide to use the Control Center toggles. Invoking a widget is as simple as it gets, and manipulating the widget to make it do what you want it to do is even simpler.
I like to ability to access the notes and alarm clock widgets from anywhere on my device, even while I’m using another app. I also like the ability to be able to minimize multiple widgets on screen at once while I’m using apps.
This is a powerful framework that opens up a huge door of opportunity for the jailbreak community. This is a tweak that resides firmly in the upper echelon of jailbreak releases, and is easily in the top 10 jailbreak tweaks of all time conversation. If developers get on board and we see other widgets for things like Spotify, Rdio, and other popular iOS applications, then its value will be even greater.
Sadly, there are no 3rd-party widgets to speak of yet, and if I had to guess, this will probably prove to be the tweak’s weak spot. If Alan Yip’s hard work and efforts to build an API, a website, great documentation, and a super-easy way to get new widgets into ProWidgets isn’t enough to convince developers to hop on board, then nothing will. Ultimately, I feel that the lack of extra widgets will be the only real knock against this tweak.
ProWidgets is a wonderful example of an idea that’s been perfectly executed. It’s got the great design, the ease of use, and the extensibility. But its real-world value might be up for debate by critics. For example, Siri can easily handle most of the tasks that ProWidgets allows you to execute out of the box. I can send new messages and mail with Siri, get definitions from Siri, set alarms with Siri, do reminders, timers, the whole kit and caboodle. So why do I need a widget to do these things?
Of course, there are other things that Siri cannot do that could be accomplished with 3rd-party widgets. With that in mind, it’ll ultimately be the add-on widgets that will ultimately shape the longstanding legacy of ProWidgets. If enough developers get on board, if enough widgets are created to do things that we could never do before, then ProWidgets could be a major force in the community.
All things considered, I wholeheartedly recommend ProWidgets. It’s without a doubt one of the most impressive projects put together by a single person that I’ve seen when it comes to jailbreak releases. ProWidgets is available right now for $2.99 on Cydia’s BigBoss repo. Happy downloading, and be sure to share your thoughts and opinions about the release down in the comments section.