Widgets on iPhone OS 4.0
If you look over the suite of apps that Apple decided to port to iPad, you’ll notice that none of the utility apps exist.
The purpose of a utility app is identical to a widget: provide the user with at-a-glance information that they don’t need to interact with heavily. Apple’s explanation:
Utility applications are visually attractive, but in a way that enhances the information they display without overshadowing it. People use utility applications to check the status of something or to look something up, so they want to be able to spot the information they’re interested in quickly and easily. To facilitate this, a utility application’s user interface is uncluttered and provides simple, often standard, views and controls.
So why aren’t Apple’s utility apps in the iPad?
Because they wouldn’t fit the screen well.
Can you imagine a full-screen Weather app (in it’s current incarnation) running on the iPad? Or a full-screen clock or calculator? Weird, right? Of course, Apple wouldn’t do that. They would have to improve on those apps to make them do more to better take advantage of the large screen. But doing so would actually stray from the purpose of these utility apps by adding complexity where simplicity is desired. In short, most utility apps don’t have any need to be any larger than they are on the iPhone.
I think there are two arguments that can be made as to why some version of these apps weren’t included.
- Apple has considered the app store to be “good enough” for alternatives to these apps, and is fine with dismissing the concept of utility applications and replacing them with more complex versions suited for the larger screen.
- Apple has something else up it’s sleeve for dealing with these types of applications on iPad, but it isn’t ready to show us yet.
I think that the second is far more plausible.
On the Mac, Apple actually develops a number of applications that fit the exact same goal as utility apps. Dashboard widgets. They don’t fit the application paradigm as well, they are just simple views that you can call up on demand. They appear all at once so that you can see everything you need at a glance. If you relate this to a physical desk, widgets are things you keep on or around your desk, while applications are things you keep in your desk. Calendars and clocks go on the wall, reference books and files go inside.
There’s another reason I believe that widgets are coming: the iPad’s home screen and lock screen:
Is it just me, or does it look like something is missing here? It appears Apple has copied the iPhone home screen, added spacing, and called it done. This is very suspicious. The moment I watched Steve Jobs skip right past it during the keynote, I conjectured that Apple has done it better, they have just kept it hidden in their tightly guarded sleeve. Apple has spent a tremendous amount of time polishing their apps to fit the new screen well, and not one of them is a simple scaled up version of their iPhone counterparts.
What if iPhone OS 4.0 is nearly done, and brings a new look to the home screen, complete with widgets and perhaps notifications? Apple wants to hold off on this announcement for now, considering the iPad won’t be available until March or April. It also times better with the release of the next version of the iPhone, which will certainly take on a number of the features it’s big brother.
It is possible that Apple could use actual dashboard widgets, modified for the iPhone. Developing a dashboard widget is much easier than developing an app, and they could take less device resources that way, which means greater battery life.
It’s also possible that a widget on the iPhone is a standard Objective-C app that runs all the time, but one that has a single view displayed constantly. I would imagine that these would be separate binaries from normal apps, and therefore would take less resources than a whole app would normally take. It wouldn’t even surprise me if widgets were Apple’s answer to the multitasking problem, but I’ll speak more on that later.
However they decide to implement it, widgets will speed up the use of the device by providing a summary of information that is important to you, every time you fire up you iPhone or iPad. And I think we will see them sooner rather than later.