App Development

Widgets in iOS 14: What it Means for Your App Development & Your Engineers

Image Source: Apple

With iOS 14, Apple is bringing the biggest change to the homescreen iOS users have ever seen. Widgets allow users to customize their home screen to display a small, glanceable representation of an app’s content (in a variety of sizes) in addition to the traditional app icon.

Widgets provide an opportunity for apps to bring their content front and center on a user’s device. While Today Extensions have been around for a bit, these were somewhat hidden in the Today view. Widgets expose a much more lightweight view of an app’s content in a prominent, customizable way.

So, what does this mean for your app?

Without a Widget, your app could get lost

In addition to Widgets, Apple also introduced the concept of the App Library. This means that rather than pages and pages of apps, the library would show smart categories of apps in a more organized fashion.

However, relegating apps to the App Library means that the user’s first page of apps and Widgets is more important than ever. Providing a Widget gives users a reason to keep your app front and center.

Your content should be lightweight and customizable

Apple has emphasized that Widgets should remain as minimal and lightweight as possible. These are not mini apps, but a rich glance into your app’s content. Widgets are not designed to be interactive, but instead deep link into your app when tapped.

Additionally, Apple only lets you update your Widget sparingly and does not intend them to refresh constantly. Widgets can update at scheduled points throughout the day, or as a result of an event like a push notification or when your app is launched. Widgets do not support features like animations or interactivity. This keeps the user’s home screen simple and responsive.

Users will expect Widgets to surface the information that is most relevant to them. Apple provides a mechanism to allow users to customize what they would like to see in their Widget. If possible, give users the option to customize what content they would like to see on the home screen.

What does this mean for your app developers?

SwiftUI is here to stay

To the surprise of many developers, Apple also announced that Widgets can only be built with SwiftUI. Released in 2019, SwiftUI offers developers an entirely new paradigm to build user interfaces for their apps. While this framework is still relatively new, Apple seems to be putting their engineering weight behind it and encouraging developers to use it.

Some engineers (including myself) have done little more than tinker with SwiftUI when it came out in 2019. Now is a great time to dive in and learn this new method of creating apps and Widgets as it likely won’t be going away any time soon.

Siri Intents power customizable Widgets

Widgets come in two flavors: static and configurable. Static Widgets display a piece of content chosen by the Widget, while configurable Widgets allow users to decide which content they would like to see.

Siri Intents power the customizable behavior. Developers can provide an intent definition that iOS will use to build configuration UI for your widget.

Adopting intents begs the question: Could you also add support for Siri into your app? Apple seems to be adding more and more ways to access your application’s functionality. Perhaps by building a Widget, Siri support could be added as well, further adding value for your users.

Deep linking is a must

Tapping a Widget opens a deep link to your app instead of providing standalone functionality. This means that a user expects to be taken to the associated piece of content within the app. If your app has not implemented deep links, doing so is a must if you want your users to take full advantage of Widgets.

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In iOS 14, adding a Widget can bring your app front and center on the user’s home screen. Apple is pushing their newer frameworks to facilitate this new feature, so now is a great time to dive in and start learning. If you would like some help designing Widgets, check out our complimentary blog post here.

Read a designer's perspective on creating useful iOS 14 Widgets.

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