Updated June 6th, 2021.
iOS 14 introduced a great new feature called Widgets on the Home Screen. Widgets existed in iOS 12 and 13 but they only appeared in a special, non-Home Screen page (to the left of the first Home Screen), which wasn’t nearly as handy. Widgets on the Home screen provide information at a glance, saving you taps, trouble, and time. Wake up your iPhone and the info’s right there.
For example, here’s my iPhone XS, with my new iOS 14 Widget Home Screen:
Now, without tapping anything, I can see:
- My next appointment (actually my current appointment) is “Blog and course work”
- The time is 8:14 in Los Angeles, nice and big
- My iPhone is charged 100%
- I’ve taken 23 steps today
- It’s 60 degrees and foggy in Santa Monica
(The purple “Appointment Alert” is a Shortcut— something I built to automate making consulting appointments. I should write an article about Shortcuts.)
Widgets come in small, medium, and large sizes (I’ve used small here) and they take up space that would otherwise display multiple app icons. Thus, you see fewer “things” on your Home Screen(s) but you see more information.
I think it’s a good trade.
Widgets used to be available only on the page to the left of the first Home screen. That is, if you swiped left to right enough times, you’d eventually see a page of Widgets. They are still there, but it’s much handier to have some Widgets showing right when you wake up the iPhone. In iOS 14 you can add Widgets to any Home screen and have a mix of Widgets and app icons on the same page. Here’s an example.
So let’s make a Widget. But before we do, note that even the smallest Widget will displace some apps. If you’ve very carefully crafted the perfect Home screen, make your first Widget on a Home screen you don’t care too much about. If you like the Widget a lot you can then drag it over to the first Home screen, or recreate the Widget on the first Home screen. In my experience, Widgets on the Home screen are really handy, and I think you’ll eventually think the same.
And one more thing, before we start: Widgets don’t exist by themselves. They’re really parts of “real” apps, and if you tap a Widget, you are taken to the app itself, as if you’d tapped the app’s icon. So, in the image above, if I tap the Widget showing my next appointment I’m taken to the Calendar app. If I tap the clock Widget I’m taken to the Clock app, with all of its timers and alarms and world clocks. If I tap the pink Widget with my 23 steps in it I’m taken to the Pedometer ++ app (you can get that for free). And if I tap the Widget showing the temperature in Davis I’m taken to the Weather app.
Given the way a tap on a Widget takes you to its native app, each small Widget is really displacing three app icons, not four, because one of the ones it might be displacing would be its own app icon. And the “information at a glance” aspect of Widgets gives them a huge advantage.
OK, now let’s make a widget!
Let’s Make a Widget
Start on a Home screen, then tap and hold just about anywhere to put the iPhone into “jiggle mode.” It’s simplest to tap and hold in a blank space on the Home screen, but you can also tap and hold on an app icon, or even on an existing Widget. If you do it that way you’ll have to choose “Edit Home Screen” from the menu that pops up, and that slows you down a bit, so find a blank space to tap and hold, even the space between apps.
I’m using my second Home screen here, and you can see it’s in the jiggle mode. You can also see a little “+” at the top left corner. That’s what you want to tap. So tap the “+”.
Note: for some reason, on an iPhone 8 Plus, the “+” is in the top right corner. But it works the same either way.
After tapping the “+” you get this– a big collection of Widgets to choose from.
There’s more to see, so scroll down…
If you scroll down far enough you get past the Widgets the iPhone thinks you’d like the most, and you get into a complete alphabetical list of installed apps that have Widgets. (Keep your apps updated as many developers are adding Widgets to their apps.)
I’m going to scroll back up and choose the Photos Widget, which floats up a different picture every day (maybe even more often than that).
When you tap the Photos Widget you get the choice of small, medium and large:
In any case, whichever one you choose, once it’s on your iPhone’s screen, tapping it launches the Photos app. I chose the small version, then I tapped “Done” at top right to make the screen stop jiggling, but you can also…
- tap in any blank area on the Home screen
- wait 30 seconds
- swipe up (iPhone X and newer)
- click the Home button (iPhone 8 and older)
… and get the same result.
Here’s how it looks on my iPhone XS.
In this case, the “information” that’s showing, at a glance, is a nice picture of my Uncle Ernie and me. It’s not something I “needed” but it’s nice to see that picture float to the surface. Tomorrow, the picture will be something else, and that will probably be nice too.
The way to think about Widgets is to ask yourself “What would I like to see, without tapping?” In my case, it’s “my next calendar event, the time displayed nice and big, battery level, my steps for the day, the weather at Mom’s house, and a random picture.”
Other Widget Stuff to Know
- You can drag a Widget around and put it where you want, just like an app icon. Just get into Jiggle Mode, drag to place, and then tap where there’s nothing, or just wait 30 seconds, or swipe up (iPhone X and newer) or click the Home button (iPhone 8 and older).
- Some Widgets have settings. Access the settings by tapping and holding on a Widget. For example, the Clock and Weather Widgets let you specify the city the Widget reports for.
- You can put the same Widget onto your iPhone multiple times. For example, you might want to have two clocks: one showing your local time, and another showing the time in some other important place. Same with the weather.
- You can drag a Widget on top of another Widget to make a “stack.” Then, when viewing the Widget, you can flick up or down to scroll through the Widgets in the stack. Try stacking two Clock Widgets, or two Weather Widgets. It saves space and it’s fun. In fact, the Clock Widget and the Weather Widget in the first image in this article are both stacks, with multiple clocks and multiple weather reports (for multiple locations).
- You can edit a stack by tapping and holding on it. While you’re in there you might want to “Smart Rotate.” Smart Rotate means the stack will show you the Widget that the iPhone thinks you’d like to see, based on your usage. So, if you had a Stack that had a Calendar Widget (showing your next appointment), and a Clock Widget, and a Fitness Widget (showing how you’re doing “closing your rings”), and you had “Smart Rotate” on, the iPhone would notice that you scroll through the stack to show the Calendar Widget in the morning, and then the Clock Widget for most of the day, and then the Fitness Widget at the end of the day… and it would start showing you the right Widget all by itself. It’s worth giving this a try.
- There’s a thing called a “Smart Stack” which is one-stop shopping: add the Smart Stack and the iPhone will figure out which Widgets should be in it, based on your use patterns. I prefer to make my own Stacks, with the Widgets I know I want, but Smart Stacks can be fun to experiment with.
Here’s a video showing you how to edit Widgets and create and edit Stacks.
One More Thing
There’s a terrific app called “Widgetsmith” which lets you take Widgets to the next level. For example, here’s my iPhone XS after a few minutes with Widgetsmith.
One particularly noteworthy feature of Widgetsmith is the ability to schedule Widgets. This is a lot like the built in “Smart Rotate” that Widget stacks give you, but on your schedule (instead of hoping the iPhone figures out what your schedule is). Show the clock from 5 am until 8, so you get to work on time. Then show your to do list in the same space, until 5 pm. Then show news headlines. It’s all up to you.
For free, you get a lot of Widgetsmith. If you subscribe, you get a lot more. You ought to check it out.
Have a question about Widgets? Ask a question here in the comments and let’s figure it out together.Copyright 2008-2021 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.