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Aug 1, 2012

Are Widgets About To Be Extinct?

My short experience with HTC One X has taught me that widgets are not as useful as I expected them to be. Widgets allow you to access information “previews” without having to dig into specific apps. They let you see information at a glimpse, take popular actions in a single click, and practically be more productive. And yet, with the recent changes in iOS and WP7 I think that widgets are simply overrated.

When you think about it, It’s hard to find really good widgets which are not related to stocks, clocks and weather. There are plenty of those, plus a lot of system toggles for changing network settings, Bluetooth, etc. but that’s about it. Productivity widgets that are truly brilliant are harder to find and in most cases they simply present limited information and take you to the app itself to do the sophisticated things. It’s not always enough to make an impact.

widgets are a mess

Instead of using the widget, how about you simply use the app?

Why bother navigating to the page with the widget, when I can place a shortcut and simply open the app?
It takes about the same amount of clicks, opening an app is done very quickly (especially when you have a quad core processor), and since the widget will eventually take you to the app anyway… why not start with the app in the first place?

Many apps today take no-time to open, and give you such a strong user experience where reaching the desired action or piece of information simply takes seconds. So why do we need to mess up our homescreen?

Instead of a widget, how about you simply do it from your lock-screen? 

It took me a while to understand the true power of the relatively new iOS lockscreen. It’s a masterpiece when it comes to efficient handling of common activities. It’s all there, being pushed to you, on a silver spoon.

Missed a call? slide to make a call back. Got an email? Here’s a preview. Got a new article that interests you? There it is. Read, unlock, you are there already. Faster than using a widget. It’s like Apple took all the widgets in the world and placed them in one queue, ordered by time, priority and relevance. Who needs widgets when you can get everything loaded to your lockscreen?

WP7 Metro Live Tiles

Instead of widgets, how about Live Tiles?

I still haven’t made up my mind about Microsoft’s Live Tiles. They are nice, they are special, They are part of the fascinating Metro User Interface, and yet, they sometimes seem to be too simple.

Windows 8 will be all about Live Tiles. They are much smaller than widgets, and they have clear UI guidelines.

As a result, they do not mess up your screen with inconsistent fonts, colors, sizes, and layouts, and in addition, you can squeeze many of them into one page. The result is similar to having “mini widgets” stored in one location.

You can argue about the functionality a given Tile provides, but the combination of multiple Tiles is for sure much nicer than widgets.


Summary:

Android fans often mention Widgets as an advantage of the OS over other platforms out there. And still, Microsoft chose not to add widgets in Windows 8 and Windows Phone, Apple copied back a lot of features from Android in recent iOS releases and yet decided to ignore widgets. RIM never tried to implement widgets and the same goes with the unforgettable webOS by Palm (RIP).

I have widgets on my Mac and I never even once used them. Windows 7 has widgets and I don’t think they are that popular.

Can it be that widgets are overrated? Can it be that users have become so lazy they want everything to be pushed straight to their lockscreen? Will live tiles eventually replace widgets to create live walls with endless data streams?

Think about it.



7 comments:

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of Windows Mobile Today plug-ins...
I used to have some of them loaded to my phone.

yaelipskin said...

I have to say that until reading this post, I treated the Metro UI as ADHD trigger :)
But now I really see the real informative side of it.
The only real good widgets I found are for calendars and reminders (i.e. AnyDo).
Especially for women who run family -work life :)

One of the faults of the widgets in terms on UI is that they stop effecting your attention once your eyes get used to their move on the screen.
Maybe that's why they will distinced.

Bradley Ryan said...

I think the constant use of weather apps and stock tickers as examples for new UI paradigms is indicative of the relative immaturity of this space. Although some are useful, like calendars, I agree that most widgets just aren't useful. Even worse, I've yet to find a convincing study showing that widgets don't drain battery...widgets that poll services like Twitter or Facebook definitely do.

Live tiles show promise, but I think neither MS nor developers have really tested their limits yet. But to your point, I think the biggest limitation is the inability to act on the tiles without opening up the app. For example, you can only see a limited amount of info in the Mail tile--often not enough to know whether or not to act on a message. So, you have to enter into the app to determine whether you even need to act on that email.

Instead, it should leverage an overlay window or automatically resize the tile so you can read the message. Even better, it should let your respond without going into the Mail app.

On my Android phone, the Notification bar is a central part of my UX workflow. If I see a text or email notification, I don't navigate to the shortcut or app for Email/Messages, launch the app, and then find the message: I open the Notification screen and click directly to the email or text message.

My phone workflow is very reactive and Notification bar and screen often eliminates the need to navigate the UI. It's more efficient. Even Apple recognizes this through its deeper app integration in the Notification screen.

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