Widgetsmith pushes the boundaries of widget interaction

It’s clear from David Smith’s iOS 17 update to Widgetsmith that he intends for the app to retain its place among the most customizable widget makers available. And that’s exactly what he’s done with a long list of new tools, customization options, and features that push interactivity to the limits of the technologies Apple has to offer.

New widgets focus on weather, calendar events, photos, and game play. The number of permutations available is so large because there is so much that can be customized. The image at the beginning of this story is just a small sample of what’s possible, but with colors, fonts, and other adjustable elements, the combinations that can be created are almost endless. So, let’s dig into the highlights.

These new little weather widgets are some of my favorite things. One includes a widget tab bar that lets you switch between current, hourly, and daily data. Another option allows you to “scroll” the hourly forecast using the arrow buttons along the top and bottom edges of the widget. There’s a chart-style version of the same hourly weather widget that also “scrolls” horizontally. I put “scroll” in quotes here for a reason. As I’ll discuss below, widget interactivity is limited, meaning there are limitations to what Widgetsmith can do that you won’t find in apps. Here that means scrolling using buttons instead of swipe gestures. However, both widgets pack a lot more information into a compact widget than was possible before, which is great, especially on smaller screens.

I’m also a fan of Widgetsmith’s new interactive calendar widget. It comes in medium, large, and extra-large sizes and displays your events for each of the next seven days. Clicking on the date at the top of the widget toggles the view of the events for that date in the space below. Tap the part of the widget where you see your events, and Widgetsmith will open to its built-in calendar interface.

One of the most popular uses of Widgetsmith is to display images as widgets. Here, Widgetsmith has added the ability to tap on images using a Cover Flow-like interface. Another interactive version of the photo widget uses a tab bar-like interface similar to that used in the app’s interactive weather widget, focusing on a single image that can be changed by clicking on the image thumbnails along the bottom edge of the widget. In addition, there is an interactive photo locket and a carousel tool.

The app does something else unique with photos, allowing one photo to be combined with another tool. There are two types, but both are activated by clicking on the image of your choice. When clicked, the image of the first variable slides up, revealing a “drawer” containing the second widget. The other version flips over to show the second tool. It is a very smart way to enjoy your favorite photo most of the time while checking the weather, time or other information with just one click.

Widgetsmith has always been an excellent way to quickly access your favorite albums and playlists, but now there’s also an interactive version. Like one of the new photo tools, the interactive music tool uses a Cover Flow-like interface that lets you click between multiple albums and playlists. Clicking on an album or playlist starts playback. Tapping a second time restarts playback instead of pausing it, which may be a limitation of the way the widget is built, but it’s still not unexpected.

The app adds interactive tile gameplay as well. It’s a bit like a simplified version of Threes, where the goal is to arrange matching numbers and move them together, bringing them together. This isn’t the first game we’ve seen implemented as an interactive tool, and I’m sure it won’t be the last by any means. Limitations on tool interactions mean that all tool-based games will be simple, but still a fun way to pass the time.

Speaking of interaction limitations, it’s worth noting how they affect interactions with Widgetsmith widgets and all other interactive widgets. Tools can be interacted with using only buttons and switches. For example, this means that when you see a Cover Flow-style widget in Widgetsmith and you try to scroll from one album or photo to another, it won’t work. This also means you can’t swipe down to close the app drawer-style widget either. Instead, it will invoke Spotlight Search. This is a limitation of interactive widgets that can take some getting used to if the app pushes the boundaries of what’s possible the way Widgetsmith does. Instead of swiping, you have to remember to tap. It makes some tools seem broken at first, but over time, it’s possible to get used to it.

In addition to the home screen widgets I highlighted above, Widgetsmith’s new widgets are available as lock screen widgets in the new large lock screen size as well. The photo widgets aren’t very effective in monochrome, but other widgets, like the weather widget above, are clear and easy to use on the iPad lock screen, and fully interactive.

Finally, Widgetsmith also supports iOS 17’s new standby mode, allowing you to add bite-sized interactive widgets when your iPhone is charging and in landscape mode.

It’s amazing what an app like Widgetsmith manages to achieve, even within the relatively tight system constraints of widget interaction. Over time, I’d like to see Apple loosen restrictions on widgets, but it makes sense to start slow, see how developers use interactivity, and then scale up from there. If you want to customize your home screen and lock screen, Widgetsmith’s new interactive widgets are one of the first tools you should check out.

Widgetsmith is available in the App Store as a free download. However, some features require a subscription.

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