Apple released iOS 14 with some promising new features, including finally getting app widgets and the intriguing quick interaction App Clips. While first-party apps like Fitness and Weather got widgets the day of the update, third-party apps have barely adopted either, leaving the promising additions unsupported.
Clearly, we aren’t the only ones to notice: Apple is holding several developer sessions in February dedicated to walking iOS developers through adding these features. iOS developer Simon Støvring tweeted an email from Apple inviting developers to a special online training session on February 1 for building widgets, and noted that invites also went out for sessions to build App Clips and transition iPad apps to Mac.
Apple invite developers to a session on “building great widget experiences”. pic.twitter.com/jtWuSAxvtIJanuary 26, 2021
This in itself doesn’t prove developers are disinterested in App Clips or widgets or dragging their feet implementing them - because, while Apple clusters most of its developer-training sessions around WWDC, the tech giant does hold special sessions to promote new tech, like it did late last year to help developers optimize their apps for upcoming Apple M1 processors, as Apple Insider pointed out.
But there’s no getting around how few non-Apple apps support widgets and App Clips. While iOS 14 launched with widgets for over a dozen first-party apps, not many third-party apps have introduced their own widgets.
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Widgets: look, but don't bother touching
And yet, the few third-party apps that have added widgets haven’t offered much capability: the Spotify widget, for instance, just lets you look at the last song you played. You can’t use it as a mini-player, despite the ‘small widget’ (2x2) size exactly matching the mini-player in the Control Center, for instance.
This seems like it would be a great use of the space dedicated to a widget, but it’s likely the limit of their functionality: their value is in catching quick glimpses of info without needing to open the app, like glimpsing your movement ring progress in the Fitness app. Otherwise, they only act as big buttons, with widgets for apps like IMDB showing a ‘Search’ bar that, upon tapping, opens the app and takes you right to the Search functionality. Clever, but basic.
App Clips (not to be confused with the bundled Apple Clips photo editing app first released years ago), which give limited functionality of an app without having to download it, have yet to roll out in an impactful way. While some of the use cases for this ‘app preview’ have not materialized in the present moment given the COVID lockdowns – press material suggested it could be handy when in-person venues require an app to download, say – we still haven’t been prompted to use App Clips over text messages or the internet, as was also proposed.
That’s not to say iOS 14 didn’t bring meaningful changes: picture-in-picture is a long-awaited feature, the intelligent App Library allows you to hide plenty of app-filled home screen pages without losing access to most-used apps, and Maps got a few improvements for cyclists and electric vehicle drivers. There are plenty of small quality-of-life upgrades, like showing colored dots when your microphone or camera are on, that make the iOS experience better.
But these weren’t the headline additions that felt like they would not just change but improve how iPhone owners got to use their devices.
It’s only been a few months since iOS 14 launched, but it’s a little disappointing that our home screens look more or less identical to how they have for years, and even the promise of something like widgets feels limited by their capabilities. We’re hoping Apple has more to teach the developers headed into its upcoming online sessions so they can add widgets, App Clips, and other functionality to their apps – hopefully before iOS 15 comes out.
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David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.