How to Create a Widget for Your iOS Application

How to Create a Widget for Your iOS Application

One of the things Apple is famous for is their adherence to the “Less is more” philosophy in designing their products. Perhaps one of the best examples of this are widgets – small extensions of iPhone apps that are both useful and visually appealing. Don’t be deceived, though – despite their modest appearance, widget development takes nearly as much effort as that of an entire app. From visuals to technical minutia, the guide below contains everything to create a widget that will enhance the value of your app.

Widgets for iOS: An Overview

A widget sometimes referred to as a home screen widget or a UI widget, is an extension of an app that carries over some of its information and functionality. In most cases, they provide quick and convenient access to the application’s features without going through menus or even launching the app at all. Initially introduced in iOS 10 as a feature of the Today page, they eventually relocated to the home screen and received a major UI overhaul. The improvements included:

  • Slicker visual aesthetics
  • Drag-and-drop functionality
  • Smoother update process
  • Smart Stacking

As a result, widgets became more intuitive and better integrated into the overall user experience, which signified a huge step up from iOS 10 widget development.

Purpose of Widgets and Value for Users

ios reminder widget development

As can be seen, widgets have tremendous potential for boosting the value of an app for users. Apple’s human interface design team breaks it down into three aspects:

  1. Personal: With the help of widgets, users are put in control of creating unique experiences by fine-tuning the interaction with the phone
  2. Informational: Users can single out specific bits of information from the app, which eliminates the tedium of going through the same repetitive actions
  3. Contextual: Phones receive various inputs such as location awareness that can be used by the system to bring up the right information or function at the right time, further improving the usability and convenience of the application.

Simply put, something as simple as a thoughtful iOS reminder can be a game-changer in meeting user needs and expectations towards your product. This is why the best development companies in Singapore now pay close attention to widget development. 

Apple Widget Development: Key Considerations

The main advantage of a widget is its focus on a certain idea, be it information delivery or a certain aspect of interaction with the app. Naturally, this idea should also be at the center of the iOS widgets development process. For instance, in the case of an e-commerce app, you might want to create a widget for the iPhone home screen that will notify customers about new deals, whereas an enterprise app audience would benefit from a quick action button that logs progress without going through the menus. 

In other words, the idea behind widget UI design should extend upon the app’s purpose. Here are five examples of how this can be achieved:

Keep Size and Content Proportional

Widgets come in different sizes, from an icon-sized square to more than half of the screen. So, when you create a widget for iPhone app with multiple features, it might be tempting to add every last interaction you can think of, or just stick to the largest size to show off as many shiny effects as possible. This is where you risk getting off track and dilute the central idea. Pay attention to how much space you’ll need for each function – otherwise, the widget will feel obstructive and will be deleted after a day of use.

Don’t Stick to One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Bloated widgets are as annoying as those crammed with information. Yet both may be needed for some use cases, so avoiding them completely would not be a sound solution. Fortunately, they come in many sizes, so you can create widgets for iPhone for any use case you can think of (as long as your target audience wants it, of course). Just make sure that you do not make it bigger just to shamelessly grab attention – every inch of that screen is an asset, so be thoughtful and don’t skip on usability testing.

Expand the Functionality

ios widgets development

Widget UI design is expected to enhance user experience by encouraging interaction, so it is logical to expect it to launch the app on tap. However, presenting the user with the application’s home screen would feel like having yet another app icon. Instead, think about the part that is most readily associated with the widget’s appearance to make it meaningful instead of redundant.

Make It Dynamic

As mentioned in the iOS widget tutorial, the latest iteration has received the ability to provide up-to-date information in a context-sensitive manner. To take advantage of this, think about which information your target audience wants to see on screen and how often that information should be updated. Of course, a Today widget for iOS is still far less dynamic than, say, a push notification – yet leaving it completely static doesn’t justify its placement on the home screen, either. Make sure widgets strike the right balance between staying fresh and becoming a distraction.

Exceed Expectations

While staying laser-focused on the idea, don’t forget to amuse and entertain your users in the process. Come up with cute little visual cues for your recipe app, add reminders about friends’ achievements to encourage competition, think about features that are both unexpected and useful. In other words, make sure your audience stays entertained to invite regular use.

iOS Widget Tutorial: Interactivity

The main purpose of widgets is to provide a shortcut to the information, so in many cases their functionality will be limited to displaying a selected snippet of the app. At the same time, tapping on something on the home screen feels so intuitive that it makes sense to also link it to the application. Below are some insights on how to create widgets for iPhone that are interactive and palatable.

Choose the Right Destination

Some widgets are relatively straightforward: a square with a weekday and a date is expected to bring up the calendar on tap. In most cases, it would be better to link the tap directly to a specific action or menu that is related to widget UI design and content. For example, a travel app might benefit from a widget that displays the time of the booked flight or ride. Thus, tapping on it should lead the user to a section where booking can be rearranged or to the trip planning screen. Simply put, make sure the widget links to the app in a way that makes sense.

Limit Tap Targets

A small widget is expected to act as an icon – that is, it will have a single tap target on its entire area. For larger ones, especially those with multiple elements, adding several tap targets for each one might be a good idea. For example, when a user sees a widget for a healthcare app that displays the list of medications, they’ll probably expect that a tap on each of the items will take them to the respective entry. There is a variety of styles to choose from to guide user behavior:

  1. Fill: A uniform style suitable for smaller widgets with a single tap target
  2. Cell: A widget is divided into segments with corresponding tap targets
  3. Content: A seamless style with multiple tap targets but without clear-cut borders

Here is the problem, though: widget UI design is limited compared to that of an app, so it may be difficult to hit the right element, let alone understand what leads where. To keep things clean and simple, avoid unnecessary tap targets.

Make the Authentication Count

Many apps offer extended functionality for registered users. Understandably, their widgets will also depend on whether the user is logged in. The important thing here is to make sure the element communicates this idea – for instance, by adding a short message or an icon – and doesn’t just turn up blank.

Apple Widget Development: Visuals

No matter how useful, the widget will have a short lifespan if it conflicts with the visual aesthetics of the UI. Here’s a brief visual iOS widget tutorial to help you maintain a consistent tone and provide an exceptional user experience:

  • Find a balance for content density: Cramming information into a small space can make it unreadable and non-navigable, whereas leaving too much out will make it look useless. Select bits that matter and substitute text with icons whenever relevant.
  • Aim for visual consistency: Nothing ruins the usability like a poorly chosen contrast, so test your widgets for compatibility with dark and light modes and add assets that will make them look good on custom color themes.
  • Advertise in moderation: Using the widget to increase awareness about your m-commerce brand is acceptable; turning it into a distraction is not. Consider using brand colors or a minimalistic logo.
  • Avoid distractions: A brightly-colored widget can enhance its functionality, yet it can also divert attention from the informative parts. To avoid this, specify optimal colors during widget development.
  • Use readable text: Not only will it look messy after scaling, but rasterized elements will also limit the access to the information by system tools.
  • Don’t skip on placeholders: No matter how fast your app is, it will need time to display content. Without a preview, the widget will look broken or useless.
  • Design a preview: A preview should highlight the main features and appearance of a widget. Otherwise, it will be banished to the gallery forever.  

Concluding Thoughts

On the surface, iOS widgets are small and simple items. However, their simplicity is deceiving, with “less is more” philosophy presenting interesting challenges to the widget development process. Making them into a meaningful extension of the app rather than a nuisance takes careful planning, an eye for pleasing aesthetics, and lots of testing.