Since the first iOS 5 beta release, developers across the jailbreak community have rushed to create their own widgets on top of Apple’s existing options. The challenge from that point onward has been to build widgets that fit iOS’ existing frameworks; in other words, the goal is to integrate widgets natively into the operating system. The widget “playing field” recently expanded when Dashboard X was released, which allows users to place their widgets directly onto their SpringBoard. As a result, an entire dimension of widget real estate was added for the users to tinker with.
For those who know me well, I have professed on many occasions that widgets and my philosophy on the purpose of the Notification Center / SpringBoard don’t mesh well. I’m not completely closed to the idea, however I’m writing this post as a way to encourage developers out there to take the three factors below into consideration. I speak only for myself however my hope is that my suggestions are shared by others and that change for the better will occur as a result.
WWAD? - What Would Apple Do?
This is a huge concern of mine. When I look at any widget, my first question is, “Would Apple do it this way, in the event that they did?” Initially, think of it as a “What if” question. The reason why I chose iOS is because of its elegance, simplicity, and the overall experience it promotes. I can say with full confidence that many people share my view. With that said, when you’re creating a widget, be mindful that iOS users want to enhance their experience if it compliments the system they already love, not degrade it.
Take extra time to do “on-device research” to note certain design characteristics and paradigms that will help you build a widget that best integrates with iOS. I guarantee you that your success in development will fair much better if you go the extra mile and strive to promote iOS’ core strongpoints with your widget, versus simply “pasting” your project into the environment just because it adds a function. Great functionality is only appealing when it has great design; it’s a fact.
Widgets can be used in two different environments
As noted above, the Notification Center from day one has always been the main location for widgets. However, now that Dashboard X is out in the wild, the sandbox dramatically grew in size. With this in mind, you have to remember that your widgets can be used in more then one place. Unless you’re specifically designing your widget for one or the other (which I’m strongly against), take the time to design your project to fit all case scenarios.
Take this situation as an example: I am a user myself, just like anyone else. I don’t own or use Dashboard X. Let’s say that a really cool widget came out that I wanted but it was only optimized (in look and in its inner workings) for Dashboard X. That instantly raises my red flag. Why would I want this widget if it only works or looks good in one environment? Plus, I don’t even own or want to purchase Dashboard X.
My thinking is not exclusive to my stance on widgets. There are many people, naturally, who share this view. From the standpoint of downloads and (or) sales, you automatically cut out a huge section of your market when you don’t develop your project for all cases. You’re only targeting a relatively small piece of the iOS user base. Why would you want to do this? It’s a hinderance.
Everyone wants to be successful - it’s human nature. Success comes through demonstrating quality and excellence in whatever you do. If you have the opportunity to be successful to the fullest extent, wouldn’t you take up that without hesitation? You can do this with widget development. Take the environment into consideration and build a widget that works in each and every situation. You’ll see that people will be more inclined to take a risk and download or buy your widget. A first impression is huge, and you have the means to go off on the right foot from step one. This principle ties back with what Apple would do. They are targeting the entire mobile user base. If there are any components that don’t fit all case scenarios, they’ve instantly alienated a large group of people. I would say however that Apple has done an exceptional job of not going down this path.
You’re Not The Only “Big App On Campus”
I’ll keep this section short and sweet as it coincides with the above. Remember, there are many more applications and tweaks out there that are popular. You’ve got giants such as LockInfo and IntelliScreenX that dominate their area and their are, of course, other extremely well-favored applications that are the “numero unos” in their own domain. If you want to be just as successful, you must make sure to take other popular applications and tweaks into consideration and design your widgets to work well with all of them. Echoing from above, if you don’t, you cut your audience significantly when you don’t account for the other packages. Compatibility is key - make it a priority.
These thoughts are not meant to directly slander certain developers and their widgets. My hope from this is to encourage others to strive for excellence and quality in all that they build, create, or design when it comes to widgets. Apple gave us such an amazing system to play with. Let’s compliment the hard work they put into it by in turn firing back with the best we’ve got.
Promote excellence, not mediocrity.